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The top 10 weather and climate events of a record-setting year

Posted on 22 December 2020 by dana1981, Guest Author

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Jeff Masters and Dana Nuccitelli

Calendar year 2020 was an extreme and abnormal year, in so many ways. The global coronavirus pandemic altered people’s lives around the world, as did extreme weather and climate events. Let’s review the year’s top 10 such events.

1. Hottest year on record?

The official rankings will not be released until January 14, but according to NASA, Earth’s average surface temperature in 2020 is likely to tie with 2016 for the hottest year on record, making the last seven years the seven hottest on record.

Remarkably, the record warmth of 2020 occurred during a minimum in the solar cycle and in a year in which a moderate La Niña event formed. Surface cooling of the tropical Pacific during La Niña events typically causes a slight global cool-down, as does the minimum of the solar cycle, making it difficult to set all-time heat records. The record heat of 2020 in these circumstances is a demonstration of how powerful human causes of global warming have become.

Figure 1Figure 1. The eye of category 5 Hurricane Iota on November 16, the strongest hurricane of the 2020 season, as seen by the Sentinel-2 satellite. (Image credit: Pierre Markuse)

2. The wild 2020 Atlantic hurricane season

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced an extraordinary 30 named storms (highest on record), 13 hurricanes (second-highest on record), and six major hurricanes (tied for second-highest on record): more than double the activity of an average season (12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes).

The 2020 season was notable not only for its record number of named storms (after breaking into the Greek alphabet by the ridiculously early date of September 18), but also for its record number of rapidly intensifying storms (10), record number of landfalling U.S. named storms (12), and record number of landfalling U.S. hurricanes (six). Every single mile of the mainland U.S. coast from Texas to Maine was under a watch or warning related to tropical cyclones at some point in 2020. U.S. hurricane damage exceeded $37 billion, according to insurance broker Aon, the eighth-highest annual total on record.

Two catastrophic category 4 hurricanes hit Central America in November: Hurricane Iota, the latest category 5 storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, and Hurricane Eta, the deadliest tropical cyclone worldwide in 2020, with at least 274 people listed as dead or missing. At least seven hurricanes from 2020 will be worthy of having their names retired: Iota, Eta, Zeta, Delta, Sally, Laura, and Isaias – although there is still no official mechanism for retiring storm names from the Greek alphabet. The record for most names retired in one Atlantic season was set in 2005, when five hurricanes had their names retired.

Figure 2Figure 2. Global energy-related emissions (top) and annual change (bottom) in gigatons of carbon dioxide, with projected 2020 levels highlighted in red. Other major events are indicated to a give a sense of scale. (Image credit: Carbon Brief, using data from the Global Energy Review)

3. Record-high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels despite record emissions drop

As a result of restrictions taken to curb the coronavirus pandemic, carbon emissions to the atmosphere in 2020 declined by 9 to 10% in the U.S. and 6 to 7% globally, although some of those reductions were offset by carbon released by wildfires. Those are the largest annual carbon emissions declines since World War II and far more than the 1% global and 6% U.S. emissions drops brought about by the 2008 Great Recession.

Nevertheless, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose by 2.6 parts per million from 2019 to 414 ppm in 2020. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere will not decline until human emissions reach net zero. Moreover, as coronavirus restrictions were lifted during 2020, global carbon pollution nearly rebounded to pre-COVID levels.

Figure 3Figure 3. A wildfire in the Sakha Republic, Arctic Circle, Siberia, Russia creates smoke and pyrocumulus clouds on July 9, 2020. A record heat wave in Siberia during June led to the Arctic’s first-ever 38.0°C (100.4°F) temperature and helped drive the Arctic’s worst wildfire season on record. (Image credit: Copernicus Sentinel data via Pierre Markuse)

4. An apocalyptic wildfire season

The year 2020 brought record levels of fire activity to the U.S. and Arctic, but unusually low levels in Canada and tropical Africa, resulting in a below-average year for global fire activity, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. According to Insurance broker Aon, the global direct cost of wildfires in 2020 was $17 billion, ranking as the fifth-costliest wildfire year, behind 2017, 2018, 2015 (major Indonesian fires), and 2010 (major Russian fires).

The Australian bushfire season ending in early 2020 (due to seasons in the Southern hemisphere being the reverse of those in the Northern hemisphere) was also a record-breaker, having burned more than 46 million acres and destroyed more than 3,500 homes.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported that U.S. wildfires burned 10.25 million acres as of December 18, 2020, the highest yearly total since accurate records began in 1983. The previous record was 10.13 million acres in 2015. The hottest August through October period in Western U.S. history, combined with severe drought and a once-in-a-generation offshore wind event, conspired to bring about an apocalyptic western U.S. wildfire season. Total U.S. wildfire damages in 2020 were $16.5 billion, said Aon, ranking as its third-costliest year on record, behind 2017 ($24 billion) and 2018 ($22 billion). Wildfires caused at least 43 direct U.S. deaths. But the indirect death toll among people 65 and older in California alone during the period August 1-September 10 – due to wildfire smoke inhalation – was likely between 1,200 and 3,000, researchers at Stanford University reported in a September 11 study. The 4.2 million acres burned in California in 2020 was more than double the previous record set in 2018.

5. Super Typhoon Goni: Strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record

Super Typhoon Goni made landfall near Bato, Catanduanes Island, Philippines, on November 1 with sustained winds of 195 mph and a central pressure of 884 mb, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, or JTWC. Goni was the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in world recorded history, using one-minute average wind speeds from the National Hurricane Center for the Atlantic/Northeast Pacific and one-minute average winds from JTWC for the rest of the planet’s ocean basins.

Goni killed 31 people, damaged or destroyed 250,000 homes, and caused over $1 billion in damage, tying it with Typhoon Bopha in 2012 and Typhoon Vamco in 2020 as the Philippines’ second-most expensive typhoon on record, adjusted for inflation. Only Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 ($11.1 billion) was more damaging.

Ominously, seven of the 10 strongest landfalls in recorded history have occurred since 2006.

Figure 4Figure 4. The temperature measurement enclosure at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center in Death Valley, California, on August 17, 2020, when the site recorded a maximum temperature of 127 degrees Fahrenheit (52.8°C). The previous day, the site reported a preliminary world record for hottest reliably measured temperature on record: 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C). (Image credit: Climatologist William Reid, who is holding up the hand-held temperature sensor)

6. Hottest reliably measured temperature: 130°F in Death Valley

Death Valley, California, hit an astonishing 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C) at 3:41 p.m. PDT, August 16, 2020, at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center. This reading was rounded to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the daily summary from NOAA. According to weather records experts Christopher Burt, who wrote the comprehensive weather records book “Extreme Weather,” and Maximiliano Herrera, who tweets under the Twitter handle, Extreme Temperatures Around the World, the observation may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history, breaking the 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit readings at Death Valley in 2013 and in Kuwait in 2016.

The World Meteorological Organization is conducting a review of the site’s observing equipment. “If the observation passes an investigation (instrument calibration, etc.) then, yes, this is a new reliably measured global extreme heat record,” Burt wrote by email. However, the official world record will remain a 134 degrees Fahrenheit measurement taken at Death Valley on July 10, 1913, a record widely viewed as bogus.

7. Most expensive 2020 disaster: Flooding in China causes $32 billion in damage

Seasonal monsoon flooding in China in June through September killed 278 people, damaged or destroyed 1.4 million homes and businesses, and did $32 billion in damage, according to insurance broker Aon. EM-DAT, the international disaster database, ranks that total as the third-most expensive non-U.S. weather disaster since accurate records began in 1990 (adjusted for inflation), behind 1998 flooding in China ($48 billion) and 2011 flooding in Thailand ($47 billion).

In a September 2020 study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, “Each 0.5°C of Warming Increases Annual Flood Losses in China by More than US$60 Billion,” researchers found that annual average flood losses in China during the period 1984-2018 were $19.2 billion (2015 dollars), which was 0.5% of China’s GDP. Annual flood losses increased to $25.3 billion annually during the period 2006-2018. The study authors predicted that each additional 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming will increase China flood losses by $60 billion per year.

Figure 5Figure 5. Arctic sea ice age near the time of the annual minimum in 1985 (left) and in 2020 (right). There is very little old, thick ice left in the Arctic, increasing the chances of a late-summer ice-free Arctic by the 2030s. (Image credit: Zack Labe)

8. Near-record low Arctic sea ice

Arctic sea ice reached its annual minimum on September 15, 2020, bottoming out at its second-lowest extent and volume ever recorded, behind 2012. A new study suggests that the 2012 record hasn’t been broken despite ever-rising temperatures because the rapidly-warming Arctic has altered the jet stream, leading to cloudy summer Arctic conditions that have acted to temporarily preserve some of the sea ice. However, long-term global warming will inevitably win out, and scientists expect the Arctic to be ice-free in the summer beginning sometime between 2030 and 2050. Overall, three-quarters of the volume of summer sea ice in the Arctic has melted over the past 40 years.

The Northern Sea Route along the northern coast of Russia finally froze shut on November 3, after being open a record 112 days, and 2020 was the busiest shipping season ever for natural gas tankers in the Arctic, according to Bloomberg.

9. U.S. withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord and election of Joe Biden

The U.S. officially withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement the day after the November 3, 2020 election. But Joe Biden, who won that presidential election, has announced his intent to immediately rejoin the Paris agreement on the day of his inauguration: January 20, 2021.

President-elect Biden considers tackling climate change a top priority and has proposed a plan to invest $2 trillion over four years in deploying climate solutions. He has assembled a team tasked with carrying out that plan, including several climate-focused cabinet member-nominees and the first national adviser on climate change.

It’s a dramatic change from the previous administration’s record of climate and environmental protection rollbacks.

10. A near-record number of global billion-dollar weather disasters

Through the end of November, 44 billion-dollar weather disasters had occurred globally in 2020, according to the November 2020 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon. The record in the Aon database is 47, set in 2010, and 2020 could challenge that record when the final tallies are announced on January 25, 2021.

The United States suffered 25 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2020, surpassing Aon’s previous U.S. record of 20 in 2017. The record number of U.S. disasters led to the American Red Cross’s providing record levels of disaster sheltering in 2020, according to a December 2 article by E&E News.

An October 13 report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction found a “staggering” rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events: those nearly doubled, from 3,656 in 1980-1999 to 6,681 in 2000-2019. The number of major floods more than doubled, from 1,389 to 3,254, and the incidence of destructive storms increased from 1,457 to 2,034.

The report blamed human-caused climate change as a significant factor in the increased disasters. It warned: “It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people.” The U.N. report authors called attention to “industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels commensurate with the desired goal of keeping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius as set out in the Paris Agreement.”

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. Expressing damages in dollar values has always struck me as a somewhat tenuous exercise, though seemingly exact and professional. To begin with, damages go up and down with currency crosses. Damages in China will have increased exponentially with the economic juggernaut of the past 35 years. In the US properties have appreciated tremendously with low interest policies since 2000. As an area is more intensely populated with more infrastructure, the damages increase commensurately, although affected areas are of course randomly targeted, making the damage amount random as well. In third world countries such as Mozambique or India where a lettuce costs 2¢, a hotel swept away is worth only 1% of what the same structure would cost in the USA.
    In short, dollar price forms a somewhat inadequate measure to express impacts and damage; and as such a relatively inappropriate yardstick for assessing the increasing impact of weather catastophes with a climate-change backdrop.

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  2. JWRebel,

    I agree about the flaws of measuring damages in dollar values, from a more holistic perspective.

    The latest Human Development Report (2020) includes detailed presentations of the developing understanding of the need for the 'value' of the natural environment to be part of the evaluation of 'human development progress'.

    There are many elements of the environment such as potential economic resources and other environmental factors that potentially have, but may not yet have developed, an understanding of their importance to economic activity like:

    • Bee Pollination
    • Sea Grass habitat
    • Molecular or biological compounds that exist in biodiversity but are not yet discovered or realized to have value (or tragically that have disappeared because of biodiversity loss before being discovered)

    From a holistic perspective the existing natural environment and resources are Invaluable. Human activity that ruins by over-harvesting, or consumes in a non-renewable way, is unimaginably harmful - no dollar value can represent it.

    And the negative impacts of climate change on biodiversity and other environmental considerations get ignored - all the time - because they are not part of the calculated 'Worth of human development' in the economic games humans have Made-up.

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  3. Increase in a number of indicators affecting climate should be of major concern to those who naïvely expect to live and prosper on this planet for the next 80 years or so.

    It looks as though human ingenuity may thwart the best efforts of Covid-19 to significantly reduce a burgeoning human population which steadfastly refuses to curb its growth in number, its greenhouse gas emissions and its other polluting activities. If Coivid-19 doesn’t get us, climate change will by reducing our ability to sustain ourselves in an increasingly hostile environment.

    An indication of this was experienced during the Australian 2019-20 fire season which claimed the lives of around of around 500 people, killed an estimated 3 billion other animals, destroyed 2,779 houses and burned over 18 million hectares. Interestingly, mean temperature was recorded across the continent at 1.5°C+ above the pre-industrial.

    Much has been written about the dangers of a mean temperature 2.0°C above the pre-industrial mean, yet Australian experience is that a global increase of 1.5°C would be very destructive and very dangerous indeed. Yet we know how to effectively avoid the catastrophe of 2.0°C or the 3.0°C+ increase we are presently heading for. Curb population growth and reduce emissions to net zero – and do it rapidly!

    We appear intent on doing neither, even though we know how to achieve both.

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  4. Riduna @3,

    I share your concerns, but would encourage you to consider an important clarification regarding the 'population problem' - the need to focus on the more harmful, less sustainable, portion of the population.

    The Human Development Report 2020 I refer to in my comment @2 includes information about the relative impacts of different portions of the global population, including the following: "Figure S7.2.3: The wealthiest 1 percent of individuals worldwide emit 100 times as much carbon dioxide each year as the poorest 50 percent". In that same figure (S7.2.3) the Carbon Emissions (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita per year) of the average member of the 78 million in the top 1% is 146.2 tonnes.

    A break down of the global total impacts is:

    • The Carbon Emissions of the average member of the 780 million in the top 10% is 37.4 tonnes = 29.2 billion tonnes per year (the top 1% are 11.4 billion tonnes - 40% of the top 10%).
    • The Carbon Emissions of the average member of the 3.1 billion in the middle 40% is 7.1 tonnes = 22.0 billion tonnes per year.
    • The Carbon Emissions of the average member of the 3.9 billion in the bottom 50% is 1.4 tonnes = 5.5 billion tonnes per year.
    • The top 10% cause 29.2 of the global total 56.7 impact > 50%.

    And the HDR 2020 addresses the larger scope of human impacts, more than just climate change, striving to get global leadership to pursue improvements of human life circumstances while staying within planetary boundaries. And an important understanding is that poorer people have an ethical and moral Right to increase their impacts, aspiring to levels matching 'supposedly more advanced people', as they pursue living a better life. A part of the HDR 2020 Summary Statement (last page) is:

    "The Report calls for a just transformation that expands human freedoms while easing planetary pressures. For people to thrive in the Anthropocene, new development trajectories must do three things: enhance equity, foster innovation and instil a sense of stewardship of the planet. These outcomes matter in their own right, and they matter for our shared future on our planet. All countries have a stake in them"

    So the real 'population problem' is the highest impacting portion of the population that Others 'aspire to develop to be like'.

    A changed perception that requires the richer people to be less harmful and more helpful individuals, rather than people being impressed by wealth and power regardless of how it is acquired, is clearly a significant helpful change required in the population.

    As for concerns about increased global total population a recent Report in The Lancet, "Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: a forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study" (Study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), establishes the following understandings:

    • "In the reference scenario, the global population was projected to peak in 2064 at 9·73 billion (8·84–10·9) people and decline to 8·79 billion (6·83–11·8) in 2100."
    • "Our alternative scenarios suggest that meeting the Sustainable Development Goals targets for education and contraceptive met need would result in a global population of 6·29 billion (4·82–8·73) in 2100 and a population of 6·88 billion (5·27–9·51) when assuming 99th percentile rates of change in these drivers.
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  5. Our immediate problem is not population growth but the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, largely the product of electricity generation, transport and industrial processes.

    Many countries have made a start by replacing coal-burning power stations, with energy generated from renewable sources, mostly wind and solar. Intermittency problems associated with these sources is largely overcome by pumped hydro and battery storage - the latter likely to become cheaper and more widely used as a result of advances in battery technology now in progress.

    In Australia, the transition to renewable energy is well advanced. Over $10 billion has already been invested in solar, wind and storage, with future projects estimated to cost $45 billion approved for construction. It is likely that domestic use of fossil fuels to generate electricity will become a thing of the past well before 2040, giving Australian industry the cheapest electricity in the world.

    By comparison some countries, notably China, either support domestic use of coal to generate electricity or promote its use by funding construction of coal fired power stations in less developed countries by providing soft-loans through government-owned companies and lending agencies.

    An obstacle to global decarbonisation is the transport sector. It continues to rely on use of oil-based fuels for propulsion and will continue doing so until technology produces solid-state batteries with significantly greater storage capacity at lower cost. Fortunately these developments are possible within the next 3-5 years and are likely to increase range and reduce cost of passenger and haulage vehicles. However electric vehicles must be priced at, or below, the cost of vehicles now in use.

    Technological solutions to reduce industrial emissions have been or are being developed with a view to reducing emissions from processes such as cement production and smelting, while advances in battery technology will make it possible for plant and equipment to operate without emissions.

    There is hope for the future but that hope is dependent on rapid implementation of these measures and their effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If this is not achieved, an increasingly hostile environment will contribute to radical reduction of the human population - and its polluting ways.

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  6. Riduna @5,

    I offer a slightly different perspective for consideration regarding the unnatural nature of the problem that needs to be corrected, based on the understanding presented in the Human Development Report 2020.

    Technological development is not necessarily improvement of sustainability for humanity. Development that does not reduce negative impacts or other unsustainable aspects of developed ways of living is not advancement. And the current developed ways of living are very harmful and unsustainable. Reduced harm and reduced waste are not Advancement, they are reduction of harmfully incorrect development. Climate impacts need to be ended, and the same applies to biodiversity loss and artificial technological unnatural waste. Reducing those impacts is not Good Enough. Those impacts need to be ended.

    Though nations like Australia have begun the transition to a lower impact way of living, the harmfully unsustainable over-developed nations are still the major problem on the planet with a significant portion of their population being in the 10% of the global population causing negative impacts. The Human Development Report 2020 includes an adjustment of the Human Development Index to reduce the evaluated 'measure of human progress' by accounting for CO2 Emissions per capita and Material Footprint per capita (counting imported impacts of production that happen in another nation). That Common Sense adjustment results in many of the 'supposedly most advanced nations' dropping many levels down the ranks of advancement (Canada drops from 16th to 56th, USA drops from 17th to 62nd, Australia drops from 8th to 80th, New Zealand rises from 14th to 8th as an example that not all of the more advanced nations do poorer by this measure).

    The examples of ‘how to develop to live better’ set by the wealthier portion of the population are not very helpful. And it is not ethical or moral to claim that poorer people are the problem when they follow the development path of the 'supposedly more advanced' portion of the population.

    That understanding leads to recognizing that a major part of the global problem is the belief that 'technological development' is an indication of advancement. True advancement is limited to technological development that everyone can develop to enjoy sustainably, if they choose to develop that way, with total global impacts kept within planetary limits and a truly circular economy with no accumulating waste (As described in HDR 2020 all materials would be fully recycled after very long periods of use - not throwing away new technology after 5 years and believing it will magically be properly dealt with by someone else somewhere at sometime).

    Regarding 'The Good Australian actions' vs. 'The Bad Chinese actions' related to coal. The Australian economy benefits significantly from exporting coal that is burned in places like China. A truly helpful nation would be helping the poorer people in China more directly advance to renewable energy rather than try to maximize profit obtained from exporting coal that will have no value after the end of fossil fuel use is finally achieved by humanity.

    Note that Australian leadership has been very harmful on the climate impact issue, like other leadership in other supposedly more advanced nations, by deliberately trying to impede the achievement of the collective global objective of rapidly ending the harmful use of fossil fuels while continuing to help the less fortunate develop to live better lives. Many current day Politicians continue to argue that less should be done in their nation to reduce the benefits people in their nation obtain from global fossil fuel use, and that their nations should do less to help the less fortunate outside, as well as inside, their nation or region within a nation (like Alberta in Canada).

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  7. Riduna and OPOF

    I think population growth trends is ultimately an important component of the climate issue, but its not a simple answer or big answer to the problem either. There are many conditions attached as follows. Firstly obviously the more people there are the worse the climate problem is. While breathing is carbon neutral, all those people will be consumers with carbon footprints, and many want to become wealthy consumers (OPOF take note of this).

    That said, bear in mind population growth has been slowing in most countries, apart from parts of Africa, and there might not be a great deal we can do to make it slow faster. Some countries are actually below replacement rate, like Japan and I think Sweden. The slowing trends have been driven by people having smaller familes as people feel more economically secure such that they dont need large families to look after them in old age, health care has improved, womens rights have improved and the use of contraception has spread. To make population growth fall faster you can only really pull these levers and I would say its hard to speed them up. Nobody is going to seriously contemplate forcing people to have smaller families or any more "one child" policies like China had.

    Governments could pay people to have small families but money is limited. And in places where the absolute size of population is falling there are worries about too many elderly people and not enough young people so this acts against a desire for population growth to slow. My point is population growth is slowing anyway, but it may not be feasible to get it to slow too much faster than it is.

    And even if fertility rates dropped very dramatically this very decade (unlikely) its not going to make much difference to keeping warming under 2 degrees if you mentally do the maths. It would help stop warming getting to very high levels if we were to miss the 2 degree threshold.

    What OPOF says about the top 5% or so of people being the big emitters is true, and much of it is just over consumption, but Im not sure shaming them will work and neither will lecturing them too much on proper ethics, although its worth discussing such issues here. It might be more useful to point out the virtues of lower consumption, how it can improve their lives in a general sense. Less work, less stuff, more time with the kids etc.

    But I would say virtually nobody is going to cut their consumption to the bone, or willingly settle for low incomes. Money might not buy happiness but it certainly gets close. So we may have to work with the fact that we are probably going to remain a 'moderately' high consuming society. I think we will shift it down one gear, but probably not three gears. This means its critically important to reduce waste, improve energy efficiency, develop better electric transport options, develop better batteries and so on.

    And lobby your local politicians directly with emails and face to face meetings. This can make a difference from some study I read somewhere, plus my own personal experience.

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  8. OPOF @ 6

    Thank you for your comments.

    My references to technology are specifically in relation to what is necessary to cessation of fossil fuel burning.

    You are correct in pointing out that coal exports have for too long been of benefit to the Australian economy. In my opinion, the sooner coal mining and exports cease, the better. Greenhouse gas emissions can not be significantly reduced until major exporters (eg. Indonesia, Australia) cease coal mining – and domestic use of coal.

    You are also correct in drawing attention to Australian government policies which favour ongoing domestic use of coal and its export. My comments refer to performance of Australian State Government actions which strongly support replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. However it is worth noting that two of those State, QLD and NSW, are strong supporters of coal exports.

    I do not make a comparison between Australia and China, though I have no hesitation in calling out both countries for their policies where these promote use of fossil fuels. You may share my view that the policies and practices of the Chinese Government are particularly egregious in this regard.

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  9. Nigel @ 7

    The problem is that population is continuing to grow and is responsible for growth in greenhouse gas emissions at a rate which could see global mean temperature exceed 1.5°C above the preindustrial before 2030 – despite a Covid-19 induced temporary reduction in 2020 emissions. So, the only practical way of reducing emissions is commercialisation of appropriate technology which either exists or is evolving.

    It has been widely assumed that dangerous climate conditions would be realised when mean global temperature reached 2.0°C above preindustrial, hence the Paris Accord target. The problem is that an average temperature 1.5°C, even for a short period, produces the dangerous conditions expected at 2.0°C.

    If we are to avoid an average global temperature 1.5°C by 2030 and world-wide dangerous climate conditions accompanying it, we must start reducing greenhouse emissions now so as to delay, or better avoid, other effects of a 1.5°C temperature rise. Other effects include uncontrollable release of CH4/CO2 from permafrost, accelerated loss of land-based ice with more rapid sea level rise and coastal erosion.

    Time is of the essence and we do not have enough of it – certainly not enough to reduce population on a scale sufficient to avoid the dangers posed by a mean global temperature 1.5°C above preindustrial.

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  10. nigelj @7,

    I would like to clarify two items:

    You stated: “While breathing is carbon neutral, all those people will be consumers with carbon footprints, and many want to become wealthy consumers (OPOF take note of this).”

    Note that I already take note of this in my comment @4 (the start and end of section to read are below – an important point is to Read the HDR 2020 report – I provided a link in my comment @2.):

    “And an important understanding is that poorer people have an ethical and moral Right to increase their impacts, aspiring to levels matching 'supposedly more advanced people', ...
    A changed perception that requires the richer people to be less harmful and more helpful individuals, rather than people being impressed by wealth and power regardless of how it is acquired, is clearly a significant helpful change required in the population.”

    In addition to the lower status people being justified in wanting to live like the higher status people, the climate change problem requires a very rapid ‘ending’ (not just a reduction) of Carbon-Footprints. An ending of unsustainable consumption Material-Footprints is also required to stop additional irreparable harm being done to future generations. That is partially addressed in the HDR 2020 by the proposed adjustment of the HDI as I mentioned in my comment @6 “... The Human Development Report 2020 includes an adjustment of the Human Development Index to reduce the evaluated 'measure of human progress' by accounting for CO2 Emissions per capita and Material Footprint per capita ...”

    There are many actions that can help bring about the required correction of the harmful unsustainable ways of living that have incorrectly been developed by the ‘richest highest-consuming highest-impacting’ portion of the population. And they all require admitting that the ways that many of the higher status people live are unacceptable. And those higher status harmful people who resist correcting their ways of living need to not be able to compromise the required corrective efforts.

    Too often the claim is made that ‘everyone needs to get along so there has to be a harmful compromise because some people will insist on being Freer to be more harmful (the harmful compromise can be claimed to be Pragmatism or some other misleading claim making it sound like it needs to be done that way)’. It is seldom stated that way but that is what happens when ‘everyone’s interests have to be accommodated by compromise – with the wealthiest being the more influential regarding the compromise’. It is similar to the nonsense claims by antiscience people who demand a debate of ‘nonsense opinion misleading marketing’ with the constantly improving common sense evidence based understanding of what is going on. Of course a proper debate requires all participants to share the same high level objective (the Sustainable Development Goals and any future improvement of them) and full set of evidence. A debate cannot include Nonsense, especially not harmful nonsense made-up by wealthier people trying to protect their inequitably harmfully obtained undeserved status. The wealthy have a harmful history of influencing things ‘in their interest to the detriment of others – to maintain and increase their Status relative to Others’.

    The Global Norm needs to become a ‘deserved lack of respect’ for people who have higher status but are not setting the better example of being less harmful, more helpful to Others. It is harder work and more expensive to be less harmful, therefore the richer or more influential a person is, the higher their status, the higher the expectation needs to be that they will set the example of being less harmful and help Others live better and also be less harmful. And if necessary the system should be revised to penalize the people who are wealthier and resist being less harmful. That could be helped to be achieved by a very high Carbon Fee with most of the collected Fee rebated progressively (No Rebate to high wealth people, and increasing amounts Rebated to the lower income, lower wealth, people).

    That means the Norm needs to become a Common Sense dislike of anyone striving for impressions of higher status by getting away with being more harmful and less helpful then their Peers or than anyone of lower status. The poorer a person is the more they can be excused for living more harmfully, less sustainably as they aspire to live better, to live more like the diversity of examples set by the higher status people. A lower status person is excused for following the harmful development path of a higher status person unless the higher status people are setting a corrective example and helping the lower status people improve their lives in a better less harmful more sustainable way.

    I also wish to respond to your comment @7: “To make population growth fall faster you can only really pull these levers and I would say its hard to speed them up.”

    Note that I already commented on this at the end of my comment @4:

    “As for concerns about increased global total population a recent Report in The Lancet, "Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: a forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study" (Study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), establishes the following understandings:

    • "In the reference scenario, the global population was projected to peak in 2064 at 9·73 billion (8·84–10·9) people and decline to 8·79 billion (6·83–11·8) in 2100."
    • "Our alternative scenarios suggest that meeting the Sustainable Development Goals targets for education and contraceptive met need would result in a global population of 6·29 billion (4·82–8·73) in 2100 and a population of 6·88 billion (5·27–9·51) when assuming 99th percentile rates of change in these drivers.”"

    A sustainable and constantly improving future is possible for humanity. And the Sustainable Development Goals and related understanding like the Human Development Reports present the constantly improving understanding of what is required for that to happen.

    It is becoming more apparent that many of the ways of living that the highest consuming and impacting portion of the global population have developed a liking for will have to undergo significant correction that likely will require many of the current ‘supposedly more advanced higher status people’ to transition to sustainable harmless helpful ways of living meaning that relative to Others they will ‘suffer a loss of level of comfort, convenience, and capital ownership (material) impressiveness’ – they will have to suffer a loss of status. They can still be the higher status people, but not to the degree and not in the ways they have developed a liking to be ‘Higher Status People’.

    I understand that many people will not like those limits being imposed on them. And I understand that many of them will not accept being told they are acting unacceptably harmfully. But they don't have to agree to the changes. Compromising for 'their interests' will just cause more harm to be done to the future of humanity (like compromising climate science points does not need to happen just to appease an elected representative or their supporters). Common Sense Understanding is that the future of humanity requires a clear global governance acceptance that Harm Done is not justified by Benefits Obtained, and there is nothing to debate about that.

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  11. Does the 6-7% contraction of CO2 emissions indicated at Figure 2 take into account Earth-system feedbacks such as increased release of CO2 from the burning of over 18 million hectares of forest and scrubland during the last Australian bushfire season or rising CO2/CH4 emissions from accelerating permafrost loss due to rising temperature in 2020?

    Net reduction of CO2 release in 2020 due to Covid-19 constraints on the global economy are to be expected, but there appears to be no compelling reasons for believing that rapid recovery will not occur – and in some countries already has – eg. China.

    As noted @ 9 above, even a temporary rise in surface temperature of 1.5°C above preindustrial produces a dangerous climate and its onset globally, possibly in less than a decade, could be particularly destructive and disruptive of human activity.

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  12. Riduna @11,

    The numbers in fig 2 are from the IEA and are just fossil fuel emissions, so no land-use-change emissions (whatever the cause) and no cement emissions.

    The Global Carbon Project are showing provisional numbers for 2020 with the ~30Gt(CO2) IEA number for FF alone in the GCP assessment becoming [10.9Gt(C) =] ~40Gt(CO2).

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  13. Rinuda @11,

    Though even a temporary increase of global warming over 1.5 C would create serious weather problems, there is an important difference between CO2 released by grass, brush or forest fires and ghgs released by melting permafrost.

    The CO2 released by fires could be removed from the atmosphere by future regrowth of what was burned, making it only a temporary increase. And if some of that CO2 gets absorbed by the oceans before the regrowth grabs it then, after significant regrowth, there could be a small net reduction of CO2 levels. However, there is the harm of increased CO2 absorbed by the oceans.

    Refreezing the permafrost will not draw the released ghgs back onto the frozen ground. That released ghg would remain as excess in the environment.

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