Climate ‘Mysteries’ Still Puzzle Scientists, Despite Progress

Military personnel on an inflatable boat ship past a destroyed house on the Ahr river in Rech, Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, on July 21, 2021, after devastating floods hit the region. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

 

 

What worries one of the world’s leading climate scientists the most?

Heatwaves — and particularly the tendency of current models to underestimate the intensity of these bursts of deadly, searing temperature.

This is one of the “major mysteries” science still has to unravel, climatologist Robert Vautard told AFP, even as researchers are able to pinpoint with increasing accuracy exactly how human fossil fuel pollution is warming the planet and altering the climate.

“Today we have better climate projection models, and longer observations with a much clearer signal of climate change,” said Vautard, one of the authors of an upcoming assessment by the United Nations’ panel of climate experts.

“It was already clear, but it is even clearer and more indisputable today.”

The assessment, the first part of a trio of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will be released on August 9 at the end of meetings starting Monday.

It focuses on the science underpinning our understanding of things like temperature increases, rising ocean levels and extreme weather events.

This has progressed considerably since the last assessment in 2014, but so has climate change itself, with effects being felt ever more forcefully across the planet.

– ‘Phenomenal’ heat –
Scientists now have a greater understanding of the mechanisms behind “extreme phenomena, which now occur almost every week around the world”, said Vautard, adding that this helps better quantify how these events will play out in the future.

In almost real time, researchers can pinpoint the role of climate change in a given disaster, something they were unable to do at all until very recently.

Now, so-called “attribution” science means we can say how probable an extreme weather event would have been had the climate not been changing at all.

For example, within days of the extraordinary “heat dome” that scorched the western United States and Canada at the end of June, scientists from the World Weather Attribution calculated that the heatwave would have been “almost impossible” without warming.

Despite these advances, Vautard said “major mysteries remain”.

Scientists are still unsure what part clouds play “in the energy balance of the planet” and their influence on the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases, he said.

But it is “phenomenal temperatures”, like those recorded in June in Canada or in Europe in 2019, that preoccupy the climatologist.

“What worries me the most are the heat waves” and the “thousands of deaths” they cause, said Vautard, who is director of France’s Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute, a climate research and teaching centre.

With rainfall, scientists have a physical law that says water vapour increases by seven percent for every degree of warming, he said, with intense precipitation increasing by about the same amount.

But extreme heat is harder to predict.

“We know that heatwaves are more frequent, but we also know that our models underestimate the increasing intensity of these heatwaves, particularly in Europe, by a factor of two,” he said.

Climate models have come a long way, even since 2014, but there is still room for improvement to reduce these uncertainties.

“Before we had models that represented the major phenomena in the atmosphere, in the oceans,” said Vautard.

Today the models divide the planet’s surface into grids, with each square around 10 kilometres (six miles).

But even now he said the “resolution of the models is not sufficient” for very localised phenomena.

The next generation of models should be able to add even more detail, going down to an area of about a kilometre.

That would give researchers a much better understanding of “small scale” events, like tornadoes, hail or storm systems that bring intense rain like those seen in parts of the Mediterranean in 2020.

– Tipping points –
Even on a global scale, some fundamental questions remain.

Perhaps one of the most ominous climate concepts to have become better understood in recent years is that of “tipping points”.

These could be triggered for example by the melting of the ice caps or the decline of the Amazon rainforest, potentially swinging the climate system into dramatic and irreversible changes.

There are still “a lot of uncertainties and mysteries” about tipping points, Vautard said, including what level of temperature rise might set them off.

Currently, they are seen as low probability events, but he said that it is still crucial to know more about them given the “irreversible consequences on the scale of millennia” that they could cause.

Another crucial uncertainty is the state of the world’s forests and oceans, which absorb about half of the CO2 emitted by humans.

“Will this carbon sink function continue to be effective or not?” Vautard said.

If they stop absorbing carbon — as has been found in areas of the Amazon, for example — then more C02 will accumulate in the atmosphere, raising temperatures even further.

“It is a concern,” said Vautard.

Greta Thunberg Criticises World Leaders For Climate Crisis ‘Role-Playing’

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg attends a session at the Congres center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 21, 2020. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
FILE: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg attends a session at the Congres center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 21, 2020.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg launched a new broadside Thursday against “role-playing” by political and economic leaders over the climate crisis, accusing them of using it as a business opportunity.

Appearing via video-link at the Austrian World Summit on climate policy hosted by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, she described the reaction of those in power to the groundswell of climate activism.

“Eventually the public pressure was too much. So you started to act,” Thunberg said.

“But acting as in role-playing. Playing politics, playing with words, playing with our future.”

Thunberg, 18, derided wealthy nations’ climate commitments as “vastly insufficient” in the face of “more and more extreme weather events… raging all around us”.

This week a heat wave in western Canada and the north-western United States smashed temperature records and has been linked to dozens of excess deaths.

Thunberg said net zero emissions targets announced by major economies “could be a great start, if they weren’t full of gaps and loopholes” such as “leaving out emissions from imported goods, international aviation and shipping”.

In addition they rely on “baseline manipulation” and the use of unproven technology, according to the activist, who rose to prominence by mounting a series of school strikes for the climate which inspired a global movement.

“The climate crisis is today — at best — being treated only as a business opportunity to create green new jobs, new green businesses and technologies,” she said.

The summit, launched five years ago by Schwarzenegger, aims to highlight “concrete solutions and measures from global decision-makers” in response to the challenge of climate change.

In his opening message, Schwarzenegger stressed the need for “encouragement, not just threat and despair”.

Making a tongue-in-cheek reference to his most famous role, he added: “We can terminate pollution, let’s get our message together and let’s work together.”

Among those participating in the event are Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans — who is leading the Commission’s work on its European Green Deal — and high-ranking representatives from multinational giants Ford and Apple.

Thunberg’s address was cut short for technical reasons.

 

AFP

Climate Change: Nigeria Will Continue Its Frontline Advocacy For Net-Zero Emissions – Osinbajo

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says Nigeria will continue its frontline advocacy for a ‘just transition’ to net-zero emissions.

Net-zero emissions is aimed at completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activities; it is to be achieved by reducing emissions.

The Vice-President in a statement signed on Friday by his spokesperson, Laolu Akande disclosed this in Abuja while presiding over a virtual meeting on net-zero emissions with other top Federal Government officials.

Osinbajo maintained the position that the funding for gas and fossil fuel projects in Nigeria and other developing countries be sustained during the global transition to net-zero emissions.

He also asserted that Nigeria will play a critical role with other gas exporting countries to stop the defunding of gas and fossil fuel projects in developing countries.

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The Vice President noted that it was vital that the Forum of Gas Exporting Countries (GEC) join forces together to prevent the defunding of gas and fossil fuel projects, especially from developing countries, by international bodies and institutions.

According to the VP, concrete steps should be taken by the GEC Forum to stop further plans by international bodies and Western countries on defunding of gas/fossil fuel projects as it does not benefit developing countries especially.

He noted that it was vital Nigeria plays a significant role in achieving a consensus with the GEC Forum on these issues, even as the 26th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) – which is scheduled to hold later this year – approaches.

In the same vein, the Vice President asked the Inter-ministerial committee on Climate Change, led by the Federal Ministry of Environment, to finetune Nigeria’s position for COP26, while the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources would focus on strengthening the country’s strategy, particularly in its initiative to use gas as a transition fuel.

Both the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, and Minister of Foreign Affairs were directed to work together, ensuring the GEC Forum reaches a consensus that reflects Nigeria’s advocacy on defunding of gas projects.

Other top Federal Government officials in attendance at the virtual meeting include the Ministers of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar; Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of State, Environment, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor; Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba, and the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Mr. Bitrus Bako Nabasu.

G7 To Agree Climate, Conservation Targets As Summit Ends

anada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, France's President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy’s Prime minister Mario Draghi, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. Leon Neal / POOL / AFP

 

G7 leaders were on Sunday urged to take urgent action to secure the future of the planet, as they finalised new conservation and emissions targets to curb climate change, and wrapped up a three-day summit where revived Western unity has been on show.

Veteran environmentalist and broadcaster David Attenborough told the gathering of the world’s richest nations the natural world was “greatly diminished” and inequality was widespread.

“The question science forces us to address specifically in 2021 is whether as a result of these intertwined facts we are on the verge of destabilising the entire planet?” he said.

“If that is so, then the decisions we make this decade — in particular the decisions made by the most economically advanced nations — are the most important in human history.”

The leaders, holding their first in-person gathering in nearly two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, will agree to protect at least 30 percent of both land and ocean globally by the end of the decade.

The “Nature Compact” struck to try to halt and reverse biodiversity loss is also set to see them commit to nearly halve their carbon emissions by 2030, relative to 2010.

It includes mandating the use of “unabated coal” — fuel whose emissions have not gone through any filtering — “as soon as possible”, ending most government support for the fossil fuel sector overseas, and phasing out petrol and diesel cars.

Hailing the pact, host Boris Johnson said the G7 wanted to “drive a global Green Industrial Revolution to transform the way we live”.

“There is a direct relationship between reducing emissions, restoring nature, creating jobs and ensuring long-term economic growth,” the British prime minister added.

Climate change was a key G7 priority for Britain at the summit in Carbis Bay, southwest England, as it tries to lay the groundwork for hosting the UN COP26 environment summit in November.

But before the pledges had even been formally adopted, environmental campaigners blasted them as lacking enforcement and the necessary scope.

“Despite the green soundbites, Boris Johnson has simply reheated old promises and peppered his plan with hypocrisy, rather than taking real action to tackle the climate and nature emergency,” said Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven.

He also noted wealthy nations had a “dismal track record” over the last decade honouring international climate finance commitments.

– Ties renewed –

The G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and United States — were eager to renew ties after the discord of Donald Trump’s four years in power.

Joe Biden has sought to turn the page on his predecessor’s international isolationism, seeking to open a new chapter in the Western alliance after Trump alienated and exasperated it at every turn.

The UK government turned to its royals to add a dash of grandeur to the G7 detente, with Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles hosting a Friday night reception with G7 leaders and European Union chiefs also attending.

Joined Saturday by counterparts from Australia, South Africa and South Korea — with India also taking part remotely — they then enjoyed an evening beach barbecue around fire pits, featuring a sea shanty band and toasted marshmallows.

Overall, the summit was largely consumed with the tough task of forging a more comprehensive response to the pandemic.

Leaders agreed a declaration to help prevent future pandemics and are expected to commit to donate one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to poor countries.

However, there they also faced pushback, with critics arguing it provides just a fraction of what is needed to inoculate the world against the virus, which has claimed nearly four million lives globally and is still spawning new variants.

Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown called the summit “a missed opportunity” and an “unforgivable moral failure”.

“We needed 11 billion vaccines, we’ve only got offered a plan for one billion. We needed $50 billion allocated to the vaccination of the world, and (have) only $5 billion,” he told Sky News Sunday.

“Millions of people will go unvaccinated and thousands of people, I’m afraid, will die.”

– Tea with the queen –

The allies also unveiled US-led plans to counter China in infrastructure funding for poorer nations, promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of investment.

The “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project is aimed squarely at competing with Beijing’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.

The leaders will publish further details on the B3W in the traditional end-of-summit communique, alongside issuing the Carbis Bay Declaration on health policy.

On other shared foreign policy challenges, on promoting “open societies”, Washington is pushing for a stronger stance on China’s alleged forced labour practices against its Muslim Uyghur minority.

Current tense relations with Moscow, in particular over its cyber activity, are also expected to feature.

Most of those present will reconvene Monday in Brussels for a NATO meeting before Biden heads on to his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, vowing to deliver a blunt message about Russian behaviour.

Before that, the US president will visit the queen at Windsor Castle late Sunday, where he and First Lady Jill Biden will take tea with the queen.

AFP

US, EU leaders Call For More Action At Climate Summit

A mist of wood chips fly at high speed from a chipper as crews remove sources of potential fuel for a fire during a fuel reduction operation with the Cal Fire/Butte County Fire Department and firefighters from the California Conservation Corps near Lake Oroville during the California drought emergency on May 26, 2021 in Oroville, California. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP)

 

Top US and EU representatives on Monday urged other countries to do more in the global initiative towards a greener planet, stressing the world “cannot afford to wait” at a virtual summit hosted by South Korea.

Climate change is a major threat to global growth, with perils ranging from disease outbreaks and declines in crop yields.

But international negotiations on how to tackle it have long been hampered by disagreements over burden-sharing between rich countries that bear far more historical responsibility for climate change and the rising giants that are now among the world’s biggest polluters.

Last month, US President Joe Biden announced that the world’s largest economy would cut emissions blamed for climate change by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, doubling the country’s previous commitments.

The US’ special climate envoy John Kerry told the P4G climate conference hosted by South Korea: “We are pressing other countries to step up their ambitions as well.”

Moments earlier Vietnam called for developed countries to take the lead and provide financial assistance to others, but Kerry told Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh: “We all have to do it.”

After the coronavirus pandemic, he added, “everyone wants to get back to normal but unfortunately we can’t be satisfied with that because the fact is normal was already a crisis and existential one.”

His comments came as virtual negotiations resumed ahead of the next UN climate change conference in Glasgow in November, with scientists issuing increasingly dire warnings on the situation.

At the two-day P4G or ‘Partnering for Green Growth’ summit — the second of its kind following the inaugural meeting held in Copenhagen in 2018 — world leaders called in the concluding Seoul Declaration for more action in the global drive towards a greener planet.

The Paris agreement sought to limit temperature increase to well below two degrees Celsius, aiming for 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

But Monday’s statement came as many of the largest emitters have so far failed to keep up their commitments and countries have not even agreed on a unified rulebook governing how the Paris agreement works in practice.

“We recognise that climate change, desertification and land degradation, and biodiversity loss are three of the greatest environmental challenges of our times,” the declaration added.

The UN says that emissions must fall nearly eight percent annually to keep 1.5C in play — equivalent to the emissions saved during the pandemic every single year through 2030.

“Europe will be doing its part,” EU chief Ursula von der Leyen told the meeting. “But the reason we are here today is that we all need to do our share.

“It is a matter of self-interest, of mutual interest, and of collective interest.”

AFP

Climate Change: Nigeria Will Support Processes To Attain Paris Agreement, Says Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari speaks at the climate change summit

 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday assured the international community of Nigeria’s preparedness to galvanize relevant stakeholders for climate action, and readiness to support regional, continental and global multilateral processes for the attainment of the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Speaking at a Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, the President said the fight to redress the impact is the responsibility of all countries and stakeholders, congratulating President Joe Biden of the United States for renewed interest in the Paris Agreement.

“I would like to express my profound appreciation to the President of the United States, His Excellency, Joe Biden, for convening this Summit at a time the world is experiencing tremendous vulnerability from the COVID-19 pandemic and Climate Change impacts, among several other global challenges.

President Buhari and some cabinet members

 

“The issue of Climate Change has taken the front burner globally, as its effects can be seen and felt all around us; ranging from increased atmospheric temperature to irregular rainfall patterns as well as sea-level rise owing to the melting of glacial ice.

“Nigeria commends the Biden Administration for the positive decision of returning the United States to the Paris Agreement. In addition to bringing about abundant green economic opportunities to the US economy, the move further complements the larger transition process of global economies to low carbon development pathways,’’ he said.

The President said the Summit would prove instrumental in galvanizing high-level political support for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and its Katowice Rulebook as well as inviting more countries and stakeholders to take more climate-oriented responsibilities.

President Buhari told world leaders that Nigeria was one of the most vulnerable nations, and it had started undertaking major environmentally sound and climate-friendly programmes, while treading the path of sustainability.

“We are expeditiously implementing programs that stimulate gradual transition away from the use of wood stoves to kerosene, Liquefied Natural Gas, biogas and electricity.

The immediate effects include healthy competition among private sector players leading to higher productivity, employment and faster service delivery.

“In the Agriculture production and supply chain sector, we are targeting improved efficiency and productivity through the provision of accurate and timely weather forecasting to farmers, supply of drought tolerant and early maturing crop varieties and promoting empowerment towards the diversification of sources of livelihoods.

“Beyond ending gas flaring by 2030, the oil and gas sector has undertaken steps for diversification; risk management system; insurance hedging; research and development and emergency/crisis planning,’’ the President added.

President Buhari said the overall outcome of the highlighted actions had translated into food supply sufficiency, improved nutrition, less hunger, increased employment, new job opportunities, better livelihoods, reduced poverty, decreased vulnerability to health challenges, and higher quality of life.

“Nigeria calls on countries to embrace Circular Economy and Sustainable Production and Consumption models in order to expedite the attainment of the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement,’’ the President added.

Environmental Degradation Poses Triple Threat To Humans – UN

File: (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP)

 

Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution pose a triple threat to human health and prosperity that may be averted only by transforming how we power our economies and feed ourselves, the United Nations said Thursday.

A scientific assessment by the UN Environment Programme found that galloping economic growth has come at a devastating cost to the planet and urged governments, businesses and people around the world to act to reverse the damage before it is too late.

Drawing on findings from other major assessments on climate and biodiversity from expert international panels, the report titled “Making Peace With Nature” said a rapid shift to renewable energy and eliminating habitat loss are essential to preventing “unacceptable risk” for future generations.

“For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“The result is three interlinked environmental crises: Climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution threaten our viability as a species.”

Lead report author Robert Watson told AFP that the three crises threatened far more than nature.

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“They undermine food security, water security and human health,” he said.

The report found that the global economy had grown nearly fivefold in the last 50 years fuelled by a tripling in extraction of natural resources and energy.

Yet amid such prolific growth, the burden of the environmental fallout is borne by the poorest and most vulnerable, it said.

Although average prosperity has doubled over the last five decades, around 1.3 billion people are classed as poor and 700 million go to bed hungry each night.

The assessment said that environmental degradation was undermining progress on ending poverty and hunger and warned that pandemics such as Covid-19 were increasingly likely in future as we continue to strip away species’ natural habitats.

“This is not the first pandemic caused by animal to human infection, so we really have to think how we can prevent the next one,” said Watson, a veteran climate and biodiversity researcher.

“By cutting down vegetation, we humans go into areas we didn’t used to go into and therefore we interact with wild animals.”

– ‘Low-hanging fruit’ –

Despite a record drop in emissions last year as the pandemic curbed international travel, the world is on track to be at least three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

That is a far cry from the aims of the Paris climate deal, in which nations promised to limit warming to “well below” 2C and to a safer cap of 1.5C if possible.

None of the goals the world set itself a decade ago for halting nature loss has been met, with one million species of plants and animals currently threatened with extinction.

The assessment recommended that protected areas be expanded to allow for more space for wild species, as well as addressing the drivers of forest loss, such as unsustainable farming and food waste.

It also found that governments pay out a staggering $5-7 trillion in subsidies to fossil fuel and large-scale farming operations.

These contribute to air pollution that kills an estimated eight million people each year.

Co-author Ivar Baste said that reducing fossil fuel subsidies — which after all most benefit richer, high-polluting firms — should be considered “low-hanging fruit” in the fight against climate change.

“We have to do the obvious,” he told AFP, while noting that “vested interests” are pushing for continued fossil fuel use.

With 2021 set to see two major UN summits on biodiversity loss and climate change, the authors said “piecemeal and uncoordinated” responses would fall well short of what the planet needs.

“While I applaud all the countries in the world that have set zero net carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, the real issue is what will countries do between now and 2030,” Watson said.

“Action really is needed in the short term, not just aspirational goals for the middle of the century.”

FG Commissions Solar Plant In Bauchi University, Targets Reduction In Carbon Emission

File Photo: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

 

The Federal Government on Thursday commissioned a 1.12 MW Captive Solar Hybrid Power Plant at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi.

The plant was executed under the government’s Energizing Education Programme (EEP), an initiative aimed at providing 37 Federal Universities and seven Teaching Hospitals with captive energy solutions that will ensure sustainable and reliable power for students and faculty.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who commissioned the plant virtually, said Nigeria plans to reduce carbon emission by 20 percent by 2030.

READ ALSO: World Facing ‘Catastrophic’ Warming – UN

According to Osinbajo, this is in line with the globally endorsed Climate Change agenda and the Buhari administration’s effort to connect more communities to off-grid power and reliable energy sources.

“Indeed, Nigeria intends to have 30% of its electricity supply from renewables by the year 2030,” he said. “Our future workforce therefore need to be ready for this energy transition. The training centers constitute a critical additional benefit of this project.”

Continuing, he noted that “besides, this programme reaffirms the Federal Government’s commitment to global best practice as we transition to cleaner sources of energy in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

 

“These projects being implemented by the Rural Electrification Agency are strategic to fulfilling our commitments to the agreement as they strive to reduce Nigeria’s carbon footprint.

“The leveraging of renewable energy technology is in line with the Federal Government’s mandate and related activities. Nigeria’s plan to reduce carbon emission by 20% unconditionally and 45% with international support by 2030, aims to limit the damaging effect of climate change.”

Speaking on the benefits of the EEP, Osinbajo said “already, 22,000 students and faculties across the country are connected to completed projects in Kano, Ebonyi, Benue and of course, now in Bauchi. But apart from providing a reliable source of captive power for these institutions, each institution will have a renewable energy workshop and a training center to provide training for students on renewable energy.”

He added that “the project also entails the installation of street lights and the electro fitting of existing ones for better illumination and provision of security on the campus and its environs. And there is provision for on-the-job training for 20 female students undergoing STEM courses in the beneficiary institutions. The training focuses on the design and installation of various components of the project.”

Biden To Reverse Trump Policies, Remake US Role In Climate Crisis

US President Joe Biden looks up into the crowd during his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021. Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the US. JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP
US President Joe Biden looks up into the crowd during his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021. Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the US. JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP

 

President Joe Biden committed the United States to rejoining the Paris climate accord, blocked an oil pipeline project and froze Arctic drilling in a raft of executive orders signed hours after taking office Wednesday.

But for the Democrat who has pledged to roll back four years of environmental harm done by his predecessor Donald Trump, that’s just the start.

Experts say that Biden will have to rebuild the credibility the US lost in the eyes of the international community, by setting concrete goals for emissions reductions on the path to net zero by 2050.

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Next, he’ll need to realize his $2 trillion climate plan, which would place green action at the heart of the economy and its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, while ensuring a long term shift that can’t be rapidly undone under a future Republican president.

“I think it’s important that the US shows that it means business at home,” David Waskow of the World Resources Institute told AFP.

The WRI is advocating for the US to set a 45-50 percent reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

Biden has also said he will convene the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within 100 days of his inauguration.

Among the executive orders Wednesday, the Biden administration submitted a letter to the UN that formally triggers a 30-day process to reenter the Paris climate agreement.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the action and the prospect of “the leadership of United States in accelerating global efforts towards net zero” emissions, calling on the president to adopt an “ambitious” plan to fight global warming.

French President Emmanuel Macron lauded Biden’s decision to return to the accord, telling him “welcome back” in a congratulatory message.

Biden also scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline connecting the Alberta oil sands to coastal refineries in Texas — a move that threatens to strain ties with Canada.

Still, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had pressed Biden to reverse his decision on the pipeline, vowed to “work together to advance climate action and clean economic growth.” The two leaders are due to speak Friday.

Beyond Paris, the US federal government has numerous levers at its disposal, from imposing strict methane limits on new oil and gas infrastructure, to gearing federal contracts towards renewable energy and zero-emissions vehicles.

The Trump administration took an axe to a host of environmental regulations, and a fact sheet sent to reporters from the new administration vowed to “immediately review and take appropriate action” on all these measures.

Biden on Wednesday also placed a temporary moratorium on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where Trump’s administration had issued leases on its last full day in office.

While former secretary of state John Kerry will lead US climate negotiations abroad, the domestic front will be headed up by Gina McCarthy, whom Biden has picked as the first national climate adviser.

Infrastructure plan

Biden will present to Congress next month an infrastructure-focused “Build Back Better Recovery Plan” — separate from the $1.9 trillion Covid and economic stimulus package he’s seeking.

This is where things can potentially become more tricky, given the Democratic Party’s razor thin control of the Senate.

The package is expected to be similar to the $2 trillion green climate plan Biden outlined during his campaign.

It promises “to meet the climate crisis, build a clean energy economy, address environmental injustice, and create millions of good-paying union jobs.”

“The challenge will be to bring Republicans on board with a clean energy infrastructure package that could systematically reduce American emissions,” Paul Bledsoe, a climate advisor to former president Bill Clinton, told AFP.

Bledsoe predicted Biden will initially be expected to try to work with Republican colleagues to reach the 60-vote threshold required to pass most legislation — though if that doesn’t pan out there are processes to pass laws with a simple 51-vote majority.

“Embedding climate action fully into the way in which we build the economy, the way in which we generate jobs and ensure an equitable recovery, all of that is what will make this something long lasting,” said Waskow.

The political and technical challenges are great, and there will be pressure on Biden not to pivot from fossil fuels too quickly — particularly natural gas, which has helped the US lower its net emissions for a decade and is seen as a crucial “bridging” energy.

But it also comes at a time of record-high recognition of climate change and desire for action among the US public.

A survey conducted after the election and published last week by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found a majority of voters from both parties support policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy.

Fifty-three percent of voters said that global warming should be a high or very high priority for the president and Congress, while 66 percent said that developing sources of clean energy should be a high or very high priority.

 

AFP

World Facing ‘Catastrophic’ Warming – UN

A firefighter conducts back-burning measures to secure residential areas from encroaching bushfires in the Central Coast, some 90-110 kilometres north of Sydney. 
Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

The world is on course for a “catastrophic” temperature rise this century, the United Nations said Thursday as it confirmed that 2020 rivalled 2016 as the hottest year on record.

The relentless pace of climate change is destroying lives, said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as the UN’s World Meteorological Organization said 2011-2020 had been the warmest decade recorded.

2020 “rivalled 2016 for the top spot”, according to the WMO’s consolidation of five leading international datasets.

The La Nina cool phase of the Pacific Ocean surface temperatures cycle “put a brake on the heat only at the very end of the year,” the WMO said.

The UN weather agency said the warmest three years on record were 2016, 2019 and 2020, and the differences between them in average global temperatures were “indistinguishably small”.

It said the average global temperature in 2020 was about 14.9 degrees Celsius — a figure 1.2 C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level.

The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change calls for capping global warming at well below 2 C above the pre-industrial level, while countries will pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 C.

The WMO believes there is at least a one in five chance of the average global temperature temporarily exceeding the 1.5 C mark by 2024.

Peace with nature task

“The confirmation by the WMO that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet,” said UN chief Guterres.

“We are headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3-5 C this century.

“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top priority.”

The WMO said the standout weather features of 2020 were the sustained heat and wildfires in Siberia and the low Arctic sea ice extent, plus the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season.

“The global signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as the force of nature,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

“Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere remain at record levels and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide, the most important gas, commits the planet to future warming.”

La Nina’s 2021 impact

La Nina is expected to continue into early to mid-2021.

The effects of La Nina — and El Nino at the opposite end of the cycle — upon average global temperatures are typically strongest in the second year of the event, said the WMO.

The extent to which La Nina’s cooling effects in 2021 may temporarily diminish the overall long-term warming trend remains to be seen, the organisation said.

The WMO will publish its State of the Climate in 2020 final report in March.

In figures from the US space agency NASA — one of the five datasets consolidated by the WMO — 2020 was hotter than 2016 by less then a tenth of a degree.

Last year was “a very striking example of what it’s like to live under some of the most severe effects of climate change”, said NASA research meteorologist Lesley Ott.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, added: “The natural processes Earth has for absorbing carbon dioxide released by human activities — plants and the ocean — just aren’t enough to keep up with how much carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere.”

Global Summit To Present ‘Ambitious’ Climate Change Goals

Climate activists protest on Trafalgar Square during the sixth day of demonstrations by the climate change action group Extinction Rebellion, in London, on October 12, 2019.
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Global leaders were due to announce more ambitious plans to combat global warming on Saturday, on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the landmark Paris Agreement.

The Climate Ambition Summit, being held online, comes as the United Nations warns current commitments to tackle rises in global temperatures are inadequate.

Britain, the UN and France are co-hosting the summit, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson will open at 1400 GMT and which will be live-streamed at climateambitionsummit2020.org.

China’s President Xi Jinping and France’s Emmanuel Macron are among the heads of state taking part, with speaking slots handed to leaders of countries that submitted the most ambitious plans.

These include Honduras, and Guatemala, which were both recently hit by hurricanes, as well as India, which is battling increasingly erratic weather patterns and air pollution.

Business figures set to speak reportedly include Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, which has committed to making its whole supply chain carbon neutral by 2030.

But major economies including Australia, Brazil and South Africa are absent. Australia has not committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 and has been accused of setting targets that are too weak.

Speakers will deliver short video messages, with organisers saying they will announce “new and ambitious climate change commitments” and there will be “no space for general statements”.

The 2015 Paris climate accord saw signatories commit to take action to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2.0 Celsius above pre-industrial levels and try to limit them to 1.5C.

But the UN warned this week that under current commitments, the Earth is still on course for a “catastrophic temperature rise” of more than 3.0C this century.

It warned this will create a crisis that will “dwarf the impacts of Covid-19” and has said current pledges to cut emissions to meet the Paris accord were “woefully inadequate”.

– ‘Moment of accountability’ –
Greenpeace called the summit — seen as a warm-up for the UN’s climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, next November — a “moment of accountability for leaders”.

Under the Paris deal’s “ratchet” mechanism, countries are required to submit renewed emissions cutting plans — termed Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs — every five years.

The deadline for this is December 31.

Countries are set to announce efforts to reduce national emissions, long-term strategies and financial commitments to support the most vulnerable.

More than 110 countries have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. China, the world’s biggest polluter, announced in September it plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060.

The summit comes as EU leaders on Friday committed to the goal of reducing emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Britain — out of the EU since January — this month announced it would seek to reduce emissions by 68 percent over the same period.

Johnson has presented plans for a “green industrial revolution” creating up to 250,000 jobs.

And before the summit opened, he committed to ending all direct government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas.

The last five years have been the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization, a UN agency, with concern at rising numbers of wildfires, storms and flooding.

The UN has said that the drop in emissions due to the global coronavirus pandemic is too small to halt the rising temperatures.

The United States, the world’s second-largest polluter after China, left the Paris Agreement under President Donald Trump who questioned the accepted science behind climate change.

Incoming US climate envoy John Kerry plans immediately to re-enter the accord and President-elect Joe Biden has set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

 

Last November Hottest On Record – EU

A handout photo obtained from the European Space Agency shows a composite of images of the Sentinel-3 satellite which is arguably the most comprehensive of all the Sentinel missions for Europe’s Copernicus programme.  EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY / AFP

 

Last month was the hottest November on record as Europe basked in its highest Autumn temperatures in history, the European Union’s satellite monitoring service said Monday. 

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) analysis of surface and air temperatures found that November 2020 was 0.8C warmer than the 30-year average of 1981-2010 — more than 0.1C hotter than the previous record.

For boreal autumn (September-November) temperatures in Europe were 1.9C above the standard reference period, 0.4C higher than the average temperature in 2006, which was the previous warmest.

“These records are consistent with the long-term warming trend of the global climate,” said C3S director Carlo Buontempo.

“All policy-makers who prioritise mitigating climate risks should see these records as alarm bells and consider more seriously than ever how to best comply with the international commitments set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement”.

The landmark deal, which turns five this month, enjoins nations to limit temperature rises to “well-below” 2C (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Last week the World Meteorological Organization said 2020 was on course to be among the three hottest years ever recorded.

C3S said that with just one month left to go, 2020 is on par to match 2016, the current record holder.

With just over 1C of warming so far, Earth is already dealing with the devastation caused by more frequent and stronger extreme weather events such as wildfires and tropical storms.

Satellite images analysed by C3S also showed that Arctic sea ice extent was the second-lowest for November in the database, which began in 1979.

The largest negative sea ice concentration anomalies were in the Kara Sea, while there was below-average cover in the eastern Canadian archipelago and Baffin Bay.

“This trend is concerning and highlights the importance of comprehensive monitoring of the Arctic, as it is warming faster than the rest of the world,” said Buontempo.

Temperatures were substantially higher than normal across the Arctic and much of Siberia last month, and higher than average across the United States, South America, southern Africa, eastern Antarctica and most of Australia, C3S said.

The five hottest years in history have all come since 2015.

 

AFP