Month: May 2016

Half a degree makes a very big difference when judging how different parts of the world will feel the effects of climate change. 

This is the conclusion from the first study to compare and contrast the consequences of 1.5C world compared to a 2C world, published today in Earth System Dynamics.
Both 2C and 1.5C are explicitly mentioned in the Paris agreement as potential upper limits for global warming since the preindustrial era, but details from scientists on how the temperature thresholds compare have been sparse.
For example, an extra 0.5C could see global sea levels rise 10cm more by 2100, water shortages in the Mediterranean double and tropical heatwaves last up to a month longer. The difference between 2C and 1.5C is also “likely to be decisive for the future of coral reefs”, with virtually all coral reefs at high risk of bleaching with 2C warming.
The authors presented their research today at the European Geosciences Union, an annual major gathering of geoscientists taking place this week in Vienna.
“Two-headed goal”

The Paris agreement – adopted in December 2015 and due to be officially signed by more than 150 countries on Friday – codified what the authors of today’s study call a “two-headed” temperature goal.
It pledged to keep the average global surface temperature “well below 2C” and “pursue efforts” to limit the increase since preindustrial times to 1.5C.
The nod to 1.5C recognised that many low lying island nations are already feeling the impacts of climate change and that coral reef and Arctic ecosystems face high risks well below 2C.
But the specific reference to 1.5C as well as 2C caught the scientific community somewhat off-guard. Today’s paper says:
“Despite the prominence of these two temperature limits, a comprehensive overview of the differences in climate impacts at these levels is still missing.”

A recent commentary in Nature by Prof Simon Lewis, professor of global change at University College London, is a little stronger on this point. As he puts it:
“The emergence of 1.5 C as a serious policy position comes with important lessons for scientists. The global research community has shockingly little to say on the probable impacts of a 1.5 C rise.”

The scientific community now, at least, seems to be rising to the challenge. Last week, the IPCC confirmed it will dedicate one of its special reports to the 1.5C goal. This is due to be published in 2018.
Work on today’s paper began in 2014, long before the Paris conference. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called on scientists to explore the difference between a 1.5C and 2C long term goal, as part of its 2013-2015 review.
Prof Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, scientific advisor at Climate Analytics in Germany and lead author of today’s study, tells Carbon Brief:
“[The review] concluded last year that, while 2C cannot be considered safe and 1.5C would clearly be a safer limit, the science on 1.5C is less robust than on 2C. So clearly, there’s a research gap here.”

A 1.5C vs 2C world

The study compared how extreme weather, water availability, crop yields, sea level rise and risks to coral reefs differ in a world where global temperature rises 1.5C, compared to if it rises 2C.
Using 11 climate models, the authors looked at how each of the impacts plays out globally, as well as in 26 different regions. This is important since the world won’t warm at the same pace everywhere, the paper notes.

Press link for more: Carbon Brief

After record, mind-numbing coral bleaching, what would it take to “Save the Reef”? #Auspol

Global warming impacts right now are beyond some of the worst scientific predictions, so what does that mean for aspirations to save the Great Barrier Reef?
On 6 July 2009, Australian Dr Charlie Veron — who has discovered, described and identified about a third of all known coral species — addressed the Royal Society in London and asked: “Is the Great Barrier Reef on death row?” His response: “The answer must be yes… a close look at this question from any rational perspective arrives at the same bottom line: the Great Barrier Reef can indeed be utterly destroyed, and this could easily happen in the lifetime of my children.”
It is a devastating answer because corals have been around for almost 500 million years and have formed more fossils than any other species, they are home to one-quarter of marine fish species, and tens of millions of people depend on reef ecosystems for protein and other services. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is home to 600 different types of corals, and is more biodiverse that any other UNESCO World Heritage site.
Now, in 2016, we have seen why Charlie Veron was so worried, with mass coral bleaching unprecedented in scale and severity occurring across the Reef in March. It was driven by a 1°C rise in sea temperatures compared to the recent average (2002-2011). Worryingly, there’s little sign that those sea temperatures are returning to normal in the short run, so more damage may still be occurring.
Of 911 reefs surveyed by scientists since the bleaching, 500 were severely bleached. Of the 522 reefs surveyed in the more pristine and isolated northern sector (stretching 1000 kms from Port Douglas north to Torres Strait), 81% were severely bleached. Scientists report that: “North of Port Douglas, we’re already measuring an average of close to 50% mortality of bleached corals. At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%. When bleaching is this severe it affects almost all coral species, including old, slow-growing corals that once lost will take decades or longer to return.”

 The bleaching exhibits a gradient of decreasing severity from north to south along the Reef.

Coral bleaching
Coral polyps are invertebrates similar to minute jelly fish, which build limestone (calcium carbonate) structures, and live in a symbiotic relationship with algae-like unicellular zooxanthellae that reside within the coral structure, and give it colour.
The coral provides the algae with a protected environment and compounds they need for photosynthesis. In return, the algae produce oxygen and help the coral to remove wastes. Most importantly, zooxanthellae supply the coral with glucose, glycerol, and amino acids, which are the products of photosynthesis.

Corals survive within a narrow water temperature band, and suffer heat stress and expel zooxanthellae if the ocean temperature get too high. Bleaching events vary intensity. In the extreme case, all zooxanthellae are expelled and the living colony will appear totally white (hence “bleaching”). As elevated sea temperatures persist, coral mortality rates increase. 
Charlie Veron explains:

Coral mortality means the corals have expelled all zooxanthellae, and starve to death, which may take months. Corals may recover, if there are any zooxanthellae left in their tissues, but if not death appears to be inevitable.

Put bluntly, more than half the corals north from Port Douglas have already been identified as dead, and as observations continue over the next few months that figure is likely to rise sharply. Climate change has just killed most corals in the Great Barrier Reef’s highest-value section. 
Coral expert Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg says that “An increase of as little as 1-2°C on top of regular summer temperatures can mean the difference between life and death for coral reefs.”
Previously, the most widespread bleaching events on the GBR occurred in the summers of 1998 and 2002, with 42% and 54% respectively of reefs bleached to some extent, and 18% strongly bleached. However coral losses on the Reef between 1995 and 2009 were largely offset by growth of new corals.

Press link for more: Climate Code Red

Our economic model is broken. So how can we fix it? #Auspol

2015 marked a turning point in global ambitions. World leaders took two major decisions with the Sustainable Development Goals (now called Agenda 30) and the Paris Agreement on climate. Together these chart a course for a zero-poverty, zero-carbon world.

However, the systems change required is massive – an industrial transformation that must be faster and deeper than at any time in our history.
The New Climate Economy’s flagship report Better Growth: Better Climate showed that at the very least carbon neutrality is achievable with the technologies we have right now, but the next 15 years is critical. Together, governments and businesses can drive economic growth and development and achieve as much as 96% of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed by 2030 to keep global warming under 2°C, according to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. However, in a race against time, when many nations have barely left the starting blocks and many others are not even limbering up, the winning post is tragically not in sight.

nd for workers and their families historic levels of unemployment, inequality and precarious work is their reality with one in two working families hit by loss of jobs or reduction of working hours, is it any wonder our people have lost trust in governments?
And with 40% of the global labour force trapped in the desperation of the informal economy without rights, minimum wages or social protection and around 30 million of our brothers and sisters in modern slavery, it is an economic reality that a global wages slump means a global slump in demand.
Rising inequality is now recognized as a global risk, austerity has failed and as the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Lofven, says we need a new global deal.
2016 opened with three reports that depict a broken economic model.
Oxfam exposed the fact that 1% of the world population now own equivalent wealth to the other 99%.
The ITUC exposed the fact that 50 of our largest multinationals have a hidden workforce of 94%, the majority of whom work in intolerable conditions for poverty wages.
And Amnesty International depicted the depravity of the abuse of children in the supply chains of the extractive industry from the Congo.
This is inequality by design. Wealth is being generated off the back of oppression and abuse.
To realize Agenda 30, as the Irish saying goes ‘you wouldn’t start from here’.

For a world where 90% of disasters are climate related and contributing to even greater poverty and inequality the lack of urgency in public discourse, yet alone action, is frightening. The collaboration within and across nations to share technology, the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies, a realistic carbon price and the consequent funding to invest in enabling green infrastructure and just transition measures is minimal. Outside of a few national exceptions; Germany with its national energy plan, France with a legislative frame, USA with EPA regulations now under legal challenge and Senegal unique with National Multi-stakeholder Committee on climate – the national social dialogue is minimal.
For the unions it is simple. There are no jobs on a dead planet. This is much more than a slogan for us. We are already witnessing the loss of lives and livelihoods.
Climate impacts hit working people first and with extreme weather events, changing seasons and rising sea levels, whole communities stand on the frontlines.

Press link for more: World Economic Forum

Destructive Wildfire near Canada’s Oil Sands May Have Been Fueled by Global Warming. #Auspol

The devastating natural disaster in Fort McMurray is “consistent” with climate change.

As the planet continues to warm, wildfires will likely only become more common and intense as spring snowpack disappears and temperatures warm. Credit: USFWS/Southeast/Flickr

An unusually intense May wildfire roared into Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in province history. The flames rode the back of hot, windy weather that will continue through Wednesday and could pick up again this weekend.

The wildfire is the latest in a lengthening lineage of early wildfires in the northern reaches of the globe that are indicative of a changing climate. As the planet continues to warm, these types of fires will likely only become more common and intense as spring snowpack disappears and temperatures warm.

“This (fire) is consistent with what we expect from human-caused climate change affecting our fire regime,” Mike Flannigan, a wildfire researcher at the University of Alberta, said.

Press link for more: Scientific American