New Scientist site on climate change

The periodical New Scientist has an excellent section on climate change on its website. Some of the articles would provide a good overview for high school and undergraduate students, while some of the more advanced materials would be appropriate for graduate students. There is an RSS feed option also.

UNEP Analysis of How to Avoid Exceeding the 2C Limit

UNEP recently released a new analysis (10 pages) this week of what additional steps States need to take to meet the Copenhagen Accord goal of avoiding a temperature increase of 2C above Pre-Industrial levels. It provides some interesting insights also as to temporal considerations in climate policy making.

Among the important take-aways of the report:

  1. The level of cumulative emissions “play a decisive role” in determining compatible emissions pathways with a 2C limit;
  2. According to recent studies, there is a medium likelihood (defined as a 50% chance) to stay within the 2C limit if global emissions peak between 2015-2021, global emissions in 2020 are 40-48.3 GtCO2-eq./yr, adn global emissions decrease by 48-72% by 2050 relative to 2000. However, there are many sources of uncertainty in estimating emission pathways;
  3. Based on the upper and lower ranges of the pledges made by UNFCCC Parties post-COP15, the gap between high pledges and what’s necessary is about 0.5-8.8 Gt Co2 eq./yr., with an intermediate value of 4.7; if low emission pledges are fulfilled, the gap is between 2.9-11.2 Gt CO2 eq./yr., with an intermediate value of 7.1;
  4. Even if the intermediate targets are met, further reductions after 2020 are necessary, with most studies indicating that reduction rate at peak should be at least 3% annually; thus, it would be salutary to set international emission targets also for 2050, as well as long-term targets to stimulating the requisite R&D for technologies e.g. carbon capture and sequestration and new resource-efficient technologies;
  5. There is low confidence that the two degree limit will be met under current emissions scenarios.

Of course this study makes several assumptions that lead us to believe that the actual gap may be evne wider. For example, the prospects for the United States to meet its pledge appear increasingly remote as climate change legislation founders in the Senate and the EPA may be backtracking on its intention to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act. Moreover, a number of analyses have questioned the integrity of many components of the pledges, especially in the context of LULUCF and offsets.

New Pew Video on Interface of CC/National Security

Climate Patriots is a short video that provides a military perspective on energy, climate change and American national security.  The Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate conducted a series of interviews with former military leaders to discuss the challenges posed to the U.S. armed forces due to the impacts of climate change and our energy posture.  The video features:

  • Senator John Warner (R-VA), Former chairman U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee;
  • Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy (Ret.);
  • Former Captain James Morin, U.S. Army; and
  • Admiral John Nathman, U.S. Navy (Ret.).

New review of Copenhagen

There are, of course, many reviews of COP15 that one can assign to students, including a number that have been reviewed recently on the blog. However, one of the best ones I’ve reviewed to date is: Benito Mueller, Copenhagen 2009: Failure or Final Wake-Up Call for Our Leaders?, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Feb. 2010. Mueller not only provides an excellent summary of the key developments from the meeting, including a really good analysis of the Copenhagen Accord and the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP texts, but he also explains the political machinations at the meeting that may have had a profound impact on the outcomes, a critical contextual analysis absent in many of the other pieces I’ve seen.

Among the key take-aways from the report:

  1. The reference in the mitigation section of the Copenhagen Accord to equitable considerations leaves open the possibility that the global emissions reduction burden could be shared equitably, perhaps on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities;
  2. It is unclear whether only small island states and less developed countries will be elgible for financial support for mitigation efforts, or whether other non-Annex I States will also be eligible. Mueller cites an analysis that concludes that other non-Annex I States may be eligible on a case-by-case basis as determined by the inchoate Copenhagen Green Climate Fund;
  3. It is possible that the High Level panel established by the parties at Copenhagen to explore potential sources of revenue for the funding mechanisms in  Accord could hep facilitate funding, or could detract if it’s used as an alternative negotiating forum to the AWG-LCA financial negotiations;
  4. A red flag in the financing context is whether the U.S. will seek to engineer a burden-sharing arrangement for the Green Climate Fund, meaning that all Parties would be expected to contribute;
  5. It is unclear at this point if the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund is meant to manage the $10 billion in “fast start” money proposed in the Accord, and the interface of this fund with the AWG-LCA’s proposed Climate Fund/Facility; [Editor's note: many of us believe that the regime already has way too many different funding mechanisms, a source of frustration and confusion for many Parties seeking to avail themselves of such funds]
  6. The “blame game” that ensued after Copenhagen, with Parties e.g. China and India excoriating each other in the press, is not helpful, particularly since much of it was carried out at the Ministerial level;
  7. Some Parties to the UNFCCC believe that Copenhagen may have spelled the end to large-scale multilateral initiatives; as one Indian official commented, “small group pacts may become more important than multilateral treaties;”
  8. It is noteworthy that the Chinese and Indian notifications post-Copenhagen did not reference the Copenhagen Accord;
  9. While there may be merit in reexamining the consensus rule in the climate regime, many States beyond those who openly opposed adoption of the Copenhagen Accord were angered by the lack of transparency in many aspects of the negotiations, including the release early on of the Danish text and work of the Friends of the Chair group.

For instructors in climate change courses that like to include multi-media presentations in their lectures or readings, I would suggest checking out The focus of the site is interviews with policymakers, academics and members of the NGO community on issues associated with international climate change negotiations and climate science, including the COPs, the Ad-Hoc Working Groups, the IPCC, and the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC. The site also includes a powerful search engine that allows you to search by keywords in the interview archives.

These are the kind of materials that can help make climate change negotiations come alive for students. Moreover, many of the interviews can be extremely helpful if your class includes a simulated negotiation exercise, as the students can obtain insights into the negotiating perspectives of many parties that they might not be able to find anywhere else.

Adaptation under the Copenhagen Accord

While most of the analyses of the Copenhagen Accord to date have focused on its mitigation provisions, its adapatation provisions could also be critical given projected temperature increases this century of 2-4C. Linda Siegle of the Foundation for International Environmental Law & Development (FIELD) has prepared an excellent briefing note (5 pages) on the subject, Adaptation Under the Copenhagen Accord, Feb. 2010

Among the key take-aways from the note are the following:

  1. The Accord is retrograde in that it reestablishes a link between adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change and potential impacts of response measures. Given the fact that the causes and timing of these two phenomena can be different, and the groups affected have different vulnerabilities and interests, developing countries had successfully de-coupled the concepts in the Bali Action Plan. While the provisions of Copenhagen are not binding, it may exert substantal influence on future negotiations on the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP;
  2. The reference in paragraph 3 of the Copenhagen Accord to the adaptation challenge faced by “all countries” ignores the principle of common but differentiated responsibilies and respective capabilities underpinning the UNFCCC;
  3. The financing provisions of the Copenhagen Accord are problematic in the context of adaptation action for several reasons, including the absence of a mechanism for determining the mix of public and private funding, an absence of provision for where the or how the money is to be delivered, and perhaps most critically (from my perspective), the absence of a dedicated source of funds. The brief also addresses the hard work ahead to develop the protocols for the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund;
  4. The Accord makes no provision for the development of concrete infrastructure to guide implementation of adaptation actions, including the provision of pertinent technologies;
  5. The emergence of the BASIC group (U.S., China, India, South Africa and Brazil) may pave the way for climate change decisionmaking to being moved to other forums, e.g. the G8, G20 or Major Economies Forum. This may bode badly for particularly vulnerable developing countries who have very little input in such forums. It is critical that the primary decisionmaking should remain under the aegis of the UNFCCC.

New Video on Grenada/CC

FYI, for those who use videos in class.

Dear Colleagues,

We invite you to view this short video on Grenada, highlighting the impacts of climate change and recent hurricane devastation on the island’s development.  The production is a product of the United Nations Department of Public Information in partnership with UN-DESA.

Best wishes, Lauren
Lauren E. Anderson
Communications and Outreach Branch
UNDESA – Division for Sustainable Development
Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-2256, NY, NY 10017

New CC Iphone App

Ever needed responses to the argument of skeptics while on the road speaking somewhere. Check out the new iphone app developed by the folks at Skeptical Science:

Utah and CC

The Utah House of Representative in the United States has passed a resolution declaring climate change a hoax, indeed perhaps a conspiracy, and it has called for suspension of pertinent federal regulations:

This might be a good jumping off point to discuss the current status of climate change science and whether “Climategate” warrants responses such as this.

Can We Test Geoengineering Without Potential Consequences?

A very recent piece in Science, Robock, et al., A Test for Geoengineering?, 327 Science 530-31 (2010) provides an excellent critique of why one of the chief claims of proponents of solar radiation management geoengineering (most prominently, injecting sulfur dioxide or other particles into the stratosphere to reflect incoming solar radiation), that we can start experimentation on small scale and assess the results, may be chimerical. The authors of the article argue that there are two reasons why it might not be useful to begin with small rates of insertion of particles to assess the potential negative impacts of stratospheric injection. First, if one wished to produce an aerosol cloud of sufficient thickness to cool the Earth’s surface, one would need to engage in regular injections. However continuous emissions of sulfur particles or gasses would cause existing particles to grow, reducing albedo effects. As a consequence, even more injections would be necessary, meaning that such effects couldn’t be assessed except at full scale deployment. Additionally, “the signal of small injections would be indistinguishable from the noise of weather and climate variations.” The only way to distinguish the signal from noise would be to inject very substantial amounts of particles for a protracted period of time.

The article also demonstrates why programs of this nature, while touted by proponents as reversible, might have a life of their own. First, the cessation of geoengineering could result in a huge temperature spike, meaning that we might not be able to turn back unless we simultaneously engage in aggressive emissions reductions. Moreover, “the geoengineering infrastructure” would lobby to maintain its program, backed by those with an interest in the program, including those who might stand to profit or have obtained jobs.

Finally, the article argues that one of the consistent concerns expressed about shortwave radiation engineering is potential regional effects, e.g. disruption of monsoon circulation in tropical regions. Unfortunately, the more localized that these impacts might be, the longer experiments would have to be run to assess such potential impacts. Even a 10-year experiment, the researchers conclude, would not necessarily detect local adverse responses.

Geoengineering is an excellent topic to cover in a climate change course, or a more general environmental course. It facilitates discussion of critical issues such as risk assessment, the proper role of the precautionary principle (could it be, for example, that geoengineering is arguably actually MANDATED if there is a risk of catastrophic climatic impacts under business as usual scenarios; see the language of Rio Principle 15, for example), the potential for moral hazards in climate decision making, and issues of equity and how to ensure that governance structures effectively incorporate such concerns. The Robock piece would provide a good jumping off point for such a classroom discussion.