Arctic Report 2010

The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s 2010 Arctic Report Card is an extremely good source of information on Arctic climatic trends. The site also includes an abundance of very good graphics.

Among the findings in the report:

  1. The first half of 2010 saw a near record pace of temperature anomalies in the region, with anomalies of over 4C in northern Canada; but this could moderate for the rest of the year due to La Niña influences.
  2. Winter 2009-2010 showed a new connectivity between mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events and changes in the wind patterns of the Arctic; the so-called Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern;
  3. The 2010 sea-ice minimum is the third-lowest recorded since 1979, surpassed only by 2008 and the record low in 2007; The March 2010 ice extent was 15.1 million km2, about 4% less that the 1979–2000 average of 15.8 million km.;
  4. There has been a substantial loss in the oldest ice types within the Arctic Basin in recent years compared to the late 1980s;
  5. A combination of low winter snow accumulation and warm spring temperatures created a new record low spring snow cover duration over the Arctic in 2010, since satellite observations began in 1966;
  6. Greenland climate in 2010 is marked by record-setting high air temperatures, ice loss by melting, and marine-terminating glacier area loss;
  7. There is also evidence that the effect of higher air temperatures in the Arctic atmosphere in fall is contributing to changes in the atmospheric circulation in both the Arctic and northern mid-latitudes. Winter 2009-2010 showed a link between mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events and changes in the wind patterns of the Arctic, related to a phase of the Arctic Oscillation.

Article on Biodiversity & Human Well-Being in Climate Forest Governance

The article, Global Climate Governance to Enhance Biodiversity & Well-Being:  Integrating Non-State Networks and Public International Law in Tropical Forests, 41 Environmental Law __ (forthcoming 2011), may be of interest to readers of this blog.  The article is available for free download at:  http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1694859 

Here is the abstract:

Environmental governance frequently represents a leading edge of global regulation. The climate regime even continues to create new modes of regulation despite a negotiation impasse. These new initiatives, like existing legal approaches to environmental challenges, too often embrace a fragmented view of issue areas that fails to reflect fundamental connections between the objects of regulation. The shortcomings of a state-driven international issue-by-issue approach to global environmental governance have long been obvious in some areas (such as tropical forests), and are becoming ever clearer in others (most notably climate change). Therefore, private networks play an increasingly important role in global environmental governance, as illustrated most directly by forest certification that was developed to fill a gap left by negotiation failures of the 1990s. These prior failures also laid the groundwork for tropical forests to become an object of climate regime regulation, giving rise to one of the most promising and innovative programs for generating a much-needed new approach to global environmental governance more broadly. The reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) program holds out the promise of not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the forest sector, but also promoting public goods associated with biodiversity and human well-being. Nonetheless, REDD remains incompletely formed and fragile. An over-emphasis on mitigation, which seems likely given REDD’s climate regime origins, may prove self-limiting or even self-defeating for the program. In response to this concern, and the need for greater recognition of issue-linkages in designing global environmental regulation generally, this article proposes a novel hybrid public-private governance approach to REDD that can encourage maximum emissions reductions while also effectively promoting a broad array of benefits for biodiversity and human well-being. In so doing, the article also offers an innovative and generalizable model for combining private market finance and public funding to increase the coherence and effectiveness of global environmental regulation.

DSIRE Database

I just ran across a really useful (and somewhat inspiring) website today, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE). The database catalogs renewable energy commitments and efficiency initiatives throughout the United States, including hyperlinks to pertinent legislation and regulations. It also includes an extensive library of reports and articles on these issues.

New article: Geoengineering and the pursuit of 350ppm

There’s an interesting new article on geoengineering in the journal Solutions, Greene, C. Monger, B. Huntley, M. 2010. Geoengineering: The Inescapable Truth of Getting to 350. Solutions. Vol 1, No. 5. pp. 57-66, discussing the potential role of geoengineering solutions in achieving the goal of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 350ppm .

Among the piece’s takeways:

  1. Until the recession, GHG emissions were growing at a rate that exceeded the worst case scenarios of the IPCC, “hence, there is no clear indication that the fossil to alternative energy transition has begun yet;”
  2. Even if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were to stabilize at the current level of 390 pppm, we are probably now committed to a mean global temperature increase of 2.4C (4.2F) by the end of the century, exceeding critical thresholds for dangerous climate change. When slow feedback processes  are included (e.g. centennial- to millennial-scale changes in the heat budget, especially those associated with alterations of surface albedo linked to advances and retreats of the planet’s cryosphere and vegetation cover), projected warming over the next few centuries could increase by a factor of two. The outcome could be “catastrophic,”
  3. If we overshoot 350ppm, the long residence time of carbon dioxide ensures that concentrations will stabilize on a 1000-year time scale at a level of approximately 40% of its peak enhancement, and mean global temperature will not drop substantially over the next millennium even as carbon dioxide concentrations decline; at this point, stabilizing at 350 ppm seems highly unlikely;
  4. None of the proposed solar radiation management options remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus do little to help achieve the goal of getting to 350ppm; moreover they could have serious negative implications, including potentially damaging the ozone layer and enhancing drought in certain regions. Nonetheless, SRM isn’t an option we should ignore given the possibility that it could help us postpone irreversible commitments to dangerous or catastrophic climate change;
  5. Carbon dioxide remediation methods will take longer to develop and deploy, but they offer potential solutions to climate change problems that solar radiation management can only postpone;
  6. The most frequently advocated carbon dioxide remediation method is large-scale industrial air capture. While the technology is among the potentially “most environmentally friendly” of geoengineering technologies, it currently comes at a projected cost of greater than $250 per ton of carbon,  at least an order of magnitude higher than current prices on carbon on the European market;
  7. One approach to reduce the energy costs of air capture systems is to combine them with systems being developed for bioenergy production, which has been estimated to potentially reduce the market price of air capture to approximately $100 per ton; however the limited availability of biomass raises the same environmental and food security issues that arise in the context of biofuels. A desirable alternative option could be algal aquaculture systems. One study projects that algal biofuel production utilizing approximately 7% of surplus, non-arable land in 2050 could replace fossil-based carbon emissions equivalent to approximately 6.7 gigatons of carbon annually;
  8. If a combined air capture/bioenergy system could bring down the cost of air capture and storage to as low as $100 per ton of carbon, it would cost society less than 1% of global GDP for the remainder of the century, similar to IPCC estimates of mitigation costs to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 ppm.  The overall cost of the program is estimated at $85.5 trillion.

Among the questions for class discussion include the following:

1. Given the large costs of an air capture/bioenergy program, would a commitment to this program detract from mitigation initiatives. What would be the long-term implications if this geoengineering option did not prove to be viable?;

2. How do we weigh the potential benefits of solar radiation management approaches against the potential adverse effects described above?

3. Does the article adequately address the issue of potential risks associated with sequestration of captured carbon?

Copenhagen Accord Commitments Analysis

Instructors seeking a good analysis for students of the current landscape of emissions commitments post-Copenhagen should consider a new piece in Environmental Research Letters, Joeri Rogelj, et al., Analysis of the Copenhagen Accord Pledges and its Global Climatic Impacts – A Snapshot of Dissonant Ambitions, 5 Environmental Research Letters 1-9 (2010).

The key take-aways of the piece:

  1. 138 Parties have now expressed their intention to be associated with the Copenhagen Accord, which is framing the ongoing negotiations toward a global successor agreement to Kyoto;
  2. If nations agreed to 50% reduction by 2050 from 1990 levels, global emissions would need to decline by 3-3.55 annually from 2000 levels, requiring “unprecedented political will” by contrast, global emissions rose by 21% between  1990 and 2005;
  3. The study looked at a low ambition “Case 1″ scenario, without a post-2020 target, and a “Case 2″ scenario in which emissions are halved by 2050 from 1990 levels and emissions continue to decrease after 2050 with an exponential decrease at a rate equal to the average reduction rate in the last decade before 2050
  • The Case 1 scenario yields emissions of 53.2 GtCO2eq in 2020, and Case 2, 47.4 GtCO2eq
  • Under the Case 1 scenario, temperatures are projected to rise between 2.5-4.2C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, and still increasing afterwards. Under the Case 2 scenario, temperatures rise between 1.5-2.6C, with a 49% chance to stay below 2C
  • In the Case 1 scenario and without a 2050 target, media estimates would exceed 450ppm CO2 threshold in approximately 2030; this is concentration threshold where coral reefs would face “rapid and terminal decline;” and aragonite undersaturation, a critical manifestation of ocean acidification, would also occur at this concentration. Even under a Case 2 scenario, the globe would see rapid declines of coral reefs and arctic argonite undersaturation during the 21st Century;

4. Higher ambitions for emissions reductions  for 2020 are necessary to keep options for holding temperature increases to 1.5C or 2C without relying on potentially infeasible  reduction rates after 2020;

5. The absence of a mid-century emission goal is a critical deficit in the Copenhagen Accord.

New Climate Science Resource

New web pages explaining the science behind climate change have been launched by Professor Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser for the U.K.’s Government Office for Science. The online resource, produced with the support of Met Office scientists, presents an overview of some of the important areas of climate science, explaining the issues, evidence and principles behind key points to help people understand the science of climate change. This is a concise overview of climate science that would be appropriate for undergraduate or graduate students.

Climate Change Photographs

FYI. This is an excellent source for first-rate photography associated with climate change, with an excellent system of categorization.

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Greetings to all:    As the season turns, concern and activism about rapid climate change looks toward the political system, local action and education, and preparation for the COP-16 in Mexico.

This work can be augmented by World View of Global Warming, http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/ , which exists since 1999 to provide an independent visual and personal witness to rapid climate change and its implications.  Our photographs, books, exhibits and reports have been effectively used by the United Nations and large publishing companies — and by NGOs and schools of all sizes.  New images and reports are added constantly, most recently coverage of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill including an article for Vanity Fair’s website.

A reference to World View of Global Warming coverage of the oil spill in the The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter 4.9 (September 2010) says  “The active ripples of this disaster include effects on community, jobs, income and health, and damaged ecosystem functions on which millions of lives depend. [It] illustrates the link between the warming atmosphere — brought to everyone’s attention this summer by record high temperatures and the flooding in Pakistan — and our overuse of fossil fuels…”

Collaborations for Cancun are welcome.

Please visit http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/ and  http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/pages/news.html

Thank you.

Gary Braasch

Braasch Environmental Photography

Portland Oregon USA

+1503 860-1228