This week, the world ran two yellow lights - were now officially one degree above pre-industrial levels and we’re about to reach 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Based on what we are hearing and seeing in the lead-up to Paris the world is getting ready to hit the brakes but maybe not as hard as we need to.
For the first time in quite some time, science and research leads the review. The first yellow light came with the news that, for the first time temperatures have warmed a full degree since industrialisation. The Sydney Morning Herald reported: “The global mean temperature in the first nine months of the year was 1.02 degrees above the estimated level before the industrial age ramped up carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and accelerated land clearing.” "We've had similar natural events in the past, yet this is the first time we're set to reach the 1-degree marker and it's clear that it is human influence driving our modern climate into uncharted territory" Stephen Belcher, director of the Met Office's Hadley Centre, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports the Earth’s climate will enter a new “permanent reality” from next year when concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are likely to pass a historic milestone, the head of the UN’s weather agency has warned. The record concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere were up 43 per cent since pre-industrial times, said the World Meteorological Organization, prompting its secretary general Michel Jarraud to say immediate action was needed to cut CO2 emissions. Concentrations of CO2 stood at a global annual average of 397.7ppm in 2014, up from about 278ppm in 1750, and the UN said the global annual average is likely to pass the symbolic 400ppm milestone in 2016. Scientists say that the ‘safe’ level of CO2 to avoid dangerous global warming is more like 350ppm. “We will soon be living with globally averaged CO2 levels above 400 parts per million as a permanent reality,” said Jarraud.
The reality of CO2 emissions and increasing temperatures were clear for all to see this week with news that around half a billion people are at risk from sea level rise if the world continues on a business-as-usual path for carbon emissions. Blue and Green Tomorrow reported on news from Climate Central, accompanied by an online interactive mapping system, that carbon emissions causing 4°C of warming – what business-as-usual points toward today – could lock in enough sea level rise to submerge land currently home to 470 to 760 million people as the “unstoppable rise” unfolds over centuries. The report – authored by Climate Central scientists Benjamin Strauss and Scott Kulp, and Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research – assesses implications for all coastal nations and cities – post-2100 – using relationships between warming caused by carbon emissions, the long-term global sea level rise it locks in, and global elevation and population data. Renew Economy had a look at the Australian implications. The report finds that 4°C warming would put 1.9 million inhabitants on land in danger, compared with 668,000 at risk from 2°C. Sydney, alone has 218,000 on land at risk (0.06 percent of the greater urban area population) after 4°C of warming. And 90,000 in the case of 2°C warming. Median projections of locked-in sea level rise are 8.4 meters for 4°C and 4.4 meters for 2°C.
Moving away from science, The Age this week came out with an extraordinary editorial that could best be described as an open letter from global conservationists to the Australian Government. It is worth reading and it ends very succinctly: “The targets set by Mr Abbott when he was prime minister, and which Mr Turnbull will take to Paris, are pathetically weak. We urge Mr Turnbull to prove his administration will do more than his predecessor about reducing emissions, penalising polluters, encouraging clean-energy producers and fostering behavioural change in the wider community. Australia and the world would rightly despair if the Abbott brand of thinking were to hold sway.”
The Australian Greens have come out with a point of difference to their political rivals and endorsed calls by Pacific Island nations for a climate treaty limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Green’s national conference last weekend voted unanimously to back efforts to stabilise global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, a more ambitious target than the 2-degree limit agreed at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference and supported by Australia’s Labor and Coalition governments.
Here’s some news you will have to sit down for. Are you ready? The Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreements make no mention of climate change. Yes, really. The Sydney Morning Herald reports the final text of the huge 12-country trade agreement has no mention of climate change in its lone environment chapter and weak enforcement mechanisms. Matthew Rimmer, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Queensland University of Technology, told Fairfax Media it looks like US trade officials have been green-washing the agreement. "The environment chapter confirms some of the worst nightmares of environmental groups and climate activists," Dr Rimmer said. New Matilda reports Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos has refused to guarantee that the Australian government won’t be sued if it regulates on climate change, coal seam gas, or renewable energy when asked about controversial provisions allowing companies to sue states under the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Australia’s Jeckyl and Hyde approach to climate politics was on show again this week. On the latter, the Sydney Morning Herald reports Australia has been applauded by delegates at climate change ministerial talks in Paris for returning to active climate diplomacy. “Climate activists have praised Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s work for achieving a breakthrough in a six-year-old deadlock on a side protocol, delivering a bonus cut equal to two years’ total global carbon emissions. And Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has negotiated for Australia to become one of two co-chairs of the UN’s Green Climate Fund,” the SMH reported. Meanwhile, the Guardian reported the Turnbull government is considering options to increase its $200m contribution to the international Green Climate Fund. Then there’s Dr Jeckyl: “The Turnbull government has been accused of supporting a “negative carbon price” by standing in the way of the US and Japan as they try to dramatically reduce the ability of rich countries to fund coal plants in the developing world,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
In other news this week:
That wraps another week of an enormous amount of news about an enormous issue just ahead of an enormous meeting of enormous gravity about making enormous changes to the world. It is all quite enormous!
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This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm