So it was another one of those weeks, which are increasing in frequency and severity (sound familiar?) where there was some significant scientific studies raising an aspect of the impact of climate change. This week they all seem to talk about the rapid melting of ice and they came one after another. It is even now starting to impact how the earth rotates. It is like when you use a hair dryer to rapidly de-ice a fridge. This is an emergency.
“Sea levels could rise nearly twice as much as previously predicted by the end of this century if carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated, an outcome that could devastate coastal communities around the globe, according to new research published Wednesday. The main reason? Antarctica,” reported the Washington Post. “Scientists behind a new study published in the journal Nature used sophisticated computer models to decipher a longstanding riddle about how the massive, mostly uninhabited continent surrendered so much ice during previous warm periods on Earth. They found that similar conditions in the future could lead to monumental and irreversible increases in sea levels. If high levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue, they concluded, oceans could rise by close to two meters in total (more than six feet) by the end of the century. The startling findings paint a far grimmer picture than current consensus predictions, which have suggested that seas could rise by just under a meter at most by the year 2100.”
EcoWatch tells us the decline of Arctic sea ice is already setting records in 2016, with the winter peak in March clocking in as the lowest since satellite records began, scientists say. “With abnormally warm conditions right across the Arctic, some regions experienced temperatures 4-8C higher than average. While this meant slower ice growth in some places, in others it caused a dramatic thinning by 30cm in one week, according to early model results.” Climate Change News reports almost 12 per cent of Greenland’s ice sheet was melting on Monday, according to data crunched by the Danish Meteorological Institute. “Polar researchers thought their models were broken when they first saw the results. It beat by almost a month the previous record for a melt of more than 10%, on 5 May 2010. Temperature readings on the ice were in line with the numbers, however, exceeding 10C in some places. Even a weather station 1840 metres above sea level recorded a maximum of 3.1C, which data analysts said would be warm for July, let alone April. Greenland’s usual melt season runs from early June to September. “Too much. Too early,” tweeted the World Meteorological Organisation,” the website reported.
The Guardian tells us climate change projections have vastly underestimated the role that clouds play, meaning future warming could be far worse than is currently projected, according to new research. “Researchers said that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere compared with pre-industrial times could result in a global temperature increase of up to 5.3C – far warmer than the 4.6C older models predict. The analysis of satellite data, led by Yale University, found that clouds have much more liquid in them, rather than ice, than has been assumed until now. Clouds with ice crystals reflect more solar light than those with liquid in them, stopping it reaching and heating the Earth’s surface. The underestimation of the current level of liquid droplets in clouds means that models showing future warming are misguided, says the paper, published in Science. It also found that fewer clouds will change to a heat-reflecting state in the future – due to CO2 increases – than previously thought, meaning that warming estimates will have to be raised. Such higher levels of warming would make it much more difficult for countries to keep the global temperature rise to below 2C, as they agreed to do at the landmark Paris climate summit last year, to avoid dangerous extreme weather and negative effects on food security.”
The consequences? Melting ice sheets are changing how the earth rotates. Yes, really. EcoWatch reports “Driven by dwindling polar ice, climate change is actually changing the way the Earth spins, new research shows. Melting ice sheets are contributing to the change in polar motion, a term scientists use to describe the “periodic wobble and drift of the poles,” according to NASA.
The outgoing head of the UNFCCC (the United Nations body which leads negotiations and staged last year’s conference) has been talking up the move by nations to act on climate change. “The global climate change agreement brokered in Paris in December by 195 nations will come into effect two years earlier than originally planned, the top United Nations climate diplomat predicted,” reported Bloomberg. “You heard it here first: I think that we will have a Paris Agreement in effect by 2018,” Christiana Figures said during a question-and-answer session after delivering a lecture Monday at Imperial College London. “The prediction suggests that countries may initiate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions earlier than expected, and increases the chances of meeting the pact’s ultimate goal of limiting the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since industrialization began,” Bloomberg said.
The World Bank this week released details of its Climate Change Action Plan to help countries meet their Paris COP21 pledges and manage increasing climate impacts. “A key focus is boosting the resilience of people and communities to climate shocks, with new efforts to expand early warning systems, climate-smart social protection, and urban and coastal resilience. The Bank Group is ramping up action in renewable energy, sustainable cities, climate smart agriculture, green transport and other areas – with ambitious targets for 2020, the bank said in a statement.
Renew Economy says Australia in danger of losing top 10 ranking in the global solar market. “The recently released International Energy Agency 2015 Snapshot Report show that the PV market grew again in 2015 to 50GW, up from 40GW in 2014. The total installed capacity in the IEA PVPS countries and key markets has risen to at over 227 GW and, unlike the Australian market, shows no signs of slowing. In Australia, with the Solar Flagships fields coming on line over 2015, the total installed capacity in was 935MW, keeping Australia in the top ten for installed capacity in 2015. But Australia may no longer keep its place in the top ten for installed capacity. India will almost certainly move up the table in 2016, leaving Australia at the bottom of the leader table. Korea and France are installing at a rate that could see Australia lose its long-held position in the top-ten countries for installed solar.
Bloomberg is reporting that wind and solar are experiencing unstoppable growth. “While two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels. One reason is that renewable energy is becoming ever cheaper to produce. Recent solar and wind auctions in Mexico and Morocco ended with winning bids from companies that promised to produce electricity at the cheapest rate, from any source, anywhere in the world, said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).”
Finishing on some news with big ramifications, a group of youngsters has had a major win in their efforts to sue the United States government over climate change. Think Progress reports an Oregon judge ruled Friday that their lawsuit, which alleges the government violated the constitutional rights of the next generation by allowing the pollution that has caused climate change, can go forward. Federal District Court Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin ruled against the federal government and fossil fuel companies’ motions to dismiss the case, deciding in favor of 21 young plaintiffs and Dr. James Hansen. Filed in August, the complaint alleges that the U.S. government has known for half a century that greenhouse gases from fossil fuels cause global warming and climate change. “If the allegations in the complaint are to be believed, the failure to regulate the emissions has resulted in a danger of constitutional proportions to the public health,” Coffin wrote. He called the lawsuit “unprecedented.”
And no that wasn’t a typographical error or spell checking changing, the presiding judge really is named Thomas Coffin. Quite a coincidence.
Editor’s note: Items that didn’t make the cut this week - see the Climate Comm Blog.
Disclaimer: Andrew Woodward is the endorsed Australian Labor Party Candidate for Warringah but contributes this column as a Climate Reality Leader and as such its content is strictly politically non-partisan.
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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