U.S. Makes Historic Climate Pledge Ahead of Paris Talks, Joins EU, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland
With the Paris climate talks looming in December, nations are being challenged to come up with climate action plans to mitigate their own impacts on climate change. The informal target for climate plans to be submitted to the UN is today and they have begun to trickle in.
The U.S. released its plan today, putting it ahead of such major countries as China, India, Russia, Canada and Australia. Australia, which has been a laggard on climate issues thanks to Prime Minister Tony Abbott's commitment to fossil fuels, has said it will not release its plan until mid-year, and it is currently seeking public input on what its emissions reduction target should be.
The U.S. said it would reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent over 2005 levels cut by 2025, the same pledge that President Obama made last November in Beijing. Many other countries are looking to the U.S. pledge for direction.
"The U.S. is strongly committed to reducing greenhouse gas pollution, thereby contributing to the objective of the Convention," said the announcement. "The target is fair and ambitious. The U.S. has already taken substantial policy action to reduce emissions, taking the necessary steps to place us on a path to achieve the 2020 target of reducing emissions in the range of 17 percent below the 2005 level in 2020. Additional action to achieve the 2025 target represents a substantial acceleration of the current pace of greenhouse gas emission reductions."
America is taking steps to #ActOnClimate, and the world is joining us → https://t.co/Ft0xj1KpIJ pic.twitter.com/yqaM9MMwgt
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) March 31, 2015
"By announcing its plan ahead of Paris as agreed, the U.S. has at least shown it is committed to the negotiation process and willing to push the other nearly 200 countries to deliver," said Greenpeace legislative director Kyle Ash. "It is incredibly important countries move quickly in developing strong proposals for climate action so we can step back and assess the progress toward an agreement in December."
Americans agree. A new poll released yesterday found that 72 percent of Americans support the U.S. signing an international climate agreement.
“We applaud the Obama Administration for following through on the ambitious commitment made last November with China by pledging clear, significant action to tackle the climate crisis and protect our children and grandchildren," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "We’ve seen the effects of unmitigated carbon pollution take their toll around the world, but this announcement is further proof that the U.S. is stepping up to lead the world in pursuing solutions."
“Momentum for real climate action is building at a historic rate. With our nation moving away from coal and the world embracing clean energy at a record pace, this announcement and others like it open the door to meet the 2 degree celsius goal needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. In the coming months, we expect additional ambitious commitments to pour in that will further prove the world is ready to act and keep us on the right track to Paris and beyond,” Brune concluded.
On Friday, Mexico became one of the first countries to formally submit its plan, saying it will cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2026 and reduce them by 22 percent by 2030. The country, considered an "emerging" nation, said it would do so without financial help from wealthier, developed countries.
"The U.S. welcomes the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submission by President Peña Nieto earlier today and applauds Mexico for being the first major emerging economy to formally submit its INDC," said a White House press statement. "Mexico is setting an example for the rest of the world by submitting an INDC that is timely, clear, ambitious and supported by robust, unconditional policy commitments. We hope that Mexico’s actions will encourage other economies to submit INDCs that are ambitious, timely, transparent, detailed and achievable."
In addition, President Enrique Peña Nieto and U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new joint clean energy and climate policy task force intended to "further deepen policy and regulatory coordination in specific areas including clean electricity, grid modernization, appliance standards and energy efficiency, as well as promoting more fuel efficient automobile fleets in both countries, global and regional climate modeling, weather forecasting and early alerts system."
"On the occasion of Mexico submitting its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), President Barack Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirm their commitment to addressing global climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity,"said the White House. "The leaders underscore the importance of jointly addressing climate in their integrated economy."
Switzerland was the first country to submit its INDC plan, which promises to reduce its emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. It did so on February 27. The 28-nation European Union (EU) followed on March 6 with a promise of a 40 percent reduction in the same time frame. Norway also submitted its plan on Friday, making a commitment identical to the EU's while suggesting it might step up its level of commitment.
"If it can contribute to a global and ambitious climate agreement in Paris, Norway will consider taking a commitment beyond an emission reduction of 40 percent compared to 1990 levels, through the use of flexible mechanisms under the UN framework convention, beyond a collective delivery with the EU," said Norway's climate and environment minister Tine Sundtoft in a statement. "We need more international cooperation to meet the climate challenge. Both Norway and the EU have high ambitions on climate and view climate measures in the context of long-term transition to low-emission societies. By linking our climate efforts, we can achieve better results."
According to the New Climate Institute, which is tracking the submissions, the first wave submitted by the end of March is expected to cover less than 30 percent of global emissions, but more than 50 percent are likely to be covered in plans submitted by June. Oct. 1 has been set as the deadline for the submission of all INDC plans in order to assemble the final report for the December talks.
Paris itself is gearing up for the talks by moving toward divestment. Paris city council voted earlier this month to divest from fossil fuel holdings, the first European city to do so. If ratified by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, it would bar the city's newly created endowment fund from investing in fossil fuel industries and phase out such investments from the city's pension funds.
In an open letter to Hidalgo, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, 350.org France campaigner Nicholas Haeringer and This Changes Everything author Naomi Klein, along with 18 French co-signers, said, "People concerned about climate change were so happy to hear the news that the Paris City Council had gone on record as favoring divestment from fossil fuel companies. The motion is a very important step towards a fossil fuel free future. That’s why it’s so imperative that the city government now agrees to implement this wise recommendation, and ensures that the newly created endowment fund never invests in fossil fuel companies, while making sure that the council members’ pension fund divests from the sector."
"With Paris playing host to the next climate talks at the end of the year, it has a responsibility to set an example and to go a step further," they added. "The city could take a leadership role in local authorities’ climate action and call other cities in France to join the divestment movement. The momentum behind a Fossil Free France would help immeasurably as the world heads toward the important climate negotiations in Paris this December."
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Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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