UN Climate Talks Start Today—7 Things You Need to Know
By Molly Bergen
This week in Doha, Qatar, representatives from 194 countries are gathering for the 18th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 18). I recently talked with Rebecca Chacko, Conservation International’s (CI) senior director of climate policy, to learn more about what will be discussed, what the obstacles are—and what’s at stake if countries continue to delay action.
1. What is the overall goal of the U.N. climate meetings?
The goal of the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, which means limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius at the most.
If nations in Doha don’t make the necessary commitments, this goal may soon be out of our reach. A new World Bank report warns that we are currently on track for a 4-degree increase in temperature, which would mean devastating consequences for people and ecosystems. We are talking about the most basic components of life on Earth—where we can live, the food we eat, the water we drink, our economic well-being and our ability to survive, let alone live happy, healthy lives.
Successful decisions from the U.N. climate summit offer us an alternate, more prosperous future—one in which we can not only maintain, but improve, human well-being.
2. Superstorm Sandy has spurred a deluge of climate change media coverage in the past few weeks. Do you think more frequent extreme weather events will encourage countries to take the action necessary in Doha?
It’s sad that it takes major disasters to invoke political action. The truth is, Sandy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we face with climate change. More waits for us beneath the surface due to the changes we have already put in motion, and even more will come if we don’t make changes immediately.
But here’s the good news: We can begin to transition to sustainable, low-emissions economies. And Hurricane Sandy may be the wake up call we need. It’s much easier to react to real events on the ground than address abstract predictions of what is to come.
We are starting to see the costs of inaction. Hurricane Sandy came with a US$60 billion price tag. In the long run, reducing emissions and taking actions to adapt to likely impacts will be more cost-effective than sticking our heads in the sand.
Public officials owe it to the people they represent to participate in Doha with Superstorm Sandy and other extreme weather events at the front of their minds. CI’s role as an NGO—and the role of every citizen on this planet—is to remind our government representatives of the stakes, ensure they are informed by science and provide them with the support they need to make the tough decisions necessary.
3. How effective was the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol—and what will the outcome of COP18 mean for this agreement?
The Kyoto Protocol is a historic agreement that legally binds developed (or Annex I) countries to emission reduction targets. It also created market mechanisms that allowed countries to meet their targets by trading in carbon emissions. Out of the 195 signatories to the UNFCCC, 192 have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, with the U.S. being the most notable exception.
While it is difficult to measure the impact the Kyoto Protocol has had, in 2011 the UNFCCC estimated that it reduced global emissions by about 5 percent by 2010—the equivalent of taking 300 million cars off the road for a year—and will prevent 10 percent by 2020.
The Kyoto Protocol‘s first commitment period comes to a close at the end of this year. That’s one reason Doha is so important—parties are finalizing the second commitment period, which will start on Jan. 1, 2013. The EU, Australia and nine other countries have indicated they will participate in the second commitment period, but four countries have indicated that they will not: Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand.
The Kyoto Protocol is currently the only legally binding mechanism we have to limit international greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually a new global climate treaty should also provide legally binding obligations, but until then, the Kyoto Protocol is all we have, and maintaining it is critical.
4. What issues do you expect to see the most progress on at COP 18?
The broad political issues at play in Doha will really set the tone for how we move forward on climate change. But CI will also be directly engaged in a number of the nuts and bolts issues on the table, and this is where there is an opportunity to see real progress.
A lot of CI’s focus will be on deforestation—which contributes to 16 percent of global emissions—and adaptation. We want to see details that will enable implementation at scale by reducing deforestation and helping people cope with climate change all over the world.
For example, CI is contributing to the development of guidance on how countries should do carbon accounting in the forest sector, and on planning processes for adaptation in the mid- to long-term. This may not sound as sexy as some of the climate issues more likely to be picked up in the news, but these issues are where the rubber meets the road in terms of turning policy into action and offering real benefits to people.
5. What do you think will be the biggest obstacle to progress at this meeting?
The word you can expect to hear over and over again in Doha is “equity.” And while it’s easy to agree that equity is important, it’s pretty tough to define what it looks like.
Developed countries have a historical responsibility for climate change because of all of the gases they emitted in the process of development. They are also in a better economic position to contribute to climate solutions. But as the climate problem grows, it is clear that developed countries won’t be able to solve it on their own.
Developing countries will need to be part of the equation, whether they are growing economic powerhouses whose emissions now rival those of the U.S. or small island states whose territories are at risk of going underwater. The question in Doha will be: What responsibilities do different countries hold, and how can we implement climate solutions fairly?
Answering these questions is Doha’s true challenge. If certain countries stick to their current positions, we could see a complete block to further progress.
6. Which countries will be especially influential at COP 18?
It’s easy to list off big countries like the U.S. and China, but one of the interesting things about the UNFCCC is that every country has a voice and an opportunity to show leadership. A lot of the true power comes from working with others.
Last year we saw the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries team together, and in doing so they were able to get things done. That’s the type of leadership we need now: progressive countries willing to push for more than common denominator solutions.
We can also expect to hear more from Brazil, South Africa, India and China, otherwise known as the BASIC countries. Then, of course, there is the COP President—Qatar—which has the challenging task of orchestrating agreement and pushing towards a more ambitious, successful conclusion.
7. What are the main outcomes CI hopes to see?
For a successful Doha outcome, we need to see three developments:
- A clear way forward towards developing a new 2015 agreement for all countries. In Durban, countries made a pivotal decision to establish a new legal agreement by 2015. This represents an opportunity to finally put in place the actions necessary to avoid dangerous climate impacts.
- Successful closure of negotiations on Long-term Cooperative Action so that countries can move forward with implementation on all of the necessary elements: mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity-building.
- An amendment to the Kyoto Protocol providing a robust second commitment period.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Rebecca Chacko is CI’s senior director of climate policy. Molly Bergen is managing editor on CI’s news and publicity team. Learn more about CI’s role at COP 18.
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For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.
What Is PTSD?<p><a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">PTSD</a> can occur when someone is exposed to extreme exposure traumatic experience. Typically, the trauma involves a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Along with war veterans, it happens to refugees; to victims of gun violence, rape and other physical assaults; and to survivors of car accidents and natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes.</p><p>PTSD can also happen by witnessing trauma or its aftermath, often the case with <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd" target="_blank">first responders</a> and <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-anxiety-and-trauma/202006/invisible-wounds-the-frontline-heroes" target="_blank">front-line workers</a>.</p><p>All this adds up to tens of millions of Americans. Up to 30% of combat veterans and first responders, and 8% of civilians, <a href="https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp" target="_blank">fulfill the diagnostic criteria for PTSD</a>. And that criteria is not easily met: symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive trauma memories, difficulty sleeping, avoidance of reminders of trauma, negative emotions, and what we call "hyperarousal symptoms."</p>
Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
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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By Jeff Berardelli
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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