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World nowhere near on track to avoid warming beyond 1.5C target
by Earth Institute, Guardian news, agencies
Oct. 2018
The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that there is only 12 years for the planet to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C warming to avoid environmental breakdown.
The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.
Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the IPCC working group, said: “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”
Political leaders have been urged to act on the report. Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who led the historic Paris agreement of 2015, said: “There is nothing opaque about this new data. The illustrations of mounting impacts, the fast-approaching and irreversible tipping points are visceral versions of a future that no policy-maker could wish to usher in or be responsible for.”
The world is currently 1C warmer than preindustrial levels. Following devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic, the IPCC makes clear that climate change is already happening, upgraded its risk warning from previous reports, and warned that every fraction of additional warming would worsen the impact.
At 1.5C the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2C, it notes. Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.
At 2C extremely hot days, such as those experienced this summer, would become more severe and common.
The IPCC maps out pathways to achieve 1.5C. Reforestation is essential to all of them as are shifts to electric transport systems. Carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 – compared with a 20% cut under the 2C pathway – and come down to zero by 2050, compared with 2075 for 2C. This would require carbon prices that are three to four times higher than for a 2C target. But the costs of doing nothing would be far higher.
“We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.” He said the main finding of his group was the need for urgency.
Johan Rockström, a co-author of the recent Hothouse Earth report, said; “Climate change is occurring earlier and more rapidly than expected. Even at the current level of 1C warming, it is painful.. This report is really important. It has a scientific robustness that shows 1.5C is not just a political concession. There is a growing recognition that 2C is dangerous.”
“The IPCC report makes it clear that we need to halve carbon emissions by 2030 or faster to limit risk for dangerous climate change for humanity,” according to Johan Falk, co-lead author of the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap and Senior Innovation Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Future Earth. “We now need leading companies, industries, cities, nations and individuals to set the target to halve emissions combined with powerful policies to scale-out solutions exponentially.” IPCC Summary (34pp):
* IPCC 1.5 Report - The Impacts of Global Warming on Human Health (WHO):
Oct. 2018
Will Trump’s Environmental Policies Send Us Over Climate Tipping Points. (Earth Institute - Columbia University)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s new report projects that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, global temperatures could rise 1.5C between 2030 and 2052. Though it doesn’t sound like much, this 1.5C rise could trigger extreme temperatures, heavy precipitation, more intense droughts, food and water shortages, risks to human health, increased poverty and other serious effects in some regions. Stabilizing the climate at 1.5C could stem some of the even more catastrophic and irreversible impacts of climate change.
Despite these warnings, the Trump administration, in support of the fossil fuel industry, is attempting to rescind almost all the policies to fight climate change proposed or enacted by the Obama administration. In an op-ed written before Trump was elected, Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said, “…if Donald Trump wins the election and carries through on his campaign promises…The effects on the global climate will persist not only for the four or eight years of his presidency, but for generations.”
How much of an impact could Trump’s rollbacks of climate policy have on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change? Could they push the planet over crucial tipping points?
What are the climate tipping points?
A tipping point is the point at which small changes or incidents become significant enough to cause a larger, more important change. The change could be abrupt, irreversible, and/or lead to runaway effects.
The main climate tipping points scientists worry about are:
The disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth. As the ice melts and exposes more open water, the darker ocean absorbs more of the sun’s rays, warming the Arctic further. Some scientists believe we’ve already reached this tipping point and that the summer sea ice will be gone before 2050.
The melting of the Greenland ice sheet. A completely ice-free Greenland could raise global sea levels by 20 feet.
Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Warmer ocean waters are eroding the bottom of the ice sheet while it continues to melt on the surface, and some research suggests it has already passed a tipping point. It would take a few centuries for it to disintegrate completely, but when it does, sea levels could climb by 16 feet.
According to the IPCC report, the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets could be set off by a 1.5C to 2C increase, resulting “in multi-metre rise in sea level over hundreds to thousands of years.”
Death of the coral reefs. Corals around the world have been bleaching in response to warmer ocean waters. The IPCC report projected that up to 90 percent of coral reefs would disappear with a 1.5C increase; 99 percent of them would be decimated at a 2C increase.
Changes in ocean circulation. Global ocean circulation (called the thermohaline circulation) is partly driven by the cold, salty water that sinks deep into the North Atlantic. As glaciers or ice sheets melt, they add fresher and less dense water to the North Atlantic that could disrupt this pattern. The changes could affect important ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream, as well as sea level rise and the global climate.
Warmer ocean waters might also influence the conditions that lead to El Nino events, making intense El Nino events more common.
As the ocean absorbs more heat, methane hydrates—reservoirs of methane in ocean sediments that are trapped in a crystalline structure similar to ice—could release their powerful global warming gas. Over a 100-year time span, methane is 25 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
On land, permafrost frozen in northern high-latitude areas could thaw, releasing enormous amounts of carbon and methane. A 2017 study estimated that if global temperatures rise 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, thawing permafrost could release 68 to 508 gigatonnes of carbon, which would increase global temperatures 0.13 to 1.69C by 2300.
Increased heat and water stress could result in a dieback of the Amazon rainforest and boreal forests.
A recent study sought to find where the threshold for these tipping points might be. The scientists determined “that a 2C warming could activate important tipping elements, raising the temperature further to activate other tipping elements in a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth System to even higher temperatures”—sending Earth into an irreversible “hothouse” state.
Moreover, even if it’s possible to achieve the Paris accord’s aspirational goal of 1.5C, feedbacks could still push Earth into a hothouse state. For example, at 1C to 3C warmer, research suggests that the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheet and Arctic sea ice could alter the thermohaline circulation.
This, in turn, would result in warmer temperatures in the northern high latitudes, which could trigger permafrost thawing, loss of Arctic sea ice and dieback of the boreal forest.
“At this this point, global science hasn’t advanced enough to really know when tipping points will go into play, if they will go into play,” said Richard Seager, who studies climate variability at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
“We can’t be sure what’s going to happen so it’s all the more risky going there. But the climate changes that we’re causing already—steady temperature rises, steady drops in precipitation, steady increases in the variability—are worrying enough, even in the absence of all these potential tipping points and cascading feedbacks and catastrophic sea level rise..”
27 Sep 2018
Author of key UN climate report says limiting temperature rise would require immediate transformation in human activity.
The world’s governments are “nowhere near on track” to meet their commitment to avoid global warming of more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial period, according to an author of a key UN report that will outline the dangers of breaching this limit.
A massive, immediate transformation in the way the world’s population generates energy, uses transportation and grows food will be required to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and the forthcoming analysis is set to lay bare how remote this possibility is.
“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” said Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which will be unveiled in South Korea next month.
“While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”
In the 2015 Paris climate pact, international leaders agreed to curb the global temperature rise to 2C above the era prior to mass industrialization, with an aspiration to limit this to 1.5C. The world has already warmed by around 1C over the past century, fueling sea level rises, heatwaves, droughts, storms and the decline of vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs.
Shindell said that the 1.5C goal would require a precipitous drop in greenhouse emissions triggered by a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels, particularly coal, mass deployment of solar and wind energy and the eradication of emissions from cars, trucks and airplanes.
The fading prospect of keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5C has provoked alarm among leaders of low-lying island nations that risk being inundated should the world warm beyond this point.
“Every country must increase the ambition of their existing targets,” said Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, which announced a plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the UN general assembly in New York this week. “If we can do it, so can everyone else.”
The UN general assembly has again pitted the world’s countries against Donald Trump when it comes to climate change, with the US president using his keynote speech to praise “clean coal”. Trump has vowed to exit the Paris accord, a stance that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, told the UN should be met with consequences such as a refusal by countries to enter into trade deals with the US.
“It’s a lot more difficult without the US as a leader in climate change negotiations,” Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s environment minister, told the Guardian. “We have to find solutions even though the US isn’t there.”
Elvestuen said countries, including Norway, which is one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, need to transition away from fossil fuels, embrace electric cars and halt deforestation.
He admitted these changes had not happened quickly enough since the Paris deal. Last year, global greenhouse gas emissions rose again.
“We are moving way too slowly,” Elvestuen said. “We have to do more of everything, faster. We need to deliver on policies at every level. Governments normally move slowly but we don’t have the time.”
“The 1.5C target is challenging, but it’s possible. The next four years are crucial ones, where we will set the path to how the world will develop in the decades ahead. The responsibility in doing this is impossible to overestimate. To reach the goals of the Paris agreement we need large structural changes.”
A difference of 0.5C in temperature may appear small but the IPCC report, which is a summary of leading climate science, warns there will be major impacts if warming reaches 2C.
“Even 1.5C is no picnic, really,” said Dr Tabea Lissner, head of adaptation and vulnerability at Climate Analytics.
Lissner said a world beyond 1.5C warming meant the Arctic would be ice-free in summer, around half of land-based creatures would be severely affected and deadly heatwaves would become far more common. “0.5C makes quite a big difference,” she said.

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Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions increase for the third consecutive year
by The Lancet, Climate Council, agencies
Dec. 2018
Global carbon emissions jump to all-time high in 2018. (Global Carbon Budget, agencies)
Global carbon emissions will jump to a record high in 2018, according to a report, dashing hopes a plateau of recent years would be maintained. It means emissions are heading in the opposite direction to the deep cuts urgently needed, say scientists, to fight climate change.
The rise is due to the growing number of cars on the roads and a renaissance of coal use and means the world remains on the track to catastrophic global warming. However, the report’s authors said the emissions trend can still be turned around by 2020, if cuts are made in transport, industry and farming emissions.
The research by the Global Carbon Project was launched at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where almost 200 nations are working to turn the vision of tackling climate change agreed in Paris in 2015 into action. The report estimates CO2 emissions will rise by 2.7% in 2018, up on the 1.6% rise in 2017.
Almost all countries are contributing to the rise, with emissions in China up 4.7%, in the US by 2.5% and in India by 6.3% in 2018. The EU’s emissions are near flat, but this follows a decade of falls.
“The global rise in carbon emissions is worrying, because to deal with climate change they have to turn around and go to zero eventually,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, at the University of East Anglia,who led the research published in the journal Nature. “We are not seeing action in the way we really need to. This needs to change quickly.”
The current Paris agreement pledges from nations will only limit global warming to above 3C, while even a rise of 1.5C will be disastrous for many people, according to the world’s scientists.
Le Quéré said: “I hope that by 2020, when governments have to come back with stronger commitments, we will then see a turning point.”
The International Energy Agency’s data also shows rising emissions in 2018. Its executive director, Fatih Birol, said: “This turnaround should be another warning to governments as they meet in Poland this week.”
“Every year of rising emissions puts economies, lives and livelihoods of billions of people at risk,” said Christiana Figueres, at the Mission 2020 campaign, who was the UN climate diplomat overseeing the Paris agreement.
Prof David Reay, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, said: “This annual balance sheet for global carbon is comprehensive and scientifically robust. Its message is more brutal than ever: we are deep in the red and heading still deeper. For all our sakes, world leaders must now do what is required.”
Harjeet Singh, at ActionAid International, said news of the emissions’ rise should galvanise those at the climate summit: “There’s way too much complacency in the air at these talks.”
The “dark news” of rising emissions is merging with two other alarming trends, according to Prof David Victor, at the University of California, San Diego, in an article with colleagues also published in Nature this week.
“Global warming is accelerating. Over the next 20 years climate change is going to be faster and more furious than anticipated.”
The Global Carbon Budget, produced by 76 scientists from 57 research institutions in 15 countries, found the major drivers of the 2018 increase were more coal-burning in China and India as their economies grew, and more oil used in more transport. Industry also used more gas. Renewable energy grew, but not enough to offset the increased use of fossil fuel.
“There was hope China was rapidly moving away from coal power, but the last two years have shown it will not be so easy to say farewell quickly,” said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, at the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway.
In the three years since the Paris agreement was signed, financial institutions have invested more than $478bn in the world’s top 120 coal plant developers, according to a report by the NGOs Urgewald, BankTrack and partners. Chinese banks led the underwriting of coal investments, while Japanese banks led the loans, the NGOs found.
Oct. 2018
Australian health professionals statement on climate change and health. (The Lancet)
The Australian Government''s contemptuous dismissal of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including the panel''s recommendation to dramatically reduce coal power by 2050, is unacceptable.
As Australian health professionals and scientists, we are dismayed by the implications of our government''s ongoing stance to disregard the consensus of the world''s leading climate scientists, the precautionary principle, and any idea of duty of care regarding the future wellbeing of Australians and our immediate neighbours.
Australia is the world''s largest coal exporter and produces about 7% of the world''s coal.
Worldwide, fossil fuel burning produces around 72% of all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities.
To limit global warming to 2°C, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves, and more than 80% of current coal reserves as of 2010 should remain unused.
Air pollution from coal burning is responsible for numerous health problems—according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, around 2·5 million deaths were caused by solid fuel burning worldwide.
Ironically, no other member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is as vulnerable to climate disruption as Australia.
Climate disruption is already amplifying the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, bushfires, drought, and tropical storms, causing harm and damaging livelihoods.
As with other established historical harms to human health (eg, tobacco and exorbitant hepatitis C drug prices), narrow vested interests must be countered to bring about fundamental change in the consumption of coal and other fossil fuels.
The Australian Government must commit immediately to embrace strategies of energy generation that do not put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere —with healthier communities reaping the benefits now and in the future. Without concerted action by all, the IPCC recommendation to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 will certainly not be achieved.
Call to action
As Australian health professionals in clinical medicine, public health, research, and education, we ask national and international communities to support these calls on our government to protect the health of current and future generations nationally and globally.
Commit to no new or expanded coal mines and no new coal-fired power stations, phase out existing coal-fired power stations, and rapidly remove all subsidies to fossil fuel industries; the Adani coal mine must not proceed.
Increase the national renewable energy target to at least 50% by 2030. Develop multisector regional development transition plans for communities and regions affected by the progressive phase-out of fossil fuel industries.
Review Australia''s Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement (a requirement of signing the agreement), and develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030, compared with 2005.
Support Pacific Island nations to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Because of processes of colonisation and marginalisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia have been cut off from lands and seas and are in poorer overall health; climate change will only amplify these inequities. Australia''s Pacific Island neighbours are also highly vulnerable
to climate-related risks to health, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, coastal erosion, habitability, food security, water supply, and economic growth. Our disregard of their plight through continued coal burning is shameful.
July 2018
Australia’s Rising Greenhouse Gas Emissions. (Climate Council)
In 2017, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions increased for the third consecutive year, approaching all-time highs (excluding the land use – LULUCF – sector). In order to limit global temperature rise and tackle increasing extreme weather fuelled by climate change, the Federal Government has committed to the near-universally agreed Paris Climate Agreement. As part of this agreement, the Federal Government has set in place an initial target to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 26-28% falls significantly short of what is required to effectively tackle climate change.
The Climate Change Authority recommended a 45-65% emissions reduction target for 2030 below 2005 levels, based on scientific evidence, what comparable countries are doing and what is in the best interests of Australia. Recent analysis implies that Australia will not meet its woefully inadequate 26-28% emissions reduction target.
This working paper profiles seven of Australia’s largest emitting sectors, focusing on whether emissions are going up or down in each sector and the reasons for the observed trends. It also assesses what opportunities and policies each sector has to reduce emissions. This working paper also analyses the magnitude of the emissions reductions required between now and 2030 if each sector were to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels. The working paper concludes that Australia’s emissions reduction target is far too weak to meet our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement and we are not on track to meet even this weak target.
Feb. 2018
The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health.
The Lancet Countdown tracks progress on health and climate change and provides an independent assessment of the health effects of climate change, the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the health implications of these actions. It follows on from the work of the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, which concluded that anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health, and conversely, that a comprehensive response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”.
The Lancet Countdown is a collaboration between 24 academic institutions and intergovernmental organisations based in every continent and with representation from a wide range of disciplines.
The collaboration includes climate scientists, ecologists, economists, engineers, experts in energy, food, and transport systems, geographers, mathematicians, social and political scientists, public health professionals, and doctors.
It reports annual indicators across five sections: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation planning and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement. The key messages from the 40 indicators in the Lancet Countdown''s 2017 report are summarised here:
* 2018 report - Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come:
* World Health Organization:


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