The nations of the world meet in Paris starting Nov. 30 to discuss how to confront climate change. The goal: Keep global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average. Many scientists feel that is already impossible. But the United States, China and many other nations have committed to trying. The Earth Institute has long been at the forefront of climate science, policy and possible solutions. Here we offer stories to help readers sort through the issues, the science and the consequences.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week put a hold on one of the key programs in the United States’ efforts to control CO2 emissions and combat global warming. The decision puts aside new regulations to control emissions from power plants until a challenge from more than two dozen states is resolved in federal appeals court.
The court’s 5-4 decision to postpone implementation of the Clean Power Plan represents a clear setback for the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change; but the damage to the U.S. ability to meet pledges it made at the Paris climate summit in December “is less than it might seem,” says Michael Gerrard in a commentary posted on the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s website.
“That is not because the Clean Power Plan wasn’t important; it is because the plan didn’t do nearly enough,” says Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center.
Gerrard notes that the plan’s emissions reductions won’t begin until 2022, meaning they won’t play a role in meeting the nation’s stated goal of reducing carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020. Even beyond that date, the plan alone won’t be enough to meet the goal of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. That, and future reductions, will depend on many other measures. Those would include higher efficiency standards for buildings and appliances and greater efforts to reduce energy consumption in the industrial and transportation sectors.
“In sum,” Gerrard writes, “while the Clean Power Plan is the biggest game in town in terms of achieving the Paris goals, it is by no means the only game in town. While we express our justifiable fury over the Supreme Court’s action, we need to bear in mind that there are many other things that the U.S. must do in the next several years to control greenhouse gas emissions.”
You can read the full commentary at the Sabin Center’s website.
For more on the court’s ruling:
- From the New York Times: Supreme Court’s Blow to Emissions Efforts May Imperil Paris Climate Accord
- At Inside Climate News: Supreme Court Halts Clean Power Plan, with Implications Far Beyond the U.S.
- At Climate Central: Obama Confident in Climate Plan Despite Court Setback
- At the Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Puts EPA Carbon Rule on Hold During Litigation
- And for what might seem an interesting twist, also from the Wall Street Journal: BP Boss Calls for Climate-Change Action at Oil Conference
Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs sat down with Brian Lehrer at WNYC on Tuesday to talk about what happens post-Paris. The climate talks are over, but the real work is just beginning. Sachs talks about the details of the agreement, what the implications are, and what obstacles we face moving forward on climate change.
Listen to the interview here.
Executive Director Steve Cohen was on WNYC on Monday talking with Soterios Johnson about the implications of the Paris accord on New York City. You can hear that interview here.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, 195 countries reached a history-making agreement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in order to avert the direst effects of climate change. The groundbreaking pact requires that nearly every country, large and small, developed or developing, take action.
Here are some of the best and most reliable resources to help you understand the Paris accord and its implications.
The COP21 official site asserts that the rise in global temperature must be kept under 2˚C compared to pre-industrial levels to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, and, establishes for the first time the aim to keep the temperature below 1.5˚ to protect island countries, which are most vulnerable to the risks of sea level rise.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change newsroom explained that the climate agreement encompasses mitigation, the effort to reduce emissions quickly enough to reach the temperature goal; a transparent and global stock-taking system to monitor progress; adaptation, to help countries deal with the impacts of climate change; loss and damage, to aid countries recovering from the impacts of climate change; and financial and technical support to help nations build sustainable resiliency.
To curb the temperature rise, countries submitted “nationally determined contributions” that indicate how much they will reduce their emissions and what actions they will take to do so, but these are not legally binding. The New York Times said that countries are legally bound by the agreement, however, to monitor and report on their emissions and progress, and ratchet up their efforts to reduce emissions in the future.
The climate pledges that have been made thus far will not cut emissions enough to keep below the 2˚ target, so beginning in 2018, countries must submit new plans every five years that increase their emissions reductions, reported CNN. There is, however, no mechanism to punish any country that violates its commitment.
The New York Times examined some salient points of the agreement. The aspiration to stay below 1.5˚ C as part of the 2˚ limit makes this temperature increase target more ambitious than those in the past. Forests must be preserved with incentives continued to reduce deforestation and forest degradation that increase emissions. A transparent system will be established to evaluate implementation of the countries’ nationally determined contributions; and countries must come up with increasingly ambitious reduction targets every five years. The parties are encouraged to reach a peak of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. The agreement also recognizes loss and damage resulting from climate change impacts. And while the agreement does not set forth a specific dollar amount, the developed countries are encouraged to provide and marshal financing from various sources to help developing countries.
Developed countries agreed to continue their commitment to provide $100 billion a year from 2020 until 2025, after which financing will increase. However the $100 billion figure does not appear in the legally binding part of the agreement .
National Geographic took a look at some of the surprises, as well as the winners and losers of the climate agreement.
The International Energy Agency estimated that fulfilling all the climate pledges would entail investments of $13.5 trillion in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies between 2015 and 2030. If $3 trillion more were invested, the temperature increase could be held to 2˚ C. While $16.5 trillion sounds like a huge sum, the world is projected to spend $68 trillion anyway by 2040 on energy systems. The climate agreement ensures that the investments will go towards low-carbon technologies.
Each country will decide how best to fulfill its climate pledge. The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, an initiative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, has put together research teams from the world’s 16 biggest greenhouse gas emitting countries that are developing concrete and detailed strategies for reducing emissions in their countries.
The World Resources Institute’s analysis of the accord said that it presents a new model of international cooperation where developed and developing countries are united and engaged in a common goal. The agreement also signals the recognition that acting to stem climate change can provide tremendous opportunities and benefits.
The accord will be open for signature at the United Nations headquarters in New York City from April 22, 2016 to April 21, 2017, with a high-level signature ceremony on April 22, 2016. It will be in force once it has been ratified by 55 countries, representing at least 55 percent of emissions.
REACTIONS TO THE CLIMATE AGREEMENT
The Los Angeles Times questioned whether the countries of the world could truly work together to stay within the 2˚ target and if even the aspirational 1.5˚ goal was low enough to save us from catastrophic impacts, but called it a “good moment for the planet.”
The Washington Post said that the agreement will challenge climate deniers to “explain not only why they reject science but also why they would harm the U.S. standing in the world by seeking to slow the progress so many countries are making.”
The Wall Street Journal asserted that the accord would make the world poorer and slow technological progress. It is betting that the agreement will not make an impact on global temperatures because the commitments to reduce emissions are not legally binding.
Many businesses, such as Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, HP and Unilever are supportive of the agreement, recognizing that the policies developed in accord with the Paris agreement would bring more certainty to investors and generate business opportunities, reported The New York Times. The climate agreement sends a strong signal to businesses and investors that the fossil fuel era is on its way out.
Over 100 corporations pledged to reduce their carbon emissions in the effort to support the climate agreement’s 2˚ target. InsideClimate News reported that companies like Wal-Mart, IKEA, Honda, Unilever and Xerox are participating in the new initiative organized by the World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Carbon Disclosure Project and the UN Global Compact.
Reuters provided a sampling of reactions by prominent political and business leaders around the world.
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times op-ed columnist, said that despite the challenges that still exist, there is reason to believe the agreement can change the world’s trajectory because the costs of renewable energy have fallen so dramatically. This means reducing emissions will cost much less than was previously assumed.
Michael Mann, climatologist, geophysicist and Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, said, “One cannot understate the importance of the agreement arrived at in Paris. For the first time, world leaders have faced up to the stark warnings that climate scientists have been issuing for years instead of shrinking away with denial and delay.”
Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, the global climate campaign, called the climate pledges “modest.” While they might have kept the planet at 1.5˚ back in 1995 when the first climate conference occurred, he said, now we need to proceed at breakneck speed, leaving most of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground and transitioning to renewable energy as soon as possible.
James Hansen, former NASA scientist and leading climate scientist, called the agreement a “fraud” and “a fake.” Without a mechanism, such as a carbon tax, to drive up the cost of fossil fuels, he said, they will continue to be the cheapest fuels available and continue to be burned.
Representative Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, contended the Paris climate accord will slow economic growth in the U.S., raise electricity bills and have little impact on the environment. He believes the answer lies in relying on technological advances.
According to a 2014 report, climate denialism is more prevalent in the United States than in any other country in the world.
Many Republicans have vowed to fight President Obama’s climate agenda, The Wall Street Journal reported. Moreover, most of the Republican presidential candidates if elected, would work to undo Obama’s executive actions to deal with climate change. Because of the way the climate agreement is structured, however, it does not need to be approved by Congress.
Meanwhile, Bill Gates and other tech leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma have established the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, committing billions of dollars to invest in early stage, high-risk, breakthrough energy companies because the world needs reliable, affordable, clean energy. They will also invest in Mission Innovation, a consortium of 20 countries, including the U.S., that have pledged to double their investment in clean energy over the next five years.
The Paris climate agreement is momentous and historic because the countries of the world have been struggling to deal with climate change for over 20 years. In 1992, numerous countries first joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to figure out how they could limit global temperature increases and cope with the impacts of climate change. Here is the history of earlier attempts to negotiate an effective agreement to deal with climate change.
The World Bank Group’s president, Jim Yong Kim, on the climate agreement and its implications for business and investment:
Felipe Calderon, former president of Mexico, discusses the difference between the 2009 climate conference and COP21 with Tom Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Tom Friedman about China’s climate progress
The United States has joined 185 countries in promising to curb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, develop other ways to mitigate the impacts and to make communities more resilient to climate change. These proposals, called the “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” have been submitted to the United Nations prior to 12 days of negotiations going on now in Paris.
At the opening of the talks Monday, President Obama told the gathering, “I’ve come here personally as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second largest emitter [of greenhouse gases] to say that the United States not only recognizes its role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.”
So what exactly is the United States proposing to do?
The United States has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level in 2025, and to make “best efforts” to reduce emissions by 28 percent. That would include curbs on carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride, all of which contribute to global warming.
How will we do that? The United States already is taking measures that will help reduce emissions. The nation can continue that effort by becoming more efficient in how we use energy in everything from buildings and cars to washing machines and cell phones; using a greater portion of alternative energies like solar and wind over fossil fuels; and developing better technologies for energy storage, and for the capture, storage and recycling of carbon.
All of that could take place through a combination of laws, regulations and incentives—Congress and the courts willing. That includes regulations under the Clean Air Act that would force electric power plants to reduce their carbon emissions; and grants and tax incentives to propel the development of more alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.
The power sector now accounts for 31 percent of U.S. emissions. Efforts to upgrade the electricity grid to better accommodate intermittent sources like solar and wind would help, as would development of better energy storage technologies.
The efforts to date have put the U.S. on a path to reduce emissions 17 percent below the 2005 level by 2020. To reach the new 2025 goal, the nation will have to double the pace.
Here’s a look at key ways we’re cutting emissions:
Fuel economy standards: Transportation accounts for about 27 percent of U.S. emissions. The government has been setting “corporate average fuel economy” standards since 1975—requiring automakers to meet an average miles-per-gallon standard for their products (with exceptions), or pay a penalty. The U.S. has adopted new standards for light-duty vehicles produced between 2012 and 2025, and for heavy duty vehicles for 2014-2018. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency are preparing to set new standards for heavy-duty vehicles post 2018.
Buildings and appliances: The Department of Energy is preparing measures to curb emissions by setting energy conservation standards for appliances and other types of equipment, and building code standards for commercial and residential buildings. Many of these standards already exist; they are likely to become stronger.
Power plants: 31 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of electricity, most of which relies on fossil fuels, mostly natural gas and coal. The Clean Power Plan established by the EPA under the Clean Air Act sets goals for each state to cut carbon pollution, and allows states to come up with their own plans to meet those goals. The plan is likely to greatly reduce reliance on coal, which is the most polluting fuel. The plan has been challenged in Congress and the courts.
Other greenhouse gases: The EPA has pushed for other ways to reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride. The EPA is developing standards to address methane emissions from landfills and the oil and gas sector.
Financial and aid commitments: The U.S. already has pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, an international pool of funding intended to help countries adopt less-polluting energy sources and cut emissions. This week, Secretary of State John Kerry told the climate gathering that the United States also will double its commitment to $861 million in grant-based investments to help developing nations find ways to adapt to climate change. To what extent the U.S. Congress will go along with that remains to be seen.
For a good overview of what different nations are saying they will do, try this site. http://cait.wri.org/indc/.
And what about other countries? Here are examples from key players:
The European Union: Similar to the United States, the EU has pledged to reduce emissions. They have committed to a target of at least 40 percent domestic emissions reductions below 1990 by 2030. The EU emphasizes the importance of transparency of accounting and reporting of emissions in quantitative assessments. The EU proposal does not specifically mention how the member countries plan to accomplish the goal.
There are challenges unique to each country in the EU. France is heavily dependent on nuclear energy, which should give them a boost. Germany on the other hand has been moving away from nuclear energy, and is committed to broadening its renewable energy portfolio, but has been hampered by higher energy prices.
China: China is the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. And, the country’s proposal includes measure aimed at climate change mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity building and transparency of action and support. The country says it will reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP—known as carbon intensity—by 60 to 65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That means its energy consumption will continue to grow, but they plan to use it more efficiently, before they hope to peak energy use in 2030. China also plans to increase forest carbon stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels by 2030. In other words, they will plant a lot of trees that can soak up carbon from the atmosphere, mitigating some of the added energy they will be using.
According to an analysis by the World Resources Institute, “increasing forest carbon stocks by 4.5 billion cubic meters implies an increase in forest cover of 50-100 million hectares (124-247 million acres) of forest, or about two to four times the size of the United Kingdom. This amount of forest would create a roughly 1-gigaton carbon sink, equivalent to stopping tropical deforestation for almost a full year, or taking 770 million cars off the road.”
India: India is particularly interesting to look at because of its growing population. As a developing nation, India is concerned with how it can develop while lowering the emissions intensity—the amount of emissions per capital or per unit of production. They hope to accomplish decreased emissions with financial help from developed nations, who have been responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions over the past 150 years.
India hopes to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35 percent by 2030, and achieve 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 with the help of transfer technology and low-cost international financing from the Green Climate Fund. That fund was set up by the UN to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Jennifer Sweeney, an intern at The Earth Institute, contributed research and writing for this post.
Four students in the Masters in Development Practice program at the University of Waterloo in Canada are in Paris for the UN climate summit to represent the Republic of Kiribati. The small island nation is one of several threatened by sea level rise.
This week they have been sitting in on various thematic discussions. Rija Rasul reports she has attended climate finance discussions. Her colleagues Laura Maxwell and Kadra Rayale have been in sessions on adaptation to, and loss and damage from climate change. Vidya Nair has been in discussions about technology and capacity building.
“We are looking at [these topics] from the perspective of small island developing states, including Kiribati,” Rasul said. “Collectively, small island developing states have brought forward a strong voice at the table in regards to the above four thematic areas, because for them, it is an issue of survival.”
The talks are meant to wind up Friday, and the students are hopeful.
“Reaching an agreement would firstly mean an increase in awareness for the particular situation faced by small island developing states,” Rasul said. “States such as Kiribati are on the front line of climate change since they are already experiencing its effects, and an agreement would enhance recognition of [their] vulnerability.”
Many nations, particularly some of those most vulnerable to climate impacts, are calling for the agreement to recognize the need to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees C. Going into negotiations, the target was 2˚C over the pre-industrial-era average, which many feel is an upper limit needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Many feel 2˚C is not ambitious enough.
According to The Guardian news website, “Trinidad and Tobago’s delegate warned the Paris agreement would be ‘seriously flawed’ if it did not stick to an ambitious 1.5˚C target to limiting warming. Barbados offered even stronger language, warning: ‘We will not sign off any agreement that represents a certain extinction of our people.’ “
Rising sea levels have already engulfed large areas of Kiribati, and nearly a quarter of the country’s population has had to move, according to reporting by IRIN, an independent news website that focuses on humanitarian issues.
“What we need is a boost from the international community to lift us out of the water,” Tong told delegates in Paris, according to a story on the IRIN site. Tong and other leaders of similar states are pushing for the final Paris agreement to include measures that would facilitate migration as an adaptation to climate change threats and build capacity to cope with natural disasters and displacement. That will require significant financial support from the international community, IRIN reports.
According to The Guardian, Tong remained upbeat: “I’ve always said we need to come away from Paris with a deal that would ensure the survival of people. Nobody left behind—that’s the mission all along. This is quite a long way from where we started. It’s coming together.”
Another contentious point is to what degree wealthier nations will contribute money to help poorer nations adapt. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said the United States would double its commitment to help countries already under threat.
“There are countries … for which climate change is an existential threat today,” Kerry told the Paris gathering on Dec. 9. “For them, this isn’t a matter of annexes or peak years—it’s a matter of life and death. …
“One of the hard realities that we’re facing is that our collective delay now means that some of the impacts of climate change can’t be reversed,” Kerry said. “We have a moral responsibility to adapt and prepare for those impacts and enable the most vulnerable among us to be able to do the same.”
“We have definitely seen an increase in optimism as the days progress,” Rasul said. “And although negotiations are ongoing, we are hopeful for an ambitious agreement, which in turn would hopefully lead to increased resilience and capacity building.”
The Earth Institute’s Masters in Public Administration in Development Practice at Columbia University is part of a global association of related programs, including the one at the University of Waterloo. To find out more about the global association, go here.
The Science, Revisited
In a past State of the Planet article, we looked at a paper written by James Hansen, director of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, and 16 other researchers warning of potentially dire affects of global warming. In the paper, Hansen argues that unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced, sea level rise caused by melting glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland could have catastrophic effects on coastal regions. Although the claim Hansen is making is one that scientists have long been arguing for, the evidence that he and his team put together in a paper published this summer suggests that things may be worse that we think.
By studying modeled climate evidence from the Eemian period (the last interglacial period, when temperatures were warmer than today) the team concluded that the warming going on today risks setting off “feedbacks” in the climate system. These feedbacks include changes in ocean circulation and the speed at which ice sheets may collapse. Just how much will this affect us, and how fast? The paper argues that sea levels could rise 10 feet within the next 50 to 100 years.
Visit the full scientific paper here to learn more about the research. Hansen is the former head of the NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
This post is part of an ongoing series devoted to re-addressing important science stories in order to better inform our readership of the science and its consequences as the UN climate negotiations in Paris continue.
As excess carbon dioxide is absorbed into the oceans, it is starting to have profound effects on marine life, from oysters to tiny snails at the base of the food chain.
Oysters raised on the mud flats of the U.S. Pacific Northwest are prized by restaurants around the country, but starting around 2007, the Pacific oyster population went into crisis. The oysters were hatching, but they weren’t secreting shells quickly enough to protect themselves. Without shells, the young oysters were vulnerable, and large numbers didn’t survive.
Biologists traced the problem to changing chemistry in the ocean—the water was becoming more acidic and currents were bringing in water that contained less of a calcium carbonate mineral called aragonite that oysters need to build their shells.
“Ocean acidification has been called the evil twin of global warming. It is the other carbon dioxide problem. As we increase the acidity of sea water, it has an effect on organisms,” said Bärbel Hönisch, a biologist and oceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She explains ocean acidification and its effects in more detail in the video above, and discusses how scientists use ancient shells from the sea floor to understand how ocean chemistry has changed over time and could change in the future in the second video, below.
Ocean acidification itself is a fairly simple chemical process. As carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in water (H2O), it creates carbonic acid (H2CO3), which is a weak acid. Carbonic acid dissociates into hydrogen ions (H+) and bicarbonate ions (HCO3-1), and the hydrogen ions bond with carbonate ions (CO3-2) in the water. In the oceans, many sea creatures with calcium carbonate skeletons and shells also rely on those carbonate ions for aragonite and calcite to build their skeletons and shells.
Studies show that as carbon dioxide levels have increased in the atmosphere over the past two centuries, seawater has become less saturated with aragonite and calcite. The average pH of seawater has fallen from about 8.2 to 8.1, about a 30 percent increase in acidity on pH’s logarithmic scale.
In the Pacific Northwest, once biologists discovered the source of the oysters’ troubles, they were able to work with oyster growers to develop workarounds to help the oysters grow. Some timed spawning to afternoons, when photosynthetic activity would be higher and more carbon dioxide would be taken up in the water around the hatcheries. By carefully monitoring the acidity of the water brought into the oyster pools, they could also add carbonate to the water as needed and then move the growing oysters to the mud flats after their shells started to form.
For other marine life, however, there is no escape from ocean acidification.
“Ocean acidification has effects, in the end, for our food chain. We see it in pteropods—tiny marine snails are an important source of food for juvenile Pacific salmon. They are growing thinner shells, and the shells malform under acidified conditions. We see it in sea urchins; in crabs. We see it in a number of organisms that secrete calcium carbon shells; they are having a hard time making their shells,” Hönisch said.
Those changes play out in different ways in different parts of the oceans.
A global study in 2014 led by Lamont’s Taro Takahashi mapped acidification changes around the world and found the lowest pH levels in the cold waters off Siberia and Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Antarctica. The scientists found that over extensive ocean areas, excluding the polar regions, pH had been declining by a mean rate of about 0.02 pH units per decade. The concentration of CO2 had been increasing at a rate of about 19 μatm per decade, consistent with the mean increase of 19 ppm per decade in atmospheric CO2 concentration over the past 20 years.
“This suggests that the global oceans are being acidified primarily in response to the atmospheric CO2 increase,” Takahashi and his co-authors write.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found similar results in 2015, looking specifically at aragonite concentrations. Cold water holds more carbon dioxide, and the scientists found that the Arctic Ocean, northern Pacific and Antarctic waters were acidifying faster than other areas. All of the world’s oceans, from the surface down to 50 meters, are still considered supersaturated with aragonite, but the levels have declined globally, the NOAA study found. At depths down to 100 meters, NOAA found that aragonite saturation had fallen by an average rate of about 0.4 percent per year since 1989.
Scientists know from studying deep ocean sediment cores that acidification has wreaked havoc on marine life before. (Watch the video below to learn more.)
About 56 million years ago, during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, temperatures rose and there is evidence that coral reefs collapsed and many deep-sea benthic foraminifers, which produce shells of calcium carbonate, disappeared. “There is indication that sea water acidified at the time,” Hönisch said. “What we’ve realized is that the acidification at that time was about as large as what we’re predicting for the end of this century.”
At Le Bourget outside Paris, the site of the UN climate talks, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs talks to FRANCE 24 English TV about what’s likely to happen at the climate negotiations in Paris.
What kind of agreement will we get? Will it be too vague to be effective? What are the sticky issues, and will the developed world be willing to pony up billions of dollars to help out the developing nations? Sachs says the U.S. Congress “doesn’t want to give a penny” and accuses the Republicans of being stuck in denial and in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry.
Watch the video…
Conservation efforts have long been focused on preserving species and natural environments around the world, exemplified by campaigns to save iconic creatures such as whales, elephants and tigers, and preserve majestic areas such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Barrier Reef. But for many species, the changing climate is altering the equation for how best to do this. Plants and animals evolve, move away or die in the face of an altered habitat.
World Wildlife Fund President and CEO Carter Roberts, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, signed a memorandum of understanding today for a new partnership to advance resilience to climate change named “ADVANCE”—Adaptation for Development and Conservation. The signing took place in Paris, where hundreds of world leaders have come together at the global climate change negotiations.
The goal of this new collaboration is to advance adaptation to the impacts of climate change around the globe. The partners will create new ways of generating climate risk information and embedding it into the World Wildlife Fund’s conservation and development planning, policies and practice.
ADVANCE envisions a future where the world is using co-generated climate risk information based on the best available science to guide conservation, development and disaster risk reduction in order to benefit both people and nature.
The Center for Climate Systems Research scientists and World Wildlife Fund experts are working together with local stakeholders to create and test a new approach to “co-generate” climate information for initiatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America. ADVANCE has already begun work in Myanmar, and upcoming pilot projects have been identified in Colombia, Bhutan and Tanzania. Learning from these early projects will catalyze future work and help inform policy guidance for partner institutions.
No region on Earth has been untouched by climate change and its cascading impacts. Even with a successful climate agreement in Paris, the climate will continue to change for centuries. The impacts will continue to affect people and their livelihoods, sensitive ecosystems and endangered species across the globe. This is why climate scientists and conservationists need to urgently work together to provide solutions to enhance resilience.
“The world needs big ideas that can move at the speed and scale necessary to make a difference. I love this partnership; it brings together extraordinary institutions to help the world adopt, adapt, implement and learn,” said Roberts. “ADVANCE aims to incubate, and identify, models that matter.”
“The ADVANCE partnership with the World Wildlife Fund is a wonderful program to help communities around the world to adapt to climate change with best practices based on rigorous science and active collaboration of scientists and affected communities,” said Sachs. “The climate scientists at the Center for Climate Systems Research have a vast experience in working with stakeholders to provide them with the very best climate risk information. From Asia’s high mountains to Myanmar and upcoming pilot projects in Colombia, Bhutan and Tanzania, the World Wildlife Fund and Columbia’s Earth Institute are already working to advance conservation and development.”
For more information about the World Wildlife fund, visit www.worldwildlife.org and follow the organization’s news conversations on Twitter @WWFnews.
For more information on the Center for Climate Systems Research, visit www.ccsr.columbia.edu.
By Dylan Adler
In the Democratic presidential primary debate on Nov. 14, CBS’s John Dickerson asked U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, “In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?” Senator Sanders quickly replied “Absolutely. In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism…you’re going to see countries all over the world…struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops…you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.”
The senator’s answer was met with a wide range of responses. Environmentalists praised his response and the attention he gave to climate change. Some Republicans called his statement absurd, and claimed Sanders was combining two unrelated issues. While Sanders’ response has brought this into the national spotlight, the idea of climate change posing a national security threat is nothing new.
Officials at different levels of the United States Government have already been incorporating climate change into their analysis of national security threats. In 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry, in a speech in Indonesia, stated that climate change was a global threat of the same magnitude as terrorism, epidemics and weapons of mass destruction.
“The reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them,” Kerry said.
A 2014 Department of Defense report used the term “threat multiplier” to describe climate change. The report explained climate change has “the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today—from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.”
In February of this year, the White House acknowledged the link between climate change and national security. “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” says a statement released from the White House.
This followed President Obama’s release of his 2015 national security strategy. In the strategy, the president ranked climate change among the top threats to the United States’ security. In a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May, Obama stated, “Climate change will impact every country on the planet. No nation is immune. So I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security.”
In May, the White House released a report titled “The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate.” The report summarized positions from a variety of reports from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. The White House report explains that climate change increases the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events. These weather events can aggravate existing stressors in a region by uprooting people’s lives, increasing poverty and causing environmental degradation. These can lead to economic and political instability, which have dangerous national security implications.
These government organizations base their ideas on research that has been done on the relationship between climate change and regional instability. Criminology studies have shown that weather patterns can influence the amount of criminal activity, and this relationship has been explored in computer models. It is well established that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, extreme weather events and changing levels of rainfall. These have been modeled to show an increase in personal strain, societal unrest and opportunities for conflict, all of which increase crime levels.
In fact, research has been conducted into how drought contributed to the Syrian civil war. The severe drought lasted for five years, devastated Syrian farming, and drove an estimated one million people off their land and into urban slums. It is projected to have pushed 800,000 Syrians into extreme poverty. This income gap is one of the main drivers of the Syrian revolt. A 2015 paper examined the relationship between drought and instability in Syria. It explained that the drought, combined with unsustainable farming practices and the inability of the government to address the displaced population, was a significant factor leading to the conflict.
While climate change cannot be proven to have caused the Syrian drought, it is well established that climate change leads to an increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events. The same 2015 paper concluded that, although multiyear droughts occur periodically in Syria, recent trends of low precipitation in the region are likely due to warming global temperatures. The nonprofit policy research organization the Center for Climate and Security came to the same conclusion. Co-founder Francesco Femia explains, “We can’t say climate change caused the civil war. But we can say that there were some very harsh climatic conditions that led to instability.”
Finally, reconsider Sander’s answer that climate change is the greatest threat to national security. Climate change is clearly linked to the severity of the Syrian drought, which contributed to the civil war, which created a national security threat. However, declaring climate change the largest national security threat is misleading because it, by itself, does not instigate violence. Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” and worsens the greatest national security threats.
After the Paris attacks, Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said, “There are a variety of impacts that we’re feeling from a changing climate, and we need to stop those impacts from escalating … one of those is instability. … So it is a national security issue for us.”
Climate change’s indirect effects make it a security issue. Sanders’ answer highlights the broad range of impacts climate change has on the world. While the most severe effects of climate change will certainly be caused by rising sea levels and extreme weather, the exaggeration of pre-existing threats cannot be overlooked.
Dylan Adler is a student in the Masters of Public Administration-Environmental Science and Policy program and an intern at the Columbia Climate Center.