Climate Change Blogs

U.S. Lightning Strikes May Increase 50% Due to Global Warming

Published: November 14, 2014
A warmer world will have much more dangerous cloud-to-ground lightning capable of igniting more forest fires, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal Science. The research found that for each degree Centigrade (1.8°F) of global warming, lightning in the U.S. is expected to increase by 12%. This would result in about a 50% increase in lightning by the year 2100, assuming business-as-usual emissions result in a world that is 4°C (7°F) warmer. Main author David Romps of the University of California-Berkeley said in a press release, “This has to do with water vapor, which is the fuel for explosive deep convection in the atmosphere. Warming causes there to be more water vapor in the atmosphere, and if you have more fuel lying around, when you get ignition, it can go big time…the faster the updrafts, the more lightning, and the more precipitation, the more lightning.” The study looked at U.S. lightning statistics for the year 2011, and discovered that a simple measure of atmospheric heat and moisture--the precipitation rate multiplied by the stability of the atmosphere (expressed as the Convective Available Potential Energy, or CAPE)--could describe 77% of the variation in lighting. By applying this simple measure to predicted levels of heat and moisture in a future warmer world, the scientists came up with their predictions for more lightning. The study makes sense from basic principles, and brings up three major concerns about the impacts of a future world with more lightning:

1) More lightning-caused fires
2) More lightning-caused ozone pollution and thus global warming
3) More lightning direct strike deaths and damages


Figure 1. Lightning sparks a grass fire near Granite, Oklahoma on June 8, 2008. Image credit: wunderphotographer Glenn Patterson.

The costs and death toll from lightning-caused fires in the U.S. and Canada
Over the ten years from 2003 - 2012, 42 U.S. firefighters were killed as a result of lightning-caused fires. An additional 19 firefighters were killed by the lightning-caused Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013. U.S. wildfire fighting costs averaged $1.8 billion annually during 2009 - 2013, according to Headwaters Economics. Although only 15% of U.S. wildfires were ignited by lightning between 2001 - 2010, these accounted for approximately 60% of the acres burned, and much of the annual costs of firefighting, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. For example, in 2012, the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, the largest fire in New Mexico history, and the Rush Fire, the 2nd largest in California history, were both triggered by lightning strikes. Lighting also causes building fires through direct strikes. The National Fire Protection Association says that lightning-caused fires that are responded to by local fire departments in the U.S. killed an average of nine people per year and did $451 million in direct property damage per year between 2007 - 2012.

Environment Canada estimates that lightning strikes are responsible for 45% of all wildfires in Canada and 81% of the total area burned. The cost of lightning-related damage and disruption to the Canadian economy was estimated to be between $600 million and $1 billion each year (Mills et al. 2009).


Figure 2. Smoke rises from the uncontrolled northern front of the lightning-ignited Gap fire on July 5, 2008 near Goleta, California. President Bush declared a state of emergency for all of California in July 2008 in response to more than 1,400 fires that were mostly started by dry lightning storms on June 20, 2008. More than 19,000 firefighters from 42 states battled the California wildfires. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Death and damages due to direct lightning strikes
In addition to killing people in lighting-caused fires, lightning kills people with direct strikes. In 2006 - 2013, an average of 33 people per year died as a result of lightning strikes, according to NOAA. So far in 2014, 25 people have been killed. Fishing, camping and boating were the three highest risk activities for people dying from lightning strikes, according to a 2013 NWS study. The insured costs of direct lightning strikes have been rising in recents years, due to an increase in valuable home electronics that get fried in a strike. These damages were approximately $1 billion per year in 2010 - 2011, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Lightning-caused forest fires may increase at a lesser rate
Climate models show that the increase in instability (higher CAPE) due to global warming is not expected to be uniform over the U.S., with strong increases over the Southeast U.S., and little increase over the Western U.S., where the majority of lightning-caused fires originate. The 12% increase in lighting per °C of global warming the study found is averaged over the entire U.S., and the increase in lightning is likely to be much lower over the Western United States--perhaps a factor of six less. A 2007 study by Del Genio et al. found that increasing the global temperature by 2.7°C would cause drying over the Western U.S. that would lead to fewer thunderstorms overall. However, the strongest thunderstorms increased in number by 26%, leading to a 6% increase in the total amount of lighting hitting the ground each year, or about a 2% increase per °C of global warming.

Increased lightning will create more ozone pollution and more global warming
Lightning creates nitrogen oxides, which in turn react to make significant amounts of ozone in the lower atmosphere--a dangerous pollutant that seriously impacts human health and crop growth. Ozone is also a greenhouse gas, so global warming-caused increases in lightning could potentially cause additional global warming of a few percent. How much is uncertain, as estimates of lightning-produced nitrogen oxides vary by up to a factor of four. Lower-atmosphere ozone was responsible for about 12% of human-caused global warming due to greenhouse gases in 2011, according to the 2013 IPCC report. However, increased ozone due to lightning could be offset somewhat by the fact that lightning-created nitrogen oxides trigger chemical reactions that help destroy methane, another potent greenhouse gas.


Video 1. ‪Every Lightning Strike in America in 2011, In One Minute‬. Data from the National Lightning Detection Network, UAlbany; animation by David Romps, UC Berkeley, and Phil Ebiner, UC Berkeley Public Affairs. Thursday's study in Science studied lightning over the U.S. in 2011 to come up with a simple way to represent lightning frequency based on how much heat and moisture is in the atmosphere.

Jeff Masters

U.S., China Reach Historic Climate Change Agreement

Published: November 13, 2014
Stunning and welcome climate change news came out of China on Tuesday, when President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a historic joint climate commitment. The U.S. pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 - 28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. In turn, China agreed to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030--and sooner if possible--and to get 20% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. In order to achieve its part of the bargain, the U.S. will need to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2% per year from 2005-2020 to 2.3 - 2.8% per year between 2020 - 2025. In order to achieve its part of the deal, China must deploy an additional 800 - 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030--more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today, and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.   


Figure 1. U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping after a joint press conference at the Great Hall of People to announce a historic climate change deal on November 12, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

A step in the right direction, but a long ways to go
Humanity has a budget to keep. In order to keep global warming below the agreed-upon definition for the threshold of dangerous climate change, 2°C above pre-industrial levels, cumulative human CO2 emissions since 1870 must remain below about 2900 GtCO2. About two-thirds of that budget--1900 GtCO--had already been emitted by 2011, according to the November 2, 2014 IPCC Synthesis Report. The International Energy Agency warned in 2012 that "almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time." If China and the U.S. follow their new commitments, humanity will exceed its carbon budget by 2042, just five years later than if they continue to follow their current "business as usual" course, according to analysis by Frank Melum, Senior Point Carbon Analyst at Thomson Reuters. “We do not expect these new targets to significantly alter the world’s trajectory for emissions growth, but the joint announcement will probably alter the pace of negotiations, and could in time could lead to improved ambition levels,” said Melum.


Figure 2. Of the proven fossil fuel reserves still in the ground (equivalent to emitting 2795 Gt of CO2, dark grey oval with a black oval of the maximum we can burn embedded in it), between 66% - 86% must stay in the ground if we are to have at least a two-in-three chance of keeping warming below 2°C, according to three groups who have done carbon budget analyses, the IPCC, the International Energy Agency, and the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Reserves are those quantities able to be recovered under existing economic and operating conditions (split as 63% coal, 22% oil, and 15% gas, according to the International Energy Agency.) These reserves were valued at $27 trillion (nearly 40% of the global yearly GDP), according to The Capital Institute. The IPCC, quoting Rogner et al., 2012, Global Energy Assessment–Toward a Sustainable Future (Chapter 7: Energy Resources and Potentials), says that these reserves are a factor of 4 - 7 more than what can burned. Fossil fuel resources are those where economic extraction is potentially feasible, and could become reserves in the future (e.g., methane hydrate deposits under the ocean floor.) The IPCC estimated these resources were an additional factor of 31 - 50 higher than the maximum we can burn. If only a small fraction of the these resources are developed and burned, Earth would have a hot-house climate like occurred during the age of the dinosaurs.

Commentary: A game-changing agreement
While the new deal is not binding and doesn't go far enough on its own to stop dangerous climate change, it is a huge political step forward in the fight against climate change. One of the key arguments being made in the U.S. against taking climate change action--that China was doing nothing to limit their emissions--has now been nullified. And over the next fifteen years, China is planning on installing enough renewable energy from sources like solar and wind to power the entire United States--guaranteeing continued explosive growth and price drops in green energy that will make it able to out-compete fossil fuels even with the massive subsidies they enjoy. When you add in last month's European Union (EU) pledge to cut total emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, we now have countries representing more than half of all global emissions making serious commitments to reduce carbon pollution. This gives real hope that a significant binding treaty to limit greenhouse gases can be successfully negotiated in Paris in December 2015 at the critical ‪United Nations Climate Change Conference‬.

Links
U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation: White House Fact Sheet.

Why The U.S.-China CO2 Deal Is An Energy, Climate, And Political Gamechanger: November 12, 2014 blog post by Joe Romm at ClimateProgress.org.

IPCC Final Report: We've Blown Two-Thirds of Our Carbon Budget: my November 2, 2014 blog post.

What You Need to Know About U.S.-China Climate Pact: November 12, 2014 blog post by Brian Kahn of ClimateCentral.org.

Jeff Masters

IPCC Final Report: We've Blown Two-Thirds of Our Carbon Budget

Published: November 2, 2014
"Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems", said the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today, in the final installment of their once-every-seven-year report on the climate. Today's Synthesis Report summarizes the key messages from Parts I, II, and III, issued in September 2013 - April 2014. The Synthesis Report warns that "continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks." During the press conference accompanying the report release, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said "action on climate change can contribute to economic prosperity, better health and more livable cities,” but warned that inaction would “cost much, much more.” I'll comment on just three key themes from today's report:

We're Blowing Our Carbon Budget
The IPCC said today: "Limiting total human-induced warming to less than 2°C relative to the period 1861-1880 with a probability of >66% would require cumulative CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources since 1870 to remain below about 2900 GtCO2. About 1900 GtCO2 had already been emitted by 2011."

Keeping warming below the agreed-upon definition for the threshold of dangerous climate change, 2°C above pre-industrial levels, will be very difficult, since we've already blown two-thirds of our budget, and there is little time to act. Despite growing efforts to slow them down, CO2 emissions increased by 2.2% per year between 2000 - 2010, hitting the equivalent of 38 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2 per year in 2010. If we continue to follow this "business as usual" course, we will reach the 2,900 Gt limit just 17 years from now, in 2031, according to an analysis done by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The International Energy Agency warned in 2012 that "almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time."

The combined value of all fossil fuel reserves is $27 trillion, as estimated by The Capital Institute. According to three groups who have done carbon budget analyses, the IPCC, the International Energy Agency, and the Carbon Tracker Initiative, between 66% - 86% of those proven fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to have at least a two-in-three chance of keeping warming below 2°C. The fossil fuel companies, whose stock value is based on burning all of those $27 trillion worth of reserves, are fighting very hard to keep to preserve their stock value, and plan to burn all of those unburnable fossil fuel reserves.


Figure 1. Of the proven fossil fuel reserves still in the ground (equivalent to emitting 2795 Gt of CO2, dark grey oval with a black oval of the maximum we can burn embedded in it), between 66% - 86% must stay in the ground if we are to have at least a two-in-three chance of keeping warming below 2°C, according to three groups who have done carbon budget analyses, the IPCC, the International Energy Agency, and the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Reserves are those quantities able to be recovered under existing economic and operating conditions (split as 63% coal, 22% oil, and 15% gas, according to the International Energy Agency.) These reserves were valued at $27 trillion (nearly 40% of the global yearly GDP), according to The Capital Institute. The IPCC, quoting Rogner et al., 2012, Global Energy Assessment–Toward a Sustainable Future (Chapter 7: Energy Resources and Potentials), says that these reserves are a factor of 4 - 7 more than what can burned. Fossil fuel resources are those where economic extraction is potentially feasible, and could become reserves in the future (e.g., methane hydrate deposits under the ocean floor.) The IPCC estimated these resources were an additional factor of 31 - 50 higher than the maximum we can burn. If only a small fraction of the these resources are developed and burned, Earth would have a hot-house climate like occurred during the age of the dinosaurs.

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change is Affordable if We Act Now
The cost of keeping global warming under the "dangerous" level of 2° C will only reduce "consumption growth" of the global economy by 0.06% per year if we start immediately and act strongly. Since consumption growth is expected to increase between 1.6% and 3% per year in the coming decades, we’re talking about annual growth that is, for example, 2% rather than 2.06%. This is a small price to pay to greatly decrease the risks of increased hunger, thirst, disease, refugees, and war that will result otherwise.

We're On Course For 4°C (7°F) of Warming By 2100
Our current business-as-usual emissions path (RCP 8.5) is more likely than not to cause 4°C (7°F) warming by 2100. That amount of warming is expected to result in "substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation in some cases (high confidence). "

In a world that is 4°C warmer, the regional summertime temperatures in the continental United States will be of order 6°C (11°) hotter, wunderground's climate change blogger Dr. Ricky Rood pointed out in a 2012 post, The World Four Degrees Warmer: A New Analysis from the World Bank. Think about the crazy hot summer of 2012; now add ten degrees. It's going to be tough to grow crops in that kind of heat, and provide water to all 450 million Americans. The past 12 months--October 2013 through September 2014--was Earth's warmest consecutive 12-month period among all months since records began in 1880, said NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on October 20. We are on pace for 2014 to be the warmest calendar year on record, and many more warmest years on record are on the way.

Commentary
Even an increase in Earth's temperature below the agreed-upon definition for the threshold of dangerous climate change, 2°C above pre-industrial levels, carries huge risks. As of 2014, the 0.85°C (1.5°F) of global warming that has occurred since 1880 has likely contributed to deadly and destructive heat waves, droughts, and heavy precipitation events that have killed tens of thousands of people and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. Further warming to the "dangerous" 2°C threshold will be capable of provoking unprecedented droughts and storms that could challenge civilized society, leading to the conflict and massive suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. There is no “critical threshold” that will be crossed when warming exceeds 2°C, sending us into a dangerous climate regime with greatly increased risks. Given the wildly erratic behavior of our jet stream in recent years, I believe we have already crossed one critical threshold into a more dangerous climate. The 2°C limit is more like a speed limit--a convenient mark to set, above which the dangers are much greater. A more reasonable speed limit for the climate is 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a level we passed back in 1987. The climate activist group 350.org based their name on this lower speed limit. Since CO2 levels passed 400 ppm this year, I argue that we are already traveling 15% higher than the "safe" speed limit of 350 ppm. If we do manage the very unlikely feat of keeping warming to 2°C, atmospheric CO2 levels will stabilize near 500 ppm--like traveling 100 mph on an expressway where the speed limit is 70 mph, an extremely risky proposition. If an ambitious global legal climate agreement is signed at the critical December 2015 Conference of Parties (COP) negotiations in Paris, and followed up with strong action over the next twenty years, we have a fighting chance of keeping warming to 3°C (about 700 ppm of CO2.) Otherwise, we are more likely headed for a future with warming of 4°C (1000 ppm of CO2)--like careening down the highway at speeds of 200 mph or greater. If we are to preserve any hope of a livable climate for our children, the fossil fuel industry cannot be allowed to burn anywhere close to the $27 trillion worth of fossil fuel reserves on their books, or be allowed to develop significant new resources. Given the massive wealth and political power of a fossil fuel industry intent upon preserving this $27 trillion stock value, it's no wonder that the dire messages on climate change given by the Nobel prize-winning IPCC, a volunteer organization with almost no PR budget, are drowned out by a stupendous amount of industry-funded misinformation, echoed by politicians they help elect and sympathetic media outlets.

Links
The World Four Degrees Warmer: A New Analysis from the World Bank, a November 2012 post by wunderground climate change blogger Dr. Ricky Rood.

9 Significant Scientific Findings too Recent to Be Included in the New IPCC Report, today's post from the World Resources Institute.

New Blockbuster IPCC Climate Report: Comprehensive, Authoritative, Conservative, my September 2013 post on who the IPCC is, and how they write their reports.

Landmark 2013 IPCC Report: 95% Chance Most of Global Warming is Human-Caused, my September 2013 post on Part I of the 2013 - 2014 IPCC report: the physical science behind climate change.

IPCC: Climate Change Increasing Risk of Hunger, Thirst, Disease, Refugees, and War, my March 2014 post on Part II of the 2013 - 2014 IPCC report: climate change impacts and how we can adapt to them.

IPCC: Cost of Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change Super-Affordable if We Act Now, my April 2014 post on Part III of the 2013 - 2014 IPCC report: how we can mitigate (reduce) climate change impacts.

The Burning Question: We Can't Burn Half the World's Oil, Coal, and Gas. So How Do We Quit? by Duncan Clark, an excellent analysis of the issue of unburnable fossil fuels.


Video 1. The IPCC released this video to accompany the release of their 2014 Impacts and Adaptation report.

I'll have a new post Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

Jeff Masters
Categories:Climate Change

El Niño, California Drought, and Predictions

Published: October 28, 2014
El Niño, California Drought, and Predictions

Modified on 20141029

Back in May 2014, I wrote a couple of blogs about El Niño predictions for this year (Tracking El Niño and Underlying Models). In July, I did a summertime update. For those who need it, there are links to basic information such as definitions of terms in those blogs. This entry is an update.

As most of my readers already know, the excited, exaggerated springtime predictions have not come to fruition. The current prediction status, from the links below, is that there remains a chance of a weak El Niño. As I have followed the El Niño forecast, I have found the products and guidance from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to be the clearest and most usable. Their discussions are short, and compared to many other centers, their language does not fall quickly into either jargon or graphics that require a high level of expertise to interpret.

The latest Australian forecast is “Given current observations and model outlooks, the chance of a late season El Niño remains at least 50%, which is double the average likelihood of an event occurring.” I am going to try to break this down some. The first part of this forecast is telling me that the probability of a set of criteria that define El Niño is a little more than half. On the flip side, of this slightly warped coin, the probability that El Niño neutral will persist is a little less than half.

The other part of this sentence “which is double the average likelihood of an event occurring,” is a little harder to explain. If you look around the summaries from the different centers, then they say that the current measurements of the ocean and atmosphere are El Niño neutral, but there are a number of descriptors that, though measured as “neutral,” are tilted towards the El Niño condition. This is mostly related to the temperatures in the eastern Pacific being warmer than average. That is, we are close enough to El Niño that it's twice as likely to become an official El Niño than if we were smack in the middle of neutrality. The ocean and atmosphere are flirting with an El Niño.

The predictions from most centers are that if there is an El Niño, then it will be a weak El Niño. At most, there might be a moderate El Niño. (Again, if you need to know terms and definitions, I refer you to the links in the first paragraph.)

OK, no monster, super, or even strong El Niño. I remind you from the May 20, 2014 entry, “Note, none of these centers are predicting, yet, strong, super or monster.” All of that exaggeration came from elsewhere. And, perhaps tediously, as was the case in my cranky response to the return of the polar vortex, the increasing exaggeration and personification of weather events and their implications for climate change are distinctly negative contributions (link to my analysis). I rely on The Onion’s description of the deadly super rainbow to finish my point. (from my former student Evan O)

In my entry from May 29, 2014 I wrote, “even a moderate El Niño this year is likely to lead to the hottest year on record.” My rationale for this statement is that we are living in the hottest decade since we have had easily defended direct temperature measurements. We have remained warm, globally, despite relatively cool temperatures in the eastern Pacific. Given the importance of the eastern Pacific to the global picture, even a small break in the cool pattern is likely to lead to globally historic highs. Let’s do a summary, since modern temperature records began in 1880:

April 2014 the warmest April
May 2014 the warmest May
June 2014 the warmest June
July 2014 not quite the warmest July
August 2014 the warmest August
September 2014 the warmest September

(A short summary for NASA Earth Observatory) modifications ... There are some differences in the different records of the actual records on a month by month basis. It's worse than a football poll. Here is NOAA's Accounting which counts April as second warmest. Here is Deke Arndt on 2014 Temperatures. end modifications

At this point it will take the intervention of the Snow Queen to derail this year from the record books. My statement in the earlier blog was only me stating the self evident, I want to go back and give credit to Judith Lean and David Rind. Their analysis in 2009 laid out the story line that I am following (Bumps and Wiggles)

OK, California. When there was a prediction of a strong El Niño back in the spring of 2014, there was a lot of chatter about an El Niño breaking the California drought. Returning to the interpretation that I did of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s El Niño forecast, when there is an El Niño, the likelihood of rain (heavy rain) in California, in winter is higher. That does not mean that if there is an El Niño, that it will necessarily rain. It is also possible that there will be rain in the absence of an El Niño. There is a good blog from KQED in San Francisco about the reliability (or not) of the relationship between El Niño and California rain.

A couple of people have asked me what I think about the drought, El Niño, and this winter – like I should know. I remember back in 2013, March, sitting in Colorado following a very dry year, 2012. I was pretty much giving up on the garden, looking at a fall back of using city water on a very small garden, expecting water restrictions to be imposed. In fact, municipalities around Denver were imposing mandatory restrictions. Then in April of 2013, there was record snow. The mountains were laden with water. Then in September of 2013, there was flood. In this little spot, by no means the entire state, there was water. This year, 2014, the ditches were flowing later than I have every seen, but that’s not much of a measure. Such events make you exquisitely aware of the quixotic behavior of weather. I recall several instances in my life where drought was upon us, the reservoirs were drying, and then there was a singular event and reservoirs were full.

With that as a caveat, I am going to imagine that I have small farm near Cloverdale, California. If I were looking to the skies for water, I would be preparing for continued drought. What is going on with the El Niño forecasts does not support the easy hope of El Niño or rain and snow. The seasonal forecasts for California have been showing above average this winter in Southern California (link). My casual observation is that the western half of the U.S. is headed towards more of that persistent flow that keeps California dry. Even if there were enormous rains, they are not likely to extend across all of the watersheds required to fill California’s needs. It will take time to restore that part of the groundwater that can be restored.

I close with a mention of NOAA’s ENSO Blog. Emily Becker wrote an entry on October 9, 2014 entitled Details on the October ENSO Diagnostic Discussion: Trust, but Verify.

r

I like the effort from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to summarize the criteria for El Niño and La Niña watches, alerts and existence, in addition to the neutral phase.



Figure 1: ENSO Tracker indicating an El Niño WATCH (left) and El Niño ALERT (right). Far more details from Australian Bureau of Meteorology. In the July 29, 2014 update, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology shifted from Alert to Watch

Forecast and Analysis Centers

Climate Prediction Center Alert System and the Climate Prediction Center Diagnostic Discussion

International Research Institute Forecast Products and the Quick Look

Japanese Meteorological Agency El Niño Monitoring and Outlook and a nice graph of historical events

Australian Bureau of Meteorology Wrapup

Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) Forecasts

Information Portals

CLIVAR (Variability and predictability of the ocean-atmosphere system) Forecast Page

World Meteorological Updates

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory El Niño Theme Page Forecasts

Climate Prediction Center FAQ

NOAA’s El Niño Page and NOAA’s La Niña Page

Summaries in Blogs

Judy Curry El Niño Watch

NOAA’s ENSO Blog

Rood’s Just Temperature Series

Just Temperature 3

Just Temperature 2

Just Temperature 1

Just What Is the New York Climate Summit?

Published: September 24, 2014
Just What Is the New York Climate Summit?

Added on September 24, 2014: Here is a video with interviews made by Bard MBA Students during the march.

By all accounts the People’s Climate March in New York stands as a great success. I see in the comments a few of you made it to the march. (New York Times Report) If you send me links to your blogs I will post them here – or, guest blog with photos? I also heard a report of a raucous good time in Oakland, CA.

The march was timed to precede the United Nations (U.N.) Climate Change Summit. In 2009 there was an energetic U.N. meeting in Copenhagen. I was at that meeting and wrote a bunch of blogs. Given all of the energy and expectations of the Copenhagen meeting, what has happened since that meeting is viewed by many as a bust. As climate-change policy efforts have clawed their way back, the energy is now focused on 2015 and the Conference of the Parties in Paris. The expectations in Paris are high – from their website, “The meeting will mark a decisive stage in negotiations on the future international agreement on a post-2020 regime, and will, as agreed in Durban, adopt the major outlines of that regime. By the end of the meeting, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, all the nations of the world, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, will be bound by a universal agreement on climate.”

I see the New York Climate Summit as an effort to rally the troops and start a crescendo, trying to assure some success in Paris. The New York summit is named “Climate Summit 2014: Catalyzing Action. And from the U.N. website “There is a sense that change is in the air. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to Climate Summit 2014 this 23 September to galvanize and catalyze climate action. He has asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015. Climate Summit 2014 provides a unique opportunity for leaders to champion an ambitious vision, anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015.” There is comprehensive information on the web page, including the statements from the different nations.

The press coverage I have heard, and I don’t have cable, dish or even an antenna – the press coverage I heard prior to the meeting often touted the “presence” of business and corporations. Just to be tedious, in the past corporations, which see opportunity, have been present at climate-change meetings. (Note careful use of “which” instead of “who.”) Touted on the U.N. page Oil, gas industry launches ‘immediate-impact’ plan to slash global warming emissions. I leave it to the reader to analyze the content of that announcement.

Over the past few months, there have been the releases of high profile climate-change documents. A document that garnered much attention because of the gravitas of the authors is Risky Business: The Economic Risk of Climate Change in the United States. This report uses standard risk-assessment approaches and focuses “on the clearest and most economically significant of these [climate-change] risks: Damage to coastal property and infrastructure from rising sea levels and increased storm surge, climate-driven changes in agricultural production and energy demand, and the impact of higher temperatures on labor productivity and public health.”

Risky Business reaches conclusions using the harshness of numbers, for example: “There is a 1-in-20 chance—about the same chance as an American developing colon cancer; twice as likely as an American developing melanoma – that by the end of this century, more than $701 billion worth of existing coastal property will be below mean sea levels, with more than $730 billion of additional property at risk during high tide. By the same measure of probability, average annual losses from hurricanes and other coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico will grow by more than $42 billion due to sea level rise alone. Potential changes in hurricane activity could raise this figure to $108 billion.”

Rather than focusing on risk and cost, the New Climate Economy takes a different approach: “For such decision-makers, climate change is rarely a primary concern. Their motivations are to promote short-term economic growth and job creation, increase market share and profitability, improve energy and food security, build competitive cities and reduce poverty. Yet their decisions powerfully influence the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. So the core question the project has sought to answer is: how can decision-makers achieve their economic and social goals while simultaneously reducing the risk of dangerous climate change?”

The report from New Climate Economy, Better Growth, Better Climate, starts with “We live in a moment of great opportunity.” (I have been ending my class and lectures with that statement for several years. Shouldn't I get some credit?) What I have read and heard (they have a pretty cool website, I can hear and write at the same time), I like this report. Thinking just a little bit, we have been dealing with weather and climate for all of our existence, spending money to harden our buildings for storms, levees to manage floods and money to rebuild. Therefore, spending money in a changing climate is not entirely a situation of we used to spend no money on weather and climate, now we have to spend money on weather and climate. Our opportunity is to try to spend our money intelligently in a changing climate – plus, the need to spend money to keep those changes from getting completely out of hand. (In the spirit of possibility, What's Possible, the opening film for the U.N. Summit.)

The last report I will mention is one by Timothy Wirth and Thomas Daschle, two former senators. Some of my favorite people to listen to are former senators and former bureaucrats. Some months ago they wrote A Blueprint to End Paralysis Over Global Action on Climate. This opinion piece got some play in the run up to this week’s climate summit. They directly focus on the 2015 meeting in Paris with four principle elements:

1. affirmation of global objectives

2. making national commitments to emissions reductions

3. agree to a systemic review of their emissions reductions pledges

4. finance

With regard to finance Wirth and Daschle maintain, “The capital needed for a global shift to low-carbon energy systems can be mobilized from highly liquid but risk-averse institutional investors, such as pension funds, insurance companies, and sovereign wealth funds, which have assets of more than $80 trillion. The way to attract these funds is to engage public finance entities as partners to reduce investment risk, particularly in developing countries, and ensure safe, predictable returns.” (Wirth interview on Living on Earth)

Wednesday morning, September 24, 2014, in New York City there will be an event sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which will be “highlighting the new steps the United States Government is taking to help empower developing nations to boost their own climate resilience.” The event “will feature remarks by Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Timothy E. Wirth, Vice Chair of the United Nations Foundation; Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Dr. Suzette Kimball, Acting Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.” (I am quoting from my invitation. Sadly, I am not in New York.) This event will be adding some material support to the statements made Tuesday (September 23, 2014) by President Obama.

No matter how tomorrow’s event goes, Dr. Holdren will have a hard time beating his performance as framed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. In my little world this is practically viral, so I am sure that I will be the last to pass it on. May as well remind you of John Oliver’s take on climate change as well. Do owls exist?

r





Figure 1: A ton of carbon dioxide in Copenhagen. It’s still about the same size and we have a lot more of them in the atmosphere.
About the Blogs
These blogs are a compilation of Dr. Jeff Masters,
Dr. Ricky Rood, and Angela Fritz on the topic of climate change, including science, events, politics and policy, and opinion.
Resources