Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

The One Page I Will Read – IPCC Working Group II

By: RickyRood, 4:35 PM GMT on April 29, 2014

The One Page I Will Read – IPCC Working Group II

A program manager friend of mine in D.C. used to ask me for the one page that he would read, the two pages he would read if the project was interesting and the five pages he would read if he needed to know the details. We often hear about the elevator speech, when you get the length of an elevator ride to pitch a program or sell your project. These are frightfully small amounts of time and words to convey large amounts of complex information.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has assessed the state of our knowledge about climate change at regular intervals since 1988. There are three reports at each assessment release, The Physical Science Basis (Working Group I), Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (Working Group II) and The Mitigation of Climate Change (Working Group III). Maybe it’s just my prejudice, but it has always seemed to me that the Working Group I report got the most attention. I want to write a little bit about Working Group II. I know that I am late compared to the press releases and other blogs, but that’s my style. I don’t really have much to add during the big flurry of activity, but if the document is important, then I hope to maybe keep it alive a bit after it has run its news cycle. It’s an awfully long document; just picking one out, Chapter 30 of the Working Group II Report has 138 pages. It does not meet that standard of the one page I will read.

The IPCC has made great efforts to provide more communicative documents. There is a Summary for Policy Makers, a set of Frequently Asked Questions, a video and aGlossary. The glossary is especially valuable, as there is an ongoing effort to make the vocabulary common and precise across many fields and many languages.

I was delighted to see that a former student of my class, Ilissa Ocko, was not only gainfully employed, but she had written a summary blog of the Working Group II report. The now Dr. Ocko listed six key findings (see one of her graphics below):

1) Climate change is now everywhere

2) Humans and ecosystems are both vulnerable

3) Food security, water resources, human health, ecosystems, and the economy are all at stake

4) Many global risks of climate change are concentrated in urban efforts

5) Building resilience is critical to limiting risks …

6) … but cutting heat-trapping gas emissions is essential.

If you review the current set of IPCC reports and compare the messages to the previous reports in 2007 and 2001, then there is remarkable consistency of message. This consistency of message is a measure of the certitude of the knowledge that we have about climate change. This report documents with “high confidence” changes in natural systems such as migration patterns and shifts in geographical ranges. There is also an emerging climate-change signal of an increase in species extinction. Climate change is not the only stress at play in species extinction, which is a consequence of the domination of the Earth’s environment by humans.

With degrees of confidence ranging from “medium” to “high,” the assessment report documents changes in the supply and distribution of fresh water. The changes that involve melting of glaciers, ice sheets and permafrost are essentially permanent – they will not be reversed in our lifetime or the lifetimes of our children and their children. In Chapter 28, the melting of permafrost is given “very high confidence,” with impacts on both ecosystems and infrastructure. The threats to infrastructure include specific mention of that which we have built to manage hazardous materials, such as oil. (Angela Fritz’s blog on permafrost and carbon dioxide emissions)

The intersections between melting permafrost, ecosystems and human infrastructure are a concrete example of the integrated risk. When we talk about integrated risk, some take the position that the risk is not due to climate change, but due to bad decisions by people – perhaps building in places that are vulnerable. This form of argument, removing climate change as a factor, is increasingly less convincing, which is especially obvious in the Arctic. It will become more obvious as the melting of sea ice opens up offshore oil drilling, which would be too costly, largely impossible, without climate change. This becomes linked to roads and pipelines whose underpinnings are weakened by melting permafrost. The threats of oil spills at drilling sites and from oceanic shipping all become possible, fundamentally, because of climate change – followed by the decisions that we will make to build in vulnerable zones.

The Working Group II report also reviews efforts around the world to take on the challenges of adaptation. A hopeful sign is taking climate change into account in planning exercises. Though implementation of specific adaptation actions remains limited, there is increasing evaluation of vulnerability and risk. It is especially notable that economic development plans increasingly incorporate consideration of climate and climate change. Especially in cases where changes in water supply are already being observed or where sea level is a threat, climate change is prominent in the planning discussion.

The IPCC reports are daunting in their scope and in their size. The information and knowledge in the reports is complex, and it is a continual challenge on how to communicate complex knowledge. There has been significant effort to improve the communication of the material in these reports. The complete reports can be downloaded as searchable PDFs. The reports are a snapshot of the literature and knowledge of the recent past. With the emergence of verifiable signals of climate change, the reports offer many case studies to help us think about the future and our responses.


Figure 1: Global Observed Impacts of climate change. See more of Ilissa Ocko's graphics

Climate Impacts and Risks

Updated: 8:20 PM GMT on April 29, 2014


What is the right diagnosis?

By: RickyRood, 5:09 AM GMT on April 21, 2014

What is the right diagnosis?

April 22, 2014 is Earth Day, and I will be giving a talk at an Earth Day event in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was asked to talk about the weather and if it is changing due to human-caused climate change. Yes it is. There are some safe conclusions about climate change due to increasing carbon dioxide: the planet is warming, ice is melting, sea level is rising and the weather is changing. All of these changes are occurring and all will continue. The more specific question that was posed to me by the meeting organizers was whether or not the changes in Arctic sea ice were leading directly to recent weather-climate events in the U.S. Perhaps even more specific, will people in Michigan see more winters like the winter of 2013-2014 in the future? Thanks to a small snowfall last week, Southeast Michigan set a record.

Thinking about recent news as a possible starting point for my talk, the last few weeks have seen the release of both the IPCC Working Group II and Working Group III assessment reports. Briefly, Working Group II assesses the impacts of global warming and Working Group III focuses on how to limit the impacts through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. For each of these reports there was a very short flurry of press coverage. The one sentence takeaways: Working Group II - The impacts are large and emerging faster than expected. Working Group III - We still have the wherewithal to avoid dangerous climate change if we reduce greenhouse emissions by an enormous amount in the next few decades.

Also in the last few weeks there has been more discussion in the blog-press about changes in Arctic sea ice leading to changes in the atmospheric jet stream leading to California drought and the very cold and snowy winter in the eastern half of the United States. (We just don’t mention Alaska enough – so let’s add the absurdly warm winter in Alaska.) (Rood’s summary a few weeks ago)

On Climate Progress there is an entry Study Ties Epic California Drought and “Frigid East” to Manmade Climate Change. Joe Romm’s blog entry reports on a paper by Wang et al. on probable causes of the California drought. Indeed Wang et al. state (in an early publication release), “Therefore, there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.”

This paper stands in contrast to an opinion piece in the New York Times by Martin Hoerling entitled Global Warming, Not Always. In this piece Dr. Hoerling states, “At present, the scientific evidence does not support an argument that the drought there is appreciably linked to human-induced climate change.” Hoerling argues that there are analogues of the current drought in the historical record; hence, human-induced climate change is not necessary for severe drought. The current drought is distinguished by the huge demand for water that comes from a large population and high-demand water requirements. Hoerling concludes that as far as attribution of the cause of the drought “the correct diagnosis matters” because it informs how to respond to the drought.

If I think about what to say to an audience at Earth Day, I don’t think that my opinion on whether or not this past winter is “caused” by climate change matters a lot. In my talk I will try to frame the reports and discussion that I mentioned above.

What the recent work on sea ice and the jet stream suggests is plausibility that the recent weather in the U.S. is influenced by changes in the Arctic. The changes in the Arctic are enormous. The spatial extend of the reduction of sea ice is continental and would be expected to have some consequences. In fact, if there is any magical thinking, then it would be to expect there to be no consequences. I admit that there is a lot to be untangled in our understanding, but minimally, that the changes in sea ice might have an impact because it influences patterns of variability is important for planning. It is also important for research because it suggests a relationship between weather, climate and climate change that is traceable.

The argument suggested by the Hoerling piece and Romm’s blog on the Wang et al. paper is a continuation of an argument about event attribution that I consider flawed both scientifically and rhetorically. We live on a planet that is warming. We do not have weather events occurring in a “natural” climate and a “natural plus human changed” climate. The existence of drought analogues in the historical record does not exempt the current drought from influence by human-induced climate change. A similar argument might be that the existence of lung cancer prior to the use of tobacco excludes tobacco as a cause of lung cancer. If there were an absence of drought in past centuries and the presence of drought today that would be compelling. However, if there were no history of drought followed by the onset of drought, then that would suggest that our knowledge and understanding of weather and climate would be profoundly deficient. One of the anchors of our confidence in science-based knowledge of climate change is the ability to look at past analogues and provide nuance related to a warming planet, and for that matter, increased stress on resources by an increasing population.

When I started my climate change class in 2006, a stated goal was to move beyond polarized arguments. Polarization exists as a tactic in political and rhetorical arguments. However, we also see polarized arguments when we look at the relation of climate change to other disciplines: climate-policy, climate-agriculture, climate-ecosystems, climate-population, climate-energy, climate-economy … . We are not, however, at a point where we can separate climate change from population, from consumption, from economics and from energy. The only solution to the mitigation of climate change that we allow as viable is that we find sources of energy that are less damaging to the climate – or really to the environment.

The conclusions of the recent IPCC reports are another brick in the wall. The impacts of climate change are broad and significant. It is hard to argue that we will avoid dangerous climate change when we look at the Arctic. This is especially true if the changes in the Arctic might have an amplified affect on lower latitudes by changing the patterns of weather variability. Even with a magical explosion of existing capability and new technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we will not return to the Arctic that denied a Northwest Passage to the explorers of the Renaissance.

My message will be that the weather is changing. Also, the relation of weather with people and countries and economies is changing. Weather, what people do and how many people there are – all are changing. Currently, all in a way to increase people’s vulnerability. In the short term, we can make decisions to improve our resilience and reduce our vulnerability. If we think that the weather in the future will be the same as the weather of the past, then that will be wrong. There is no world in which we live that is uninfluenced by our emissions of many pollutants, including carbon dioxide, as well as our changes to the land and oceans. We make a mistake if we dismiss human-induced climate change as not influencing the weather each and every day.


Climate Change Attribution Climate Impacts and Risks


Energy, Food, Population and Climate

By: RickyRood, 4:51 AM GMT on April 09, 2014

Energy, Food, Population and Climate

I was reading this article, Green Energy Draws Investment Worldwide, which reports on the United Nations' Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments 2014. The article documents that global investments in renewable energy dropped in 2013, but also notes that China now exceeds Europe in renewable energy investments. Part of the reason for reduced investment in renewable energy was due to the declining price of solar energy. Another reason is unstable energy policy. In the U.S., for instance, the investment in wind energy jumps up and down based on incentives such as tax credits. The amount of energy produced by renewables continues to increase from year to year. If we obtained this energy from fossil fuels, there would be approximately 20% more carbon dioxide emissions.

Even with accounting that carbon dioxide emissions are only 80% of what they might be, the total global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to increase every year. Here is a figure put together from reports from the International Energy Agency.

Figure 1: World Primary Energy Supply in 1973 and 2003. From International Energy Agency.

In 1973 oil provided 45.0 % of the world’s energy and in 2003 the number is 34.4%. Natural gas provided 16.2% in 1973 and 21.2% in 2003. Coal was 24.8% in 1973 and 24.4% in 2003. If I add correctly in 1973 fossil fuels provided 86% of the world’s energy and in 2003 fossil fuels provided 80% of our energy. The big difference between 1973 and 2003 was the increase in nuclear.

The emissions continue to increase because the total amount of energy generated increased. Mtoe is Megatons oil equivalent, and that number went from about 6,000 to 10600 in 30 years. In that 30-year period there was about a 75% increase in total energy production.

Figure 2 shows in the top part of the figure the same type of information as in the above figure, but for 2011. Total energy production in 2011 was about 13,113 Megaton oil equivalent. In 2011, the increase in energy production is approximately 120% compared to 1973. Compared to 2003, the 2011 energy production is about 25% higher.

Figure 2: World Primary Energy Supply in 2011, top. From International Energy Agency. Total energy production in 2011 was about 13,113 Megaton oil equivalent. The bottom part of the figure is the percentage of carbon dioxide emissions from each energy type.

When we look at the percentage of energy production, the energy coming from non-fossil fuel sources is 18%. Percentage wise, the amount that might be accounted to renewables has actually decreased. Therefore, we do have less carbon dioxide emissions than might be the case, but our energy use increases and our reliance on fossil fuels remains in many ways the same. The amount of energy produced by non-fossil fuels today would have been over 40% of the world’s energy use in 1973.

In terms of share of energy production, coal has increased at the expense of both oil and non-fossil fuels. If you look at the bottom part of the figure, the high amount of carbon dioxide emissions from coal shows that coal is especially bad for the climate.

In the past decade, globally, coal has grown more than either renewables or natural gas. This has fueled, especially, the economies of India and China, leading to a significant rise in standard of living. This shows up as large changes in, for example, hunger statistics. The tie between economic success, energy use and carbon dioxide becomes more clear. Despite amazing growth in the use of renewables, which has actually decreased carbon dioxide emissions in Europe, the total growth in energy production overwhelms this decrease. This makes the current continued increase in carbon dioxide emissions more staggering – it comes in the presence of real reductions in emissions from renewables.

The increase in energy production improves economies. Bringing economic development to a larger percentage of the world’s population, while the population continues to grow, assures decades more of very high emissions. If we then make the reach that economic growth and standard of living are accompanied by consumption of more meat, which has always been the case, we see an amplifying impact on emissions coming from agriculture.

We are therefore even in the best of cases committed to further increases in carbon dioxide emissions, as well as emissions of other greenhouse gases. The ultimate way to limit warming is to reduce emissions, which requires energy sources and food supplies that do not emit greenhouse gases. At this point we are not even offsetting the increase of carbon dioxide emissions by our adoption of renewables. It is interesting to note that China, now the world’s largest emitter, is also the world’s largest investor in renewable energy. Also noteworthy, is that China has driven down the price of solar energy. This places China in not only a potential technological advantage, but is also building policy advantage, as China is on a path that might displace coal’s role in energy production.


Climate Change Climate Change Politics

Updated: 3:58 PM GMT on April 09, 2014


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Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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