Days before world leaders meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the latest United Nations Climate Change Conference, a new report warns that the opportunity to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels is diminishing. The "Emissions Gap Report 2013," compiled yearly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), looks at how each nation is meeting its pledge to reduce the release of greenhouse gases. The latest findings suggest that greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to reach 59 gigatons. Even if nations meet their current climate pledges, emissions would be 8-12 gigatons too high (roughly the equivalent of 80 percent of emissions coming from the world's power plants right now). A 44-gigaton level, agreed at the 2010 U.N. Climate Conference in Cancun, is needed in 2020 to attain the 2-degree goal.
"As the report highlights, delayed actions means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure," said U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Director Achim Steiner. "This 'lock-in' would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future."
The 2020 target could still be achieved, Steiner said, through stronger pledges that scale up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy. Agricultural practices that could reduce emissions, such as expansion of no-till farming and improved water management, are also explored.
The World Meteorological Organisation released its annual report, a day after the UNEP study, showing that concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide all broke records in 2012. The volume of carbon dioxide grew faster in 2012 than in the previous decade, reaching 41 percent above pre-industrial levels.
"This year is worse than last year, 2011," said Michael Jarraud, WMO secretary general. "2011 was worse than 2010. Every passing year makes the situation somewhat more difficult to handle, it makes it more challenging to stay under this symbolic 2 degree global average."
Obama Establishes Climate Change Adaptation Task Force
The UNEP report's release follows issuance of an executive order by President Barack Obama aimed at making it simpler for state and local governments to respond to weather disasters as well as at directing federal agencies to revise programs and policies that might serve as a barrier to climate adaptation.
The order establishes the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which brings together local, state and tribal officials to advise the federal government on how to respond to climate impacts. The task force will recommend how structures built with federal money can be made more resilient to the effects of climate change.
"The impacts of climate change--including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise--are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation," the president said in the Executive Order. "Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency operations, services, and programs."
The order also establishes a second group--the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience--that will be co-chaired by the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. It replaces the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force created in 2009. The group will consider the recommendations of the state, local and tribal leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Those recommendations will be related to modernizing federal programs to support climate-resilient investments and to planning for climate-change related risks.
Scientists Work to Deconstruct Climate Issues
As scientists study samples from an Antarctic ice sheet believed to date back 1.5 million years for clues on how Earth's climate has changed, a senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official indicated the Obama administration is looking for ways to use its existing authority to tackle a powerful greenhouse gas: methane.
At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Sarah Dunham with the EPA's Office of Atmospheric Programs testified that the White House-led Interagency Task Force on Climate Change is searching for ways to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas through "incentive-based programs and existing authorities." The leakage of the gas, some scientists at the hearing said, was inaccurately estimated by the agency in 2011.
One international team of engineers and scientists proposes a fleet of "methane-sniffing drones" that would be connected to sensors in smart phones as one way to help ensure drillers pay a state-imposed fee for any future leaked or flared gas. And at Duke, researchers are using a car equipped with special sensors to detect methane leaks and their concentrations from aging pipelines beneath cities, thereby providing a better estimate of how much this infrastructure is contributing to climate change.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.