Outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn

The UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, known as COP 23, concluded on Saturday. Its goal was to draft the rules and processes needed to translate the spirit of the historic Paris Agreement into action.

Years in the making, the 2015 Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). But when added up, the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, will miss the 2°C goal.  In fact, they would allow for a 3.2°C (5.76°F) rise in the global temperature. This is why the agreement requires countries to reassess their plans every five years once it goes into effect in 2020.

One of the main goals of the Bonn meeting was to create a standardized rulebook for the monitoring and reporting of these independent undertakings. While some progress was made, the negotiators agreed to wait until the end of 2018 to finalize these vital rules. However, they did agree to begin discussing the NDC shortfall and the need to increase ambitions before 2020 at the next COP. This process was labeled the “Talanoa Dialogue”, which is a tradition of inclusive and transparent conversation used to resolve differences without blame in Fiji – the official host of this year’s conference.

The issue of financing climate adaptation – the touchy subject having wealthy nations pay to help poor nations adapt to climate change – was also pushed down the road. However, the delegates did establish an expert group to discuss the issue of “loss and damages”.

Although ratified in record time, the Paris Agreement is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises.

That said, on the second day of this two-week conference, war-torn Syria announced that it would sign the Paris pact. This move now leaves the US as the only country not part of the global agreement. The Trump administration announced its intention to withdraw the US from the accord in June.

Outside of the formal COP meetings, the positive spirit of the Paris Agreement pushed forward. Nineteen countries and several sub-national actors (states and cities) created the “Powering Past Coal Alliance”. Its aim is to phase out the use of coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, by 2030. According to the International Energy Agency, coal still powers 40% of the world’s electricity.

The Bonn meeting was the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was lead by Fiji but held in Germany because of logistical concerns on the small island nation.The next conference (COP 24) will take place in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland.

Credit: UN

October 2017: Earth’s Fourth Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with October 2017 tying October 2003 as the fourth warmest October ever recorded on this planet. Only October 2014, 2015, and 2016 were warmer.

According to the State of the Climate Report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.41°F. That is 1.31°F above the 20th-century average. October was also the 394th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

It is also interesting to note that the ten warmest Octobers on record have all occurred in the 21st century.

While heat dominated most of the planet last month, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe, northern Russia, and the northeastern United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, the month ranked among the warmest third of the historical record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, a weak La Niña – the cool counterpart of El Niño – developed in the tropical Pacific during October.

Year to date, the first ten months of 2017 were the third warmest such period of any year on record. With only two months left, 2017 is expected to end up among the top three warmest years ever recorded on this planet. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

October 2017 was the planet’s 4th warmest October on record. Credit: NOAA 

Syria Signs Paris Climate Agreement, Leaving US as Lone Holdout

The United States is now the only country on the planet not part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

On Tuesday, Syria announced that it would sign the historic accord to limit global warming. The surprising declaration came at COP23, the UN Climate Change Conference that is currently taking place in Bonn, Germany. The move comes on the heels of Nicaragua signing the pact in October.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

When the deal was struck in 2015, Syria was in the midst of a destructive civil war and Nicaragua refused to sign because if felt the agreement did not go far enough to rein in carbon pollution. The US on the other hand, under the Obama Administration, played a critical role in making the deal a reality. But President Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”, announced plans to withdraw the US from the global pact earlier this year.

Following the rules of the agreement, however, the US cannot officially pull out of the deal until 2020. In the meantime, the administration says it will only re-enter the global accord if it can renegotiate more favorable terms. The rest of the world, however, seems ready to move forward on this critical issue without the US.

The US is the only country not part of the Paris Climate Agreement. Credit: Quartz

Nicaragua Joins the Paris Climate Agreement, Leaving Only US and Syria as Outsiders

Nicaragua has announced that it will sign the Paris Climate Agreement. This move leaves Syria and the United States as the only two countries that are not participating in the historic pact.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement of 2015 set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Based on the current collection of NDCs, the agreement will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. It does, however, legally obligate countries to publically report how much emissions they have actually eliminated and to ratchet up their plans every five years.

Nicaragua initially rejected the deal, saying it did not go far enough to fight climate change. They were particularly skeptical of the voluntary pledge system and the lack of an enforcement mechanism for countries that did not live up to their commitments.

Their position, however, has now changed. In a radio interview, Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s Vice-President and First Lady, said: “Despite not being the ideal agreement, it is the only instrument we have in the world that allows the unity of intentions and efforts to face up to climate change and natural disasters.”

The US government on the other hand, under the Trump Administration, has rejected the science of climate change and called the deal an economic hindrance. In June, Mr. Trump announced that he is withdrawing the US from the global agreement that his predecessor helped to bring about. Syria, the other country not part of the accord, is in the middle of a civil war.

Nicaragua’s decision to join the Paris Agreement comes just weeks before the next UN Climate Change Conference – COP23 – begins in Bonn, Germany. There, delegates from all the signatories will flesh out the rules of the accord, discuss setting more ambitious emission-cutting targets for 2020, and negotiate the universal sticking point of how to pay for the impacts of climate change.

Credit: USAID

September 2017: Earth’s Fourth Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with September 2017 marking the fourth warmest September ever recorded on this planet. Only September 2014, 2015, and 2016 were warmer.

According to the State of the Climate Report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.4°F. That is 1.4°F above the 20th-century average. September was also the 393rd consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet in September, some places were particularly warm, including much of Canada and parts of Asia. For the contiguous US, the month ranked among the warmest third of the historical record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in September, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first nine months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia Batters Ireland

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia, the 15th named storm of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season, slammed the Republic of Ireland on Monday. It was the strongest storm on record to hit that country.

Ophelia peaked as a category-3 hurricane near the Azores over the weekend, becoming the most intense storm ever observed that far north and east in the Atlantic Basin. Then, it rapidly transitioned to a post-tropical storm that was labeled Ex-Hurricane Ophelia by Met Éireann, Ireland’s national weather service. This means the storm was drawing energy from the difference in air masses rather than the heat and moisture of the ocean.

Despite this technical downgrade, Ophelia still packed a punch. The storm’s powerful winds, which averaged around 57mph, uprooted trees and downed power lines. It also produced significant storm surge flooding along the country’s west coast. Officials say at least three fatalities have been reported and more than 300,000 people are without power.

At Fastnet Rock, off the coast of County Cork, a wind gust of 119mph was reported. If confirmed, it will be the fastest wind gust ever recorded in Ireland.

On the eastern side of the storm, smoke and dust from the wildfires burning in Spain and Portugal were funneled northward over the UK. This caused the sun and sky to appear red in a large part of the region.

It is not unheard of for Europe to be hit by the remnants of a hurricane. However, the storms typically travel west across the Atlantic Ocean in the Trade Winds and then re-curve to the northeast if they do not make landfall in the US, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Ophelia, however, skipped the transatlantic voyage and moved northeast toward Europe after forming southwest of the Azores.

Scientists say the storm’s rapid intensification and unusual track are the result of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures at northern latitudes and a steering current known as the mid-latitude jet stream. This current of air flows from west to east and carried the storm toward Ireland.

As the climate changes and sea surface temperatures continue to warm, the area of the ocean that supports hurricane development will likely expand northward. This will make Europe even more vulnerable to post-tropical storms.

MODIS satellite image of Ex-Hurricane Ophelia over Ireland. Credit: NASA

Earth Posts Third Warmest August and Summer on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. August 2017 marked not only the third warmest August on record but also closed out the planet’s third warmest June to August period, which is known as meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for August – over both land and sea surfaces – was 61.59°F, which is 1.49°F above the 20th-century average. Only August 2015 and 2016 were warmer.

This August also marked the 392nd consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

The three-month period of June, July, and August was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.46°F above the 20th century average of 60.1°F. That makes it the third warmest such period on record, trailing only the 2016 and 2015 seasons.

While heat dominated most of the planet this summer, some places were particularly warm, including parts of Europe, the Middle East, and the western United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was our fifteenth warmest summer on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in August, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña in the Pacific to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first eight months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

July 2017: Earth’s Second Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with July 2017 marking the second warmest July ever recorded on this planet. Only July 2016 was warmer.

According to the state of the climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 61.89°F. That is 1.49°F above the 20th-century average. July was also the 391st consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet in July, some places were particularly warm, including China, the Middle East, Australia, southern Africa, and the western United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was the 10th warmest July on NOAA’s books.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in July, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first seven months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

July 2017 was the planet’s second warmest July on record. Credit: NOAA

June 2017: Earth’s Third Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with June 2017 marking the third warmest June ever recorded on this planet. Only June 2015 and 2016 were warmer.

According to the state of the climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 61.38°F. That is 1.48°F above the 20th-century average. June was also the 390th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet in June, some places were particularly warm, including Europe, Central Asia, and the southwestern United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was the 20th warmest June on NOAA’s books.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in June, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first six months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

June 2017 was Earth’s 3rd Warmest June on Record. Credit: NOAA

Panel Discussion: Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Climate change is a complex scientific subject with a plethora of data-rich reports that detail its causes and diverse impacts. Not everyone, however, responds to facts and figures or charts and graphs. That is why art, which taps into human emotion, can help create new pathways of understanding and raise awareness about this critical issue.

On Thursday, July 13, I will be discussing the intersection of art and climate change as part of a panel at the 24th International Conference of Europeanists in Glasgow, Scotland. Moderated by Julie Reiss of Christie’s Education, the panel is titled “Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene”. My fellow panelists include Martha Schwendener (New York Times), Weiyi Chang (University of British Columbia), and Patrizia Costantin (Manchester School of Art).

This annual conference is organized by the Council for European Studies (CES), whose mission is to produce and support multidisciplinary research about Europe. They are “particularly committed to supporting research that can play a critical role in understanding and applying the lessons of European history and integration to contemporary problems, including those in the areas of global security, sustainability, environmental stewardship, and democracy.” The theme of year’s event is sustainability and transformation.

Credit: CES