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G7 Leaders Up the Ante on Climate Action

(3BL Media/Justmeans) When the leaders of the world’s largest economies, United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, and Italy, otherwise known as the G7, met last week to discuss the global economy, climate and energy were high on the agenda, given the heightened level of concern and the major climate talks coming up later this year in Paris.

The group took a bold step, pledging to completely phase out greenhouse gas emissions by the century’s end, and to cut somewhere between 40 and 70% by 2050. Can they back it up? Not by themselves. These seven countries currently represent about a third of the world’s GHG emissions. That means they can have a significant impact, but they can’t do it without help, especially from rapidly growing economies like China (now the #1 emitter), India (#4) and Russia (#5). That will not be easy, considering that even among those in the G7, consensus did not come easily. Both Canada and Japan pushed back before finally agreeing to sign on to the statement that said, “We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.”

However, if the goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees or less, the goal of eliminating emissions by the end of the century is not enough. Even the 40 to 70% cuts mentioned by 2050 will fall short, even at the higher end, according to some sources. The carbon calculus shows that we have used up about two-thirds of the total emissions limit of around 3,200 gigatonnes that must be maintained if we hope to keep the climate from spinning out of control. At the current rate of emissions, we will run through that in the next 27 years. That’s a frightening thought when you consider that, at this point, the rate is still going up (albeit more slowly than it was a few years ago). That trend has to be dramatically reversed if the goal is to be met. Keep in mind that most greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for a hundred years or more, so even when we stop emitting, it will take a while for the concentration to begin falling. It also means that when we stop, we need to stop for good, or at least the next hundred years. Given the way that these emissions accumulate in the system, the sooner we act, the better.

James Hansen Asks Young People to Get Involved

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - James Hansen came to Rochester, NY to give the keynote address at the Sierra Club’s Annual Forum. The title of his talk was “Climate Change and Energy: How Can Young People Take Ownership of Their Future?” It was the culmination of several talks he had given while in town.

Not surprisingly, Hansen began by talking about how last year was the warmest on record and how based on the data recorded so far, this year is well on its way to being warmer. He described the many sources of data corroborating the phenomenon like GRACE satellite data that shows Greenland and Antarctica rapidly losing mass, and the 3,200 Argo floats that have been sampling temperatures in the top 2 km of the ocean. These show the increase in ocean temperature. Though we have had a “pause,” for about a decade, in which the rate of cooling had declined, the recent data shows the resumption of the earlier trend. The pause has been explained by Drew Shindell (a former colleague of Hansen’s) as being due to the short term impact of aerosols, among the explanations that have been put forward.

Hansen’s biggest concerns going forward are two irreversible trends. The first is the extinction of species, the rate of which is estimated to take out anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent of all species living on Earth today, by the end of the century. While climate change is not the only factor driving these extinctions, it exacerbates many of the other stresses, such as loss of habitat and chemical pollutions, which are also primarily human induced.

The second concern is disintegration of the great ice sheets. New satellite data confirms that the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at an accelerating pace. In the case of Western Antarctica, that rate of ice loss has been increasing by 25 billion tons per year per year.

He described a newly discovered positive feedback loop to add to the albedo loss, and the release of methane from melting permafrost. This one has to do with the circumpolar circulation of water in the ocean. As the glaciers melt and discharge large amounts of fresh water into the ocean it cause the cold water to sink more slowly which has the effect of causing sea ice to expand. This, in turn, releases heat that is melting the ice shelves that act as buttresses to the great ice sheets. Should the ice sheets disintegrate, ocean levels will rise by huge amounts. Even if temperatures are maintained at the 2 degrees C mark that the IPCC is currently targeting, we could still see sea levels 5-9 meters above their current levels, enough to wipe out virtually all coastal cities.

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