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Studies Assess Emissions; See Rise as Countries Meet to Negotiate Paris Agreement Terms

Although the world’s greenhouse gas emissions leveled out between 2014 and 2016, new studies presented this week at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, suggest that emissions will rise 2 percent in 2017.

“The temporary hiatus appears to have ended in 2017,” wrote Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who along with colleagues at the Global Carbon Project tracked 2017 emissions to date and projected them forward in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Economic projections suggest further emissions growth in 2018 is likely,” wrote the authors.

The primary driver of the rising emissions increase is a 3.5 percent increase in China’s emissions due to decreased use of hydropower and an uptick in coal use. India is expected to see a 2 percent rise in emissions. Meanwhile, the United States, the world’s second largest emitter behind China, is projected to experience a 0.4 percent decline in emissions.

The studies add urgency to the efforts of those in Bonn to negotiate the terms of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global treaty that aims to limit global warming. Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the Global Carbon Budget 2017 study and director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said the timeframe for meeting Paris Agreement targets is shortening: “Our expectations had always been that emissions would grow, but perhaps not as steeply as this.

“With global CO2 emissions from human activities estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5C,” Le Quéré added.

COP 23: Coal, Finances, and Subnational Support 

As signatories to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 23) finish the second week of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, their focus remains on hammering out the details of the Paris Agreement, the global treaty aiming to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

How exactly the needed actions will be financed is yet to be seen.

“We need all financial players—public, private, domestic, international—and including markets and regulators, to work together effectively to mobilize at least $1.5 trillion in climate finance that is needed every year,” said Eric Usher, head of Finance Initiative at the U.N. Environment Programme.

Now that the United States is the only country not supporting the Paris Agreement—President Donald Trump announced in June that it would withdraw from the agreement—the administration’s only appearance at the conference focused on fossil fuels.

George D. Banks, special adviser to President Trump on international energy issues, led a panel with top American energy executives, offering that “without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible. This panel is controversial only if we choose to bury our heads in the sand.”

Despite the Trump administration’s stance on the agreement, U.S. states and cities are looking to take action on climate change. This week, 20 states and 50 cities signed a pledge to abide by the emissions reduction targets of the Paris agreement.

“It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us,” former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said in Bonn.

The group is vowing to take measures, such as reducing coal-fired power and investing in renewable energy and efficiency, which would substantially reduce its carbon output.

Study: A Warming Planet Makes Harvey-like Storms More Likely

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, some researchers pointed to the increased likelihood of extreme rain events as the planet warms, but a new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes further. It supports the idea that the specific risk of such events is already on the upswing because of humans’ contributions to climate change. According to the study author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, since the end of the 20th century, global warming has helped increase the annual likelihood of Harvey-like rainfall in Texas by 6 percent. By century end, that probability could rise to 18 percent.

To better understand how climate change is skewing those odds, Emanuel generated 3,700 computerized storms for each of the three climate models used in the study. He situated Texas storms in the climates of the years from 1980 to 2016. In these climates, he found that an event producing 20 inches of rain was extremely rare. When he performed a similar analysis in the projected climates of the years 2080 to 2100, Harvey’s 33 inches of rain in Houston became a once-in-a-100-year event, rather than a once-in-a-2,000-year event, and for Texas as a whole, the odds increased from once in 100 years to once every 5.5 years.

“The changes in probabilities are because of global warming,” Emanuel said.

In the study, global warming helped slow hurricanes by pushing land and ocean temperatures closer together, leading to the kind of longevity witnessed with Harvey, but the other and greater effect of that warming is the atmosphere’s capacity to hold moisture.

“If [general circulation] slows down, then places near the coast will get more rain,” Emanuel said. “But the main reason our technique shows increasing rainfall is that there’s more water in the air.”

The significance of this study, Emmanuel noted, is to alert city planners to the changing probabilities of large-scale hurricanes in Texas.

“It is important for those people who will rebuild Houston and rethink its infrastructure to understand the magnitude of the risk and how it will change over time,” he said.

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.