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On Monday, October 8, 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report, that holding average global warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) – the stronger of the two goals set in the Paris Agreement Climate Agreement – is still possible, but only with urgent action.

The report was requested by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Member countries recognized that the emissions reductions commitments made by participant countries weren’t sufficient to meet the temperature goals in the Agreement, so they asked the IPCC to provide additional technical information that could inform future updates. The report will serve as key input for the next U.N. climate change conference in Poland in December.

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS: 1.5°C vs. 2°C

Current international commitments would result in global warming that is closer to 3°C — far above the 1.5°C and 2°C (2.7 – 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) targets of the Paris agreement. Any temperature rise more than 1.5°C would bring cataclysmic changes in the global environment, including the death of life-sustaining ecosystems, the complete melting of the ice caps, and the rendering of enormous amounts of land both unfarmable and unlivable. Additionally, according to the report “limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million”.

IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C, Summary for Policymakers, pg 13

Earth’s sea level has already risen by about seven or eight inches since 1900. The new report shows that in a 2°C world, sea level rise is projected to be about four inches higher than it would be in a 1.5°C world. That’s enough to expose an additional 10 million people around the world to risks from sea level rise (31-69 million people in 1.5°C scenario, compared to 32-79 million people in the 2°C scenario).

The report shows that in mid-latitude countries, like the United States, our hottest days are expected to be significantly higher and more numerous in a 2°C world than in a 1.5°C world. The U.S is also likely to experience other serious impacts, including more intense and frequent extreme weather events, more severe droughts and heatwaves, and an increase in hospitalization and fatalities from these impacts, all of which we have seen in the past decade.

Even today, extreme weather events have had serious consequences for the health and safety of people in the U.S. and around the world. We only need to look to this year to see how extreme heat waves helped create the conditions for large wildfires in the West, which led to the loss of life and homes. Hurricane Florence led to numerous deaths and damaged infrastructure. And we will be hearing about the impacts of Hurricane Michael in the coming days and weeks. The 2017’s wildfire season and hurricanes tell a similar story. More global warming means more of these kinds of events.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

The report outlines the several possible emissions pathways and associated actions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2°C. Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to peak by 2020, and must reach net-zero by between 2014 and 2055. The probability of keeping warming to 1.5 °C is significantly higher if net zero global CO2 emissions is reached in 2040, as opposed to 2055. Reduction of other global warming gases, including methane, needs to start by 2030.

IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C, Summary for Policymakers, pg 6

Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C is physically and technically possible, but will require system change on an unprecedented level. The composition of our energy sources, our means of transportation, the way we grow food, the types of foods we consume, the products we use and industrial processes (such as cement production) all have to change.

Removing CO2 from the air and sequestering it – using methods such as reforestation, land restoration, and technologies to capture CO2 – will be necessary, even with the emissions reductions described.

As one of the biggest emitters of global warming emissions, the U.S. has a big role to play in limiting warming to 1.5°C. The Trump administration’s plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, as well as its moves to roll back other key domestic policies that would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, leaves the burden for taking action on states and local governments.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

While we can make changes as individuals, the political will of communities and countries are needed to make the level of changes that are necessary. Supporting policy and system changes is the most important thing you can do. We must demand that our elected officials enact rapid and divisive climate policies that decarbonize the economy on the federal level, such as with a Green New Deal.

To reduce emissions in our daily life, we can reduce our home energy consumption, opt for public and human-powered transportation when possible, stop consuming meat, buy less and reuse more, and have fewer children. However, it’s important to remember that individual actions are not enough to address climate change. Collective action is necessary and vital if we are to limit planetary warming to 1.5°C and preserve a livable planet.

We’ve known about the risks associated with global warming for years now and the report shows limiting global warming to 1.5°C will certainly not be easy. It will require major societal transformations. But it is possible and a better, healthier, more equitable world will be the result of all our efforts, if we act now.

Check out our upcoming Facebook video discussion with Public Citizen’s San Antonio Climate Justice organizer, Briauna Barrera and Energy Policy and Outreach Specialist, Kaiba White.

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“Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.” IPCC WGII AR5

IPCC

The opening session of IPCC meeting in Yokohama.
Photo by Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP, Getty Images

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released Part 2 of its Assessment Report showing that work to limit the effects of climate change must begin now.  Part  1 came out in September 2013 and showed indisputable evidence that climate change is real, it is happening today, and human influence is the root cause. The report is the fifth such report that has come from the UN.

This week, government officials and top climate scientists are meeting in Berlin to review a 29-page draft from working group 3 of the UN’s IPCC. This third document is expected to be released later this month.

The scope of the second report takes a broad look at how climate change is impacting the Earth’s oceans, coasts, atmosphere, animals, humans and human societies. The report then examines how we must adapt to manage risks associated with climate change.

This is a stern warning coming from the world’s scientific community, and there is little doubt from the experts about the solution: cut pollution from fossil fuels and prepare for the risks associated with a warming world.

The document warns of side effects from a warming world over the next century. There is a high level of consensus from the scientific community that there will be a rise in sea level from melting glaciers, which threatens coastal cities and low-lying nations. There will also be an increase of drier areas, resulting in increased wildfires and drought.

Part of the problem with climate change is that scientists don’t have a crystal ball to predict how the environment will respond to a rise in temperatures. They are trying to predict effects of climate change over the course of decades. Scientists are anticipating that forests ecosystems could collapse and wetland ecosystems could disintegrate. They are expecting that water systems worldwide will be effected from more flooding in many places and drought in drier regions. Of course, the effects won’t be uniform everywhere.

Scientists are also noting that there could be some localized positive effects from climate change. They say that there will be fewer deaths from severe cold, but scientists are also anticipating more deaths due to heat. Some parts of the planet may become better suited for agriculture, especially in higher altitudes, but lower crop yields in other areas will outweigh those benefits. Also, scientist predict that fish and aquatic life will move around as ocean temperatures rise. However, there could be effects, both good and bad, that scientists are not expecting.

The experts are warning the world’s leaders that in order to prevent the worst consequences of climate change we need to reduce pollution, and inaction today will reduce the world’s options for managing the worst effects of climate change.

The level of carbon dioxide is up 41 percent since the Industrial Revolution nearly 200 years ago, and it could double in a matter of decades if the present trend continues.

Unfortunately, here in the US, climate deniers have hijacked the Republican Party and have stalled any meaningful debate about what we are going to do to combat climate change.

“There are those who say we can’t afford to act,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”

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In a new peer-reviewed scientific study, experts said satellite data show sea levels rose by 3.2 millimeters a year from 1993 to 2011 — 60 percent faster than the 2 mm annual rise projected by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for that period, however  the IPCC was just about spot on with its predictions for warming temperatures.

The IPCC has estimated that seas rose by about 7 inches over the last century, and estimates a range of between 7 and 23 inches this century.  This is enough to worsen coastal flooding and erosion during storm surges and if the impacts of Hurricane Sandy is any indication, will dramatically impact the dense coastal populations around the world.

The most recent IPCC report did not factor in a possible acceleration of the melt of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and “assumed that Antarctica will gain enough (ice) mass” to compensate for Greenland ice loss, the new study’s authors noted, but more recent studies have shown that “the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are increasingly losing mass.”

When the next IPCC report comes out in March 2014, we should expect a more quantitative understanding of ongoing sea level rise — and an entire chapter on the topic —given the impacts on the densely populated coastal regions of the world.

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Last weekend professors and scientists from four major Texas universities joined forces to write an editorial in the Houston Chronicle defending the science of global warming from skeptics and deniers.  Check it out!

On global warming, the science is solid

In recent months, e-mails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom and errors in one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports have caused a flurry of questions about the validity of climate change science.

These issues have led several states, including Texas, to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide (also known as greenhouse gases) are a threat to human health.

However, Texas’ challenge to the EPA’s endangerment finding on carbon dioxide contains very little science. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott admitted that the state did not consult any climate scientists, including the many here in the state, before putting together the challenge to the EPA. Instead, the footnotes in the document reveal that the state relied mainly on British newspaper articles to make its case.

Contrary to what one might read in newspapers, the science of climate change is strong. Our own work and the immense body of independent research conducted around the world leaves no doubt regarding the following key points: (more…)

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You may have seen the political bloviating earlier this week when Governor Perry announced he would sue the EPA over their endangerment finding on CO2.   Or that Attorney General Greg Abbott signed on, as did Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, who all ended up calling the science behind climate change flawed, saying:

The state’s legal action indicates EPA’s Endangerment Finding is legally unsupported because the agency outsourced its scientific assessment to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has been discredited by evidence of key scientists’ lack of objectivity, coordinated efforts to hide flaws in their research, attempts to keep contravening evidence out of IPCC reports and violation of freedom of information laws.

You may have also seen our response.  If you’re a regular reader here, I hope so!

Perry, Abbott, and Staples claim that the science is flawed on climate change, citing recent controversy surrounding the IPCC (a-hem, that’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, gentlemen. Maybe the legal brief should be thrown out due to citation of a ficticious panel? We’ll call it INTERNATL-PANELGATE! We’ve really got ’em now!).  Too bad the controversy hasn’t affected the main thrust of the underlying science, only some of the claims. Too bad the conclusions of the IPCC have also been independently adopted and verified by the US National Academy of Sciences and the collected opinions of 13 US Gov’t agencies (like those liberals at the CIA and the USDA), collectively put together in the US Global Change Research Program. Despite its problems, the main conclusions of the IPCC’s report, that temperatures were increasing and climate was changing due to greenhouse gas emissions, remains intact.

Too bad Perry, Abbott, and Staples (or maybe more accurately Larry, Moe, and Shemp?) didn’t seek the advice of…oh, actual scientists, like maybe the Texas state climatologist?  Didn’t know we had a climatologist?  (Maybe Governor Perry didn’t either?) Well, we do, and before you dismiss him as some granola-chewing-Austin-based-hippie-liberal, he’s actually anything but.

Meet Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, of the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences, appointed to the position of State Climatologist by noted liberal and hater of greenhouse gases George W. Bush. (hope you caught the irony there).

In a sweeping interview with Brad Johnson’s Wonk Room blog, he fired back against Perry’s allegations that the endangerment finding is flawed:  “Anthropogenic increases of greenhouse gas concentrations clearly present a danger to the public welfare, and I agree with the EPA’s findings in that sense.”

To be fair, Dr. N-G also specifically added a caveat to his comments, “Just to be clear, I do not “utterly dismiss” the Texas petition. I have contributed to pointing out errors in the IPCC reports in my own blog, and it is appropriate for the State of Texas to inquire how much of the IPCC findings will ultimately be called into question. Nor would my considered scientific opinion constitute adequate independent grounds for an EPA finding.”

Wow.  A reasonable climatologist, but one who supports the broad scientific consensus.  What scientific consensus is that, you ask?  Well, as a result of this interview, Dr. Andy Dessler (who we have long been a fan of here at TexasVox) and the entire A&M Dept of Atmo Sciences released the following statement:

Dr. Andrew Dessler, a climatologist at Texas A&M University and author of The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change, tells the Wonk Room in an email interview that the entire Department of Atmospheric Sciences agrees with the IPCC:

I, along with all of the other faculty in the department, agree with the main conclusions of the IPCC.”In 2007, the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences issued a statement that global warming from emissions of greenhouse gases risks “serious adverse impacts on our environment and society” — the key basis for the EPA’s endangerment finding:

1. It is virtually certain that the climate is warming, and that it has warmed by about 0.7 deg. C over the last 100 years.
2. It is very likely that humans are responsible for most of the recent warming.
3. If we do nothing to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, future warming will likely be at least two degrees Celsius over the next century.
4. Such a climate change brings with it a risk of serious adverse impacts on our environment and society.When asked if the latest attacks on the IPCC affect their stance, Dr. Dessler responded that “the Department stands by its statement. You can quote me on that.”

You can read the entire interview here.  But, when it comes to this one right here, it’s Science 1 – Perry, Abbott and Staples 0.

Or maybe no one is keeping score, and we just chalk this up as more election year posturing?

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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As of today, all four of the largest greenhouse gas polluters (China, the US, the EU, and India — no, not Texas) have announced the greenhouse gas reduction goals they want to pursue at the Copenhagen climate talks (COP-15) this week in Denmark. Here’s the rundown:

  • EU: 20% cut in emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2020
  • USA: 17% cut below 2005 levels by 2020
  • China: 40-45% relative to the size of their economy (cutting what is called “carbon intensity”–curbing growth but not cutting it)
  • India: 25% cut in carbon intensity.

Well, it’s a start, but, as we’ve said previously, is simply not enough— and we’re not the only ones who think so. Some estimates, such as the Climate Interactive Scoreboard above, show that current climate pledges put us on a path to at least another 3.5 C of warming (that’s almost 8 F).

This has caused preeminent climate scientist Jim Hansen of NASA to say he hopes the negotiations at Copenhagen will fail, so that we will have to start over and write a brand new climate treaty.

I’m not one to call for failure, but I am one to call for leadership. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for deeper cuts from both Britain and the EU. Is it time for Obama to do the same? (more…)

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water header

I’ve been thinking (and worrying) about water a lot lately.  I suppose that the drought has brought all this concern along.  Just a few months ago, folks were comparing this drought to the one that devastated Texas agriculture in the ’50s (when crop yields dropped by as much as 50%, all but one county in Texas was declared a federal drought disaster area, and grasslands were scorched and ranchers that couldn’t afford high hay prices resorted to a mixture of prickly pear cactus and molasses), but now folks are saying that this drought is well on its way to being worse, and certainly more costly, than any other dry spell in Texas history.

We’re already seeing ranching and agriculture suffer substantially from this drought.  Agricultural officials are now pinning crop and livestock losses at $3.6 billion.  Just 12% of the cotton acreage planted this year will be harvested, and many gins won’t open up this season because there isn’t enought work to justify it.  Ranchers are also buying high priced hay and feed supplements because their own pastures haven’t produced enough to feed their herds.  Ranchers are selling off calves younger and thinner than usual, and even letting go of the mature females that sustain their herds.  In the last week, Bastrop County alone lost 12,000 cattle from the drought.  As Roy Wheeler, an Atascosa County rancher told the San Antonio Express-News, “We’re selling the factory, so they say.”

So why worry about the weather,  you may ask.  Haven’t farmers and ranchers been scraping by and beaten by the weather since the first man stuck a seed in the ground?  Perhaps, but during the dust bowl and in this last great drought in the ’50s, we could still shake our fists at the sky and vow never to go hungry again — but now we can only shake our fists at ourselves.  There’s not a doubt in my mind that this drought is a result of human interference.  I’m no scientist, just an educated girl with a blog, but I’d bet the farm that we’re seeing global warming in action.

But you don’t have take my word for it.  Take the word of Dr. Gerald North, a climate scientist at that notorious liberal holdout Texas A&M, who says that this drought is the beginning of a permanent trend for Texas.  He cites the 2007 IPCC report, which shows trends toward hotter and drier summers.  In reference to this weather pattern, North told the Environment News Service that, “It could be just a fluke that persists for a decade… But my guess is that it’s here to stay, but with fluctuations up and down.”

Of course we can’t point at any one weather event and say that it is a direct result of global warming, but we can take events as indicative of what is to come as global warming progresses.  Just as Hurricane Katrina woke up the world to the devastation that will ensue as storms of increase in frequency and severity from climate change, this current drought can give Texans a hint of what the future of Texas weather will look like.

There’s a terrible element of irony here.  Our current trajectory of unsustainable growth and energy consumption increase the likelihood that drought in Texas will become the new norm.  AND those same industries and energy sources which have poisoned our atmosphere and raised global temperatures… use enormous amounts of water.  Coal, natural gas, and nuclear — which propents are trying to sell as “the low-carbon cure we need” — are incredibly, enormously, despicably water intensive. (more…)

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Public Citizen disappointed by process as Big Money works to weaken, kill bill

Statement by Andy Wilson, Global Warming Program Director, Texas Office

This evening, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed HR 2454, The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES or ACESA), sponsored by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), by a margin of 33 – 25.

We would like to thank Gene Green (D-Houston) and Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio) for their support of this step towards clean energy and saving the climate from runaway global warming. It is unfortunate, however, that they chose to weaken the energy efficiency and renewable energy sections of the bill, as stronger mandates would mean more local jobs and more savings for Texans.

They also supported giving away billions of dollars worth of carbon credits to polluters for free, despite knowing that these giveaways hurt low income households the most.

Big money was the deciding factor in this process, with the energy industry donating a total of $3.1 million on all members of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the 2008 campaign cycle, with nearly $2.3 million of that going to committee Republicans, who presented nearly monolithic opposition to the bill and attempted to weaken it at every turn. Ranking member Joe Barton (R-TX) received $406,887 in campaign contributions from the energy industry, the largest amount of any member on the panel, and orchestrated the GOP opposition. Notable opposition to the bill came from Jim Matheson (D-UT), who received $103,097, Charlie Melancon (D-LA), who received $125,100, John Barrow (D-GA) who received $88,743, and Mike Ross (D-AR) who received $59,800. The first three of these received more money from the energy industry than any other Democrats on the panel, while Ross was the fifth largest recipient among Democrats.

The architects of the compromises which weakened the bill also received large contributions from the energy industry, including Rick Boucher (D-VA) who received $67,300 and was the architect of the plan to give coal-fired electric utilities nearly all of their pollution credits for free. A similar deal was struck with oil refineries, whose donations to Gene Green (D-TX) and Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) along with other energy industries was equal to $84,500 and $51,250, respectively.

Unfortunately, the bill leaves the committee weaker than it came in. It has moved to a short term reduction of CO2 emissions of only 17%, even though the research by the Nobel Prize winning IPCC shows that target needs to be closer to 30%. This bill is also potentially a budget buster, as it has moved away from President Obama’s original position of auctioning all of the pollution credits to giving away credits worth billions in revenue to industry for free. By giving away 85% of all carbon credits to industry, the Congress has also limited their ability to help low-income consumers and invest in efficiency, renewable energy, and international programs to aid lesser developed countries. Furthermore, they have added unlimited loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, even though the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has stated that it is likely that more than 50 percent of all nuclear loans will fail. The loan guarantees would be used to

Even worse, by giving away too many credits to special interests, we will repeat the mistakes of the European carbon market, where too many credits were given away at the outset and actual carbon reductions did not occur. Utilities still passed on “compliance costs” to their customers and prices increased, which led to the EPA’s analysis of the Waxman-Markey draft that any giveaways to industries are “highly regressive.”

A well designed cap and invest program with strong efficiency and renewable energy standards would save the average Texas household $900 per year according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. We fear that by weakening the bill, as the Energy and Commerce Committee has, this savings could evaporate.

Now that the committee process has ended, it is now the responsibility of every Texas Representative to strengthen HR 2454. The bill needs to move back to scientifically and economically based goals in order to protect consumers and create a green jobs future for every family in the country.

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