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Climate change is here — and worse than we thought

James E. Hansen, The Washington Post
When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988 , I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.

My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present…
(4 August 2012)
Link to paper

Study Shows Planet Keeping Pace With CO2 Emissions

Michael D. Lemonick, Climate Central
Climate change is a serious enough problem, but it could be a lot worse. About half of the carbon dioxide we’ve pumped into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels has been absorbed by plants and oceans, rather than staying in circulation to drive up temperatures. Scientists are convinced this can’t go on forever — but a new study in Nature shows that we haven’t come to the danger point yet. Over the past 50 years, says the report, humans have quadrupled our emissions, but the planet has kept up by doubling the amount of CO2 it absorbed.

That comes as something as a surprise: several earlier, small-scale studies have suggested we might be on the verge of a tipping point where the planet can’t absorb any more carbon dioxide. “So we decided to take a step back and ask, ‘do we see this at a global scale?’” said Ashley Ballantyne of the University of Colorado and lead author of the new report, in an interview, “and the answer is no.”…
(4 August 2012)

Climate policy and our sphere of influence

Fergus Green, Inside Story
JUST as financial accounts tell us useful information about a company’s business, carbon accounts tell us useful information about a country’s domestic emissions. Financial accounts inform, but do not determine, a company’s business strategy. Strange, then, that domestic carbon accounting dominates the climate strategy of Australia and many other countries.

Under rules agreed within the UN climate change regime, countries have a legal obligation to account for certain types of emissions that occur within their national borders. These accounting obligations arguably make sense as a means of efficiently distributing the burden of measuring global emissions and reporting the data for the purpose of achieving a reasonably accurate global picture of the extent and geographic location of greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, instead of serving merely as a useful input into the formulation of climate policy and the debate surrounding it, the data generated from such accounting has become a severe constraint on our thinking about this most important topic. When we think about Australia’s contribution to global warming, we tend to think only about the “1.5 per cent of global emissions” – 560 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2-e) – released within our borders. Likewise, when it comes to reducing emissions, Australian politicians and policy-makers consider only these domestic emissions.

Such a limited response to the urgent threat of climate change might make sense in one scenario: the ideal world of the climate change policy-maker. In this world, every country would have a legally binding target for reducing its domestic emissions; those targets would “add up” to the cuts required to ensure the world’s greenhouse gas pollution falls within safe atmospheric limits; and compliance with those targets would be vigorously enforced. In these circumstances, Australia could justify its fossil fuel exports on the ground that other countries were combusting those fuels in the context of a comprehensive regime of “safe” emissions limits.

But no such regime exists today, and nor is one likely to emerge in the foreseeable future. There are currently no international controls in place to ensure the volume of fossil fuels being traded is consistent with a safe climate outcome. Even if countries were to negotiate and implement an international climate treaty based on the Durban Roadmap, agreed by the international community late last year, the best-case scenario would be far too little, far too late to ensure global emissions peak and begin to decline as is required in this “critical decade” of climate change. It therefore no longer makes sense for us to confine our conception of a country’s role in tackling climate change to its domestic emissions.

In reality, emissions reductions (at least for the foreseeable future) will only occur through a more complex patchwork of arrangements and in multiple different ways. So how should we think about our national climate strategy and policy in the context of this messy world of “bottom-up” action?…
(02 August 2012)