Climate Change Checkup, 11/18: COP23; October Global Temperatures


Home / Climate Change Checkup, 11/18: COP23; October Global Temperatures

US greenhouse gas emissions have declined since 2008. Graphic courtesy of EPA.

The efforts to combat global warming produced more news — some good, some bad — this month than the temperature itself. Participation in the Paris Agreement is now almost — but it’s a big almost — unanimous, as the Parties (the P in COP23) met in Bonn, Germany to sometimes sprint towards, sometimes stumble parallel to, and sometimes slide back from, the goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Meanwhile the global land and sea temperatures as reported by NOAA continued the string of months that were not the highest all-time, surpassed by the corresponding months of the past three years.


Frank Bainimarama, whose name rolls off the tongue, presided over COP23.

COP23 is the ACROnumNYM (sic) for 23rd Conference Of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference was held in Bonn, Germany from November 6 to November 17, 2017 and chaired, fittingly, by Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji, a country in the subtropical South Pacific Ocean that has been relocating low-lying villages (now a total of 40) since 2012.

News from the conference has been mixed, with some reports of innovative solutions to the problem of curtailing carbon emissions, but an overall recognition that efforts are likely to fall far short of the goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2.0 C (3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels.

By terms of the Paris Agreement, emissions goals are voluntary, with no formal enforcement mechanism. Considering that each country has its own agenda, it is remarkable that the 197 countries involved could even agree to this modest proposal. And according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) in its report of November 6, 2017, “Even if the pledges in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change are implemented, we will still not reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the goals.” It’s clear that the goal has to change, and the hope, which, after all, does spring eternal, is that the effect of a larger than 2 C increase in temperature is not as bad as some climate models indicate.

In the wake of American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (actually it is just the announcement of withdrawal, which won’t be finalized for over two years), the EU has claimed the mantle of leadership on climate change. French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed, “I propose that Europe replaces America” in regard to funding. However, the EU’s Emissions Trading System, the technicalities of which are beyond my pay grade, has apparently not worked as intended and is being revised.

Further, 40% of Germany’s energy is supplied by coal — a result of phasing out nuclear power after Fukushima. It is my view that theoretically a complete break from nuclear and fossil fuels and concurrent switch to renewables is the best course of action. But the practicalities of energy demand in both developed and developing countries require a look at ‘clean’ fossil fuels (The US delegation to COP23 made a presentation on clean coal) and ‘safe’ nuclear power.

It’s (Almost) Unanimous

Syria has followed Nicaragua in announcing that it will join the signatories to the Climate Accord. Since these things take time, three countries are now in the process of joining (Syria and Nicaragua) or leaving (US). All of the world’s 197 countries have now weighed in, one way or the other: 196 one way; one the other.

In 2014, the United States accounted for more than one-seventh of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Graphic courtesy of EPA.

Though the United States is responsible for about one-seventh of the world’s carbon emissions, there are reasons to believe that even a total official US withdrawal from Paris will not cause an abrupt change in the slow downward trajectory of its greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions have fallen in the US since 2008, and this trend will likely continue for economic reasons (renewables are getting cheaper). Furthermore, local leaders, both public and private, are working to lower emissions. Non-state entities (non-state is the term in general use, but it means not representing the official voice of a participating country) from the US, most prominently the ‘America’s Pledge’ coalition of states, cities, and corporations initiated by California Governor Brown and former New York City mayor Bloomberg, represent 54% of the US population. These entities are committed to pursuing the pledge of the Obama administration to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

October 2017 Land And Sea Temperatures Fourth Highest

With La Niña upon us, temperatures are not rising as fast as they did in recent years. but in October they surpassed those of every other October on record since 1880 except the last three, and the long-term upward trend is still in place. The El Niños of 1998 and 2016 were quite similar, and both were followed by La Niñas. A comparison of year-to-date 1998-99 with 2016-17 shows that the temperature decline from the January to October period of one year to the next was 0.2 C in the last two years compared to 0.4 C from 1998 to 1999. The long-term trend is unmistakable.

Over the first ten months of the year, the temperature fell half as much from 2016 to 2017 as it did in the last comparable El Niño/La Niña years of 1998-99. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.


Where Was It Hot In October 2017?

The temperature continued to set records in October. It was the warmest October since 1880, when record-keeping began, in significant patches of the South Indian Ocean, the South Atlantic Ocean, northeastern North America, and scattered places in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Ocean. There were no record cold areas.

COP23 Leaves The Future Murky

The Paris Accord laid the groundwork for stabilizing global temperatures. COP23 made some progress, though the original Paris goal of less than a 2 C rise from pre-industrial times is likely now out of reach. Forecasts for future weather run a wide gamut from a leveling off of temperature and relatively little change in the overall weather pattern to continually rising temperatures accompanied by powerful storms, relocation of coastal cities, and other unwanted results. Extreme predictions foresee a planet on which human beings cannot live.

The basic question remains: Can the developed countries, which want to maintain their energy use, reconcile with the developing countries, which want — demand — to increase theirs, in a way that keeps climate change under control? COP23 inched forward towards an answer. COP24 may give us a better clue, as nations and non-state entities report on progress towards their voluntary goals for reducing carbon emissions.

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