In the last couple of years my perception is is that climate change community is translating more and more the sense of urgency. Something has to be done but not tomorrow. This sense is applied to sea level rise, to the reasonable temperature limit, to extreme weather events, … In fact, changing the “acceptable” temperature increase limit from 2ºC to 1.5ºC is in itself quite stressing and makes climate change objective quite hard to achieve without immediate and strong international action. This urgent action need is becoming more and more general.
My felling about this urgency is a bit contradictory:
- I completely agree that we are not doing enough. Emissions have not start to decrease consistently, and there are more that 20 years now that climate change was widely recognized as one of the worlds leading challenges. Even worse, the required changes are societal and economic challenges that need strong commitment for a long time. The solution will not be fast.
- However, the urgency has a risk, some risks in fact. It can disturb the main long-term objective; it can distort the climate change history; and it can be very disappointing if no short-term success is achieved.
Maybe my felling is very related to the conflict between long-term and short-term in society, in my life and in climate change. Anyway, urgent action is needed, at least to start a long, difficult but necessary journey to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and avoid too much climate change.
I have been quite absent from this blog last years but not from Climate Change news, so I dare to give an opinion about 2016. 2016 was the hottest year on record, it was confirmed by all agencies, NASA, NOAA, WMO,… It is true that “el Niño” effect helped a lot but breaking global temperature records in 2015 and 2016 confirms that Climate is changing and it is changing now and fast. And this, although expected, is really bad news because it means that we have less time left to reduce our CO2 (and some other GHG) emissions.
2016 Hottest year on record, figure from NASA.org
Maybe a positive influence is that skeptics do not know what to say after loosing their hiatus argument, they will come back with it in some time. Nevertheless they are happy because one of them in in the White House and nobody really knows how much he can hinder Climate Change fight (some even consider he can be positive). I think that having a man that doubts about climate change ruling the most powerful economy in the world in years that are critical to get a real and serious global climate agreement is, definitively, a problem.
To end positively, two important good news: a record new renewable energy capacity was added last year (with lower costs); and coal was passed by renewables worldwide. A good example is brexit UK coal use reduction, historical in the country that started industrial revolution with it.
Last days the most commented climate change news are the words coming from catholic church’s leader Pope Francis in a encyclica called Laudato Si. It is everywhere,
- in climate change webs it is celebrates and extensively commented: climate progress, carbon brief, skeptical science, quark soup…
- In skeptic webs it is criticized: whatupwhiththat, or this one.
- In general newspapers it is mentioned profusely. For example, New York Times has 22 news in their climate change channel last week (12-19th June), 17 are about Pope’s encyclica, including an editorial. relationship with poverty, american politics reactions, or critics to current global market. Many others like BBC, El Pais (in Spanish),… It is well described in this post.
- In Google a simple “Laudato Si” search gives 2.000.000 answers.
So,is this document a turning point in climate change? I agree with Carbon Brief‘s post that explains it is very positive and influential but just that. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world but the two great actors (USA and China) are not Catholic and most influential catholic states are among the “convinced” in climate change (Italy, Brazil, Spain). Even more, if this document is clear and with a lot of media attention, the opinion of catholic church with respect to climate change was not different with previous Popes. Nevertheless, in my opinion the three most positive points of the encyclica are:
- The moment is crucial. We need commitment and clear ideas in the governments and public opinion to start a way now that will avoid greater problems in 50 years. This document helps in this sense, to gain commitment. This year COP in Paris is a great opportunity to start a serious change.
- Many people in several western countries listens contradictory words about climate change, or they do not get a sense of urgency. The Pope will be a new word for them, as it is a highly respected opinion for many people and can help them inform more or get conscious about climate change. Every people’s opinion counts in this issue, at least to some extent.
- Finally Pope Francis connects the fact of the poorest with climate change. Climate change is becoming a great problem for them in many ways and this is the way it will become an humanitarian problem to the eyes of many people.
The news maybe was present in many media like NYT, and celebrated in the climate blogs like climateprogress or carbonbrief. Last year was the first one in the recent history with reduction in CO2 emissions without a great war or economic disaster. The wind power was important in this achievement increasing 51477 MW of installed capacity. By countries China started to change its emissions trend with less coal and more wind and sun, UK also fell 9%, on the other hand the USA stopped the emission reductions from last years, increasing a 0.7% due to coal use.
Is this the beginning of a successful story? Of a peak in the global emissions? and a path to a control of climate change in the next decades? I hope so, but it is too early to claim any success as this level of emissions is very far from the one we need is approximately 400% higher. But this is the first step we needed to start the emission reduction pathway and to get the felling that some effective actions are being taken. I dare to say that this step was at the same time the easiest one (technically) and the most difficult one (psicological and socially). We will see if we remember it in the future as a good start of many other steps.
Climate change is not only about the polar bear or arctic ice. The consequences will be and are just over the corner and they are getting expensive. Some experts are using this argument convincingly. This was also the clearest message in Tony Blair‘s decided climate change action. Insurance companies are repeatedly showing their opinion about climate change risk assessment. And the consequences in some sectors are starting to be economically noticeable as last California’s water crisis affecting beer production. Or two from las winter: winter sports and destructive storms.
There will be more and more, attributions will grow at the same pace and some will realize that the economic cost of a low carbon economy (real, no doubt, in my opinion) is small compared to the cost of inaction. The problem is that the first one is short term and measurable, the former medium-long-term and more difficult to measure precisely. It is not again about environment and economy it is about short term and long term, and mainly about the well being of our descendants in one, two or three generations and so on.
Of course these kind of consequences will be secondary compared to sea level rise, extreme weather food security triangle. Yet, they are important for many people, and many jobs. In this case the effects are getting visible even now and reflect the huge economic effect climate change will have in many sectors. For example in the regions living from winter sports, are they conscious enough? I don’t think so, with climate change many times happens that we are somehow aware of it but not to the extent of thinking about the possible consequences or implications, it is like a nightmare we expect to wake of.
The problem is that it will not disapear alone, the good news is that we can do a lot to reduce it.
Photo from Aizkorri beach close to Bilbao
One of the fastest consequences of climate change are the strong storms. The equation is simple: the more heat in the ocean the stronger the storms, helped by the small but noticeable increase of sea level rise. In fact, the first news of the sea level rise,
The beginning of the year has been particularly violent in the cost around here with many strong storms and one really impressive. This link
provides some pictures from the beautiful city of San Sebastian. The damage of last storm was important (even more in some other towns/cities) and economic impact is greater than direct repairing works in a city getting high income from tourism.
The media have not been extensive in the comments regarding climate change link, though it was mentioned in some cases. But I was quite happy to hear some clear words from some colleagues not involved in these discussions.
Of course, it is important to be cautious with attribution as climate and weather are not the same thing and being too emotional can enforce the type of discussion that helps skeptics. I think that wise comments accompanied by account of economic effects are much better in the crucial discussion of what is more expensive? To start carbon emission decrease (mitigation)? Or pay the effects?