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Global Warming

Exxon-Mobil is abusing the first amendment

Global warming is perhaps the single most significant threat facing the future of humanity on this planet. It is likely to wreak havoc on the economy, including, most especially, on the stocks of companies that sell hydrocarbon energy products. If large oil companies have deliberately misinformed investors about their knowledge of global warming, they may have committed serious commercial fraud.

A potentially analogous instance of fraud occurred when tobacco companies were found to have deliberately misled their customers about the dangers of smoking. The safety of nicotine was at the time fiercely debated, just as the threat of global warming is now vigorously contested. Because tobacco companies were found to have known about the risks of smoking, even as they sought to convince their customers otherwise, they were held liable for fraud. Despite the efforts of tobacco companies to invoke First Amendment protections for their contributions to public debate, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found: “Of course it is well settled that the First Amendment does not protect fraud.”

The point is a simple one. If large corporations were free to mislead deliberately the consuming public, we would live in a jungle rather than in an orderly and stable market.

ExxonMobil and its supporters are now eliding the essential difference between fraud and public debate. Raising the revered flag of the First Amendment, they loudly object to investigations recently announced by attorneys general of several states into whether ExxonMobil has publicly misrepresented what it knew about global warming.

The National Review has accused the attorneys general of “trampling the First Amendment.” Post columnist George F. Will has written that the investigations illustrate the “authoritarianism” implicit in progressivism, which seeks “to criminalize debate about science.” And Hans A. von Spakovsky, speaking for the Heritage Foundation, compared the attorneys general to the Spanish Inquisition.

Despite their vitriol, these denunciations are wide of the mark. If your pharmacist sells you patent medicine on the basis of his “scientific theory” that it will cure your cancer, the government does not act like the Spanish Inquisition when it holds the pharmacist accountable for fraud.

The obvious point, which remarkably bears repeating, is that there are circumstances when scientific theories must remain open and subject to challenge, and there are circumstances when the government must act to protect the integrity of the market, even if it requires determining the truth or falsity of those theories. Public debate must be protected, but fraud must also be suppressed. Fraud is especially egregious because it is committed when a seller does not himself believe the hokum he foists on an unwitting public.

One would think conservative intellectuals would be the first to recognize the necessity of prohibiting fraud so as to ensure the integrity of otherwise free markets.

Prohibitions on fraud go back to Roman times; no sane market could exist without them.

It may be that after investigation the attorneys general do not find evidence that ExxonMobil has committed fraud. I do not prejudge the question. The investigation is now entering its discovery phase, which means it is gathering evidence to determine whether fraud has actually been committed.

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Nevertheless, ExxonMobil and its defenders are already objecting to the subpoena by the attorneys general, on the grounds that it “amounts to an impermissible content-based restriction on speech” because its effect is to “deter ExxonMobil from participating in the public debate over climate change now and in the future.” It is hard to exaggerate the brazen audacity of this argument.

If ExxonMobil has committed fraud, its speech would not merit First Amendment protection. But the company nevertheless invokes the First Amendment to suppress a subpoena designed to produce the information necessary to determine whether ExxonMobil has committed fraud. It thus seeks to foreclose the very process by which our legal system acquires the evidence necessary to determine whether fraud has been committed. In effect, the company seeks to use the First Amendment to prevent any informed lawsuit for fraud.

But if the First Amendment does not prevent lawsuits for fraud, it does not prevent subpoenas designed to provide evidence necessary to establish fraud. That is why when a libel plaintiff sought to inquire into the editorial processes of CBS News and CBS raised First Amendment objections analogous to those of ExxonMobil, the Supreme Court in the 1979 case Herbert v. Lando unequivocally held that the Constitution does not preclude ordinary discovery of information relevant to a lawsuit, even with respect to a defendant news organization.

The attorneys general are not private plaintiffs. They represent governments, and the Supreme Court has always and rightfully been extremely reluctant to question the good faith of prosecutors when they seek to acquire information necessary to pursue their official obligations. If every prosecutorial request for information could be transformed into a constitutional attack on a defendant’s point of view, law enforcement in this country would grind to a halt. Imagine the consequences in prosecutions against terrorists, who explicitly seek to advance a political ideology.

It is grossly irresponsible to invoke the First Amendment in such contexts. But we are witnessing an increasing tendency to use the First Amendment to unravel ordinary business regulations. This is heartbreaking at a time when we need a strong First Amendment for more important democratic purposes than using a constitutional noose to strangle basic economic regulation.

Analysis of the implementation on the Paris Agreement

An analysis on how to translate the Paris agreement into action in a German context.

Greenpeace Germany and consultancy New Climate Institute have completed a first brief analysis of how to translate the goals of the international climate regime as determined by the Paris Agreement into the German context.

“Firstly, emissions reduction scenarios on a sectoral level from existing literature sources are compared. Since the literature on this topic does not cover 1.5°C scenarios for Germany to a sufficient degree, global scenarios and the total CO₂ budget available for 1.5°C are taken as a basis. Conclusions are drawn from the comparison of different emissions reduction scenarios.

Key messages

To be compatible with the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement …
• … global CO₂ emissions from energy generation and use as well as from agriculture and forestry will need to decrease +to zero by 2035. This way, temperature increase is likely to be kept “well below 2°C” and aim towards 1.5°C without taking the risk of needing to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere on a large scale in the future. Simultaneously, a smaller budget of emissions remains for sectors where (according to most models) a reduction in emissions would be exceedingly demanding, as is the case for non-CO₂ emissions from agriculture through livestock and soil.
• … developed countries such as Germany would have to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to zero earlier than the global average, i.e. CO₂ emissions before 2035.
• … the share of renewables in the energy mix (electricity production, building heating and cooling, industry, and transport) should reach 100% in Germany before 2035. The provision of electricity entirely from renewable sources should be achieved before 2030. This assumes the agreed phaseout of nuclear energy and no use of CCS.
• … the lignite and hard coal phase-out from electricity production should be achieved by around 2025 in Germany.
• … avoidance of travel, modal shift and increase in share of cars without combustion engines, e.g. through the development of electric mobility, are necessary beyond current targets in Germany.
• … 5% of Germany’s existing buildings need to be renovated to nearly zero energy standards per year, in addition to 100% of new stock conforming to nearly zero energy standards.
• … energy efficiency and electrification in industry have to be enhanced, in addition to research and development.
• … emissions from agriculture and forestry need to eventually be reduced to nearly zero as well, even if a little later than energy-related emissions.

A large part of the CO₂ budget available to limit temperature increase to 2°C or 1.5°C has already been spent. In order to limit the global average temperature increase to the above-mentioned levels, the cumulative emissions over this century are the determining factor. If emissions are too high now,CO₂ could theoretically still be removed from the atmosphere at a later point in time. However, the technology that could enable this subsequent removal, i.e. the utilization of biomass in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS), entails significant problems and risks. This brief analysis consequently assumes that the emission budget has to be reached without these “negative emission” technologies.”

Compiled and translated from German by Reinhold Pape
https://newclimateinstitute.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/160222_klimaschutz_paris_studie_02_2016_fin_neu1.pdf

New survey finds a growing climate consensus among meteorologists

96% of AMS members realize climate change is happening, and most understand humans are responsible

There have been multiple scientific studies that all concur: scientists know that climate change is happening and it is largely caused by humans. I recently wrote about this here, where I reviewed the studies. It turns out that the more scientists know about climate change, the more they are convinced that humans are warming the planet. In fact, the consensus is extraordinarily strong. But it isn’t just that the vast majority of scientists agree; it’s that the best scientist agree. We find that the contrarian scientists tend to be less accomplished, have had their research found to be incorrect time after time, and they produce less science.

But very recently, a study from the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication was completed that adds to our knowledge on the consensus. Lead author Ed Maibach and his colleagues are very well-respected surveyors and scientists who study this topic. The study didn’t focus on what we think of as climate scientists – rather they polled meteorologists.

There were actually two surveys that were merged. In one, the authors identified 1038 professionals currently working in broadcast meteorology from the American Meteorological Society (AMS). In a concurrent study, the authors obtained a list of members from the AMS who were not broadcast meteorologists. The two groups were asked a series of questions on whether climate change is occurring, the degree to which respondents felt humans were responsible, what could be done to minimize climate change, among others. The authors also asked about the educational background of the respondents.

Not all members of the AMS are meteorologists. Additionally, someone working in meteorology is not necessarily a climate scientist. Similarly, a climate scientist is not necessarily a meteorologist. Sometimes these populations overlap but in many cases they do not.

One thing that tends to differentiate practicing meteorologists from climate scientists is that meteorologists tend to observe short-term weather more, while climate scientists tend to look at long-term trends. While this difference may sound trivially obvious, it’s an important distinction to keep in mind because it suggests meteorologists may be more likely to see differences in observed weather patterns. Climate scientists would be less likely to be swayed by changes in weather patterns.

So what did the survey find? First, nearly every meteorologist (96%) agrees that climate change is happening, and the vast majority are confident in their opinion. Only 1% felt that climate change isn’t happening (3% did not know). Next, a large majority feel that climate change is being caused by humans. For instance, 29% believe that the change is largely or entirely human caused; 38% think most of the change is from humans; 14% answered that humans and natural factors are about equally responsible. Only 5% felt that climate change is mainly natural.

Another important finding is that most meteorologists feel that some of the change can be averted, based on how we react. Small minorities felt that a large amount of change can be averted or that climate change cannot be averted.

These views have changed over the years. For instance, almost 20% of meteorologists say their opinion on climate has changed over the past five years. Of that group, the vast majority are more convinced that the climate is changing and they cite a variety of reasons including new research, seeing first-hand evidence, the consensus amongst climate scientists, or from interactions with climate scientists. A final important result is that only 37% of the AMS respondents consider themselves climate experts.

Speaking more broadly about the meteorology community beyond the AMS, that population tends to be more skeptical that the Earth’s climate is changing. I tend to believe that the skepticism is partly because meteorologists in general focus on short-term events and also because a great many non-experts are counted as meteorologists (including people who do not have degrees in any science, let alone a meteorological science). Despite this, meteorologists’ views are important not only because they are a consistent scientific presence in many households, but also because the collective weather observation record from the meteorological community is a resource that is unmatched.

With this new study, the meteorological consensus is seen to be nearly as strong as that in the climate science community. I asked author Ed Maibach for a summary and he told me:

It is not surprising that more meteorologists are now more convinced that human-caused climate change is happening. That is how science works. As the scientific evidence becomes more irrefutable, which is the case with harmful, human-caused climate change, more scientists of all types will become convinced.

Arctic sea ice extent breaks record low for winter

With the ice cover down to 14.52m sq km, scientists now believe the Arctic is locked onto a course of continually shrinking sea ice

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/28/arctic-sea-ice-record-low-winter

A record expanse of Arctic sea never froze over this winter and remained open water as a season of freakishly high temperatures produced deep – and likely irreversible – changes on the far north.

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre said on Monday that the sea ice cover attained an average maximum extent of 14.52m sq km (5.607m sq miles) on 24 March, the lowest winter maximum since records began in 1979.

The low beats a record set only last year of 14.54m sq km (5.612m sq miles), reached on 25 February 2015.

“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “The heat was relentless.”

It was the third straight month of record lows in the sea ice cover, after extreme temperatures in January and February stunned scientists.

The winter months of utter darkness and extreme cold are typically the time of maximum growth in the ice cap, until it begins its seasonal decline in spring.

With the ice cover down to 14.54m sq km, scientists now believe the Arctic is locked onto a course of continually shrinking sea ice – and that is before the 2016 melt season gets underway.

“If we are starting out very low that gives a jump on the melt season,” said Rick Thoman, the climate science manager for the National Weather Service’s Alaska region.

“For the last few years, we have had extremely low ice cover in the summer. That means a lot more solar energy absorbed by the darker open water. That heat tends to carry over from year to year.”

After this winter’s record ice lows, scientists now expect more than ever that the Arctic will be entirely ice-free in the summer months within 20 or 25 years.

“Sometime in the 2030s or 2040s time frame, at least for a few days, you won’t have ice out there in the dead of summer,” said Dr John Walsh, chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Centre.

Those changes are already evident on the ground. In 1975, there were only a few days a year when ships could move from Barrow to Prudhoe Bay off the north coast of Alaska.
Now that window lasts months.

The Arctic will always have ice in the winter months, Walsh said. But it will be thinner and more fragile than the multi-year ice, and less reliable for indigenous peoples who rely on the ice as winter transport routes or hunting platforms.

“It’s not just about how many hundreds of thousands of square kilometres covered by the ice. It’s about the quality of that ice,” Thoman said.

The extent of ice cover is a critical indicator of the changes taking place in the Arctic – but the shrinking of the polar ice carries sweeping consequences for lower latitudes as well.

The bright white snow-covered ice reflects about 85% of sunlight back into the atmosphere, compared to the dark surfaces of the open water which absorb most of the heat energy.

“Basically the polar regions are the refrigerator for the Earth,” said Dr Donald Perovich, a researcher at Dartmouth University. “They are extremely important for being able to keep the Arctic colder, and in turn help keep the rest of the planet colder.”

Since 1980, however, the summer sea ice cover over the Arctic has gone into a drastic decline, from 7.8m sq km to 4.4m sq km in 2012, before rebounding slightly. “It would be as if the entire United States east of the Mississippi melted away plus the states from Minnesota down to Louisiana, past North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. It’s huge,” Perovich said.

This winter scientists said the Arctic freeze stalled early on, across the polar seas. The sea ice extent was exceptionally low both in the Barents and the Bering seas – which in past years has been one of the most prolific producers of ice. And it was thinner, especially in the Beaufort sea north of Alaska, scientists said.

There were a number of causes, in addition to the record high temperatures and carry-over effects of earlier ice loss.

The El Niño weather system produced more warming, and the Arctic saw influxes of exceptionally warm water from the Pacific as well as the Atlantic side.

In any event, Walsh said it was becoming increasingly clear the Arctic would never return to its previous frozen state, even if there are small gains in ice cover in a single year.

“The balance is shifting to the point where we are not going back to the old regime of the 1980s and 1990s,” he said. “Every year has had less ice cover than any summer since 2007. That is nine years in a row that you would call unprecedented. When that happens you have to start thinking that something is going on that is not letting the system go back to where it used to be.”

Communicating the Health Effects of Climate Change

As 2015 draws to a close, on track to be the hottest year ever recorded, global attention to climate change soared. (http://nyti.ms/1NUuRsV). The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), composed of more than 2000 of the world’s leading climate change scientists, has stated with confidence that the major driver of rising temperatures is human-generated greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) largely related to the burning of fossil fuels (http://1.usa.gov/1Nc8BI0).

http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleID=2482315&utm_source=Silverchair%20Information%20Systems&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MASTER%3AJAMALatestIssueTOCNotification01%2F19%2F2016

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

These heat-trapping emissions have resulted in more frequent and prolonged heat waves, poorer air quality, rising seas, and severe storms, floods, and wildfires. Some extreme weather events, previously expected once in decades, are now being witnessed several times in one decade. These consequences fundamentally affect the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the environments in which we live, as a number of sources have pointed out (such as publications in The Lancet (http://bit.ly/1OTQzem) and JAMA (http://bit.ly/Zd7NyD), and Climate Change and Public Health (a collection articles on the subject) (http://bit.ly/1jOBYFG), and a report from the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) (http://1.usa.gov/1NMPYYn).

The IPCC’s most recent report, (http://1.usa.gov/1Nc8BI0), as well as the third US NCA (http://1.usa.gov/1NMPYYn ) (both from 2014), detail how global warming threatens human health by amplifying existing health threats and creating new ones. Everyone is vulnerable. Some experts contend that these profound harms rival the fundamental public health challenges posed by the lack of sanitation and clean water in the early 20th century (http://bit.ly/1vqjPyH).

The many adverse health outcomes include heat- and extreme weather–related conditions, infections, respiratory conditions and allergies, and mental health conditions. Heat waves promote dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke while exacerbating heart, lung, and kidney disease. Patients using widely prescribed classes of medications that impair thermoregulation (such as stimulants, antihistamines, and antipsychotic agents) may be particularly at risk. Heavy rains heighten the risk of waterborne infections.

Warming can also potentially affect the number, geographic distribution, and seasonality of vector populations, with the subsequent spread of diseases such as Lyme disease and dengue. Temperature-associated pollutants—ground-level ozone (smog) and fine particulate matter—can compromise outdoor air quality, and heavy downpours can dampen indoor environments thereby triggering growth of allergenic molds.

Trauma associated with extreme weather conditions can precipitate mental health conditions, such as stress, depression, and anxiety. Of note, vulnerable populations can suffer from multiple, synergistic threats such as extreme heat, air pollution, and stress.

Despite these risks, most people in the United States still do not recognize climate change, or the way it damages human health, as a serious threat. A 2015 Gallup Poll of 1025 US adults found that while a majority of adults (66%) acknowledge that global warming is happening (or will happen) during their lifetime, only a minority (37%) believe it will pose a serious threat to their way of life (http://bit.ly/1FWb8mM). A 2014 national survey of 1275 US adults (by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication) found that most adults (61%) have given little or no thought to the health consequences of global warming. Indeed, the image of climate change may be more likely one of stranded polar bears rather than asthmatic children struggling to breathe (http://bit.ly/1jOCpA7).

Clinicians have a powerful and unique opportunity to engage the nation by framing the crisis as a health imperative (such as articles in Family Medicine (http://bit.ly/1M3Fin9), BMC Public Health (http://bit.ly/1M3FqmG), Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, (http://bit.ly/1U4Qk1O), and American Family Physician, (http://bit.ly/1SOQNEr), and a report from George Mason University) (http://bit.ly/1W5Eypw). Doing so can educate and empower patients, policy makers, and the public. The above-mentioned Yale and George Mason University poll noted that when asked to rank various potential sources of information about health consequences of global warming, people in the United States were most likely to trust their primary care doctor, followed by family and friends and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Clinicians can fulfill that trust in a number of ways. Through their collective voice, they can broadly support a range of actions urged by policy makers to promote mitigation and adaptation.

Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) include measures to reduce energy consumption at work and home, decrease reliance on carbon-intensive fuels, and improve fuel economy. Strategies to enhance resilience (adaptation) include identifying vulnerabilities by geography and population, improving early warning systems for weather hazards, targeting preparedness and response activities, and creating climate-resistant physical infrastructures (including hospitals) and prepared workforces. By supporting the growing numbers of medical and public health organizations promoting such strategies, health professionals can build and shape community resilience.

The health community can also promote individual actions that address global warming and benefit health (http://bit.ly/Zd7NyD) and (http://bit.ly/1jOBYFG). Suggesting that patients substitute walking or biking for car transport, for example, not only has the potential to reduce carbon and other air pollutant emissions but also encourages exercise.

Clinicians can also direct messages at specific groups, making issues concrete and personal that might otherwise seem abstract and remote. Such messages can convey that climate change threatens health now, not just in the future; that children, the elderly, the poor, and those with medical conditions and some communities of color may be especially vulnerable; and that individuals can promote preparedness as a way to shape societal action. A number of resources are readily available on the web to guide communication (http://bit.ly/1M3GQgV).

Clinicians can also offer specific medical guidance about adverse health outcomes to help individuals assess their vulnerabilities and take action. For example, guiding the elderly, parents and children, outdoor workers, and socially isolated individuals to track heat and weather trends can help them connect to early warning programs, such as those that offer people the services of air-conditioned community centers during heat waves. They can communicate risks of waterborne disease outbreaks after heavy rains and advise those in high-risk areas how to take precautions to prevent bites from insects and ticks.

Educating patients with conditions such as asthma can encourage added vigilance during heat waves and periods of poor air quality, such as monitoring of air quality indices and pollen forecasts, and maximizing adherence to appropriate medications. Clinicians can offer coping strategies for those facing stress and trauma related to extreme weather events. All these messages, and more, can help people link the often distant and unfamiliar theme of global warming to immediate and familiar medical concerns.

In the face of one of the major global threats of our time, health professionals can make a difference. Engaging people in a health frame of reference for climate change represents a potential life-saving measure that promises profound benefits for both current and future generations.

Carbon dioxide is not the problem

Letters to the editor, December 9, 2015

When it comes to climate change, carbon pollution and the like, you are being conned. Carbon and carbon dioxide are not pollutants; they are the daily support of life on this planet. Carbon dioxide, via photosynthesis, is the earth’s major plant food. More carbon dioxide means more trees and more food. Unelected bureaucrats at the European Union and United Nations, in their efforts to demonise and reduce carbon dioxide, promoted diesel cars across the EU zone to meet carbon emission targets. It was successful in reducing carbon dioxide by 15 per cent. The bankrupt EU then boasted to the world how “environmentally friendly” it was. However, this EU/UN effort to reduce carbon emissions made things much worse for humans and the environment. Cancerous nitrogen dioxide emissions increased over 150 per cent and particulate matter increased by over 300 per cent.

To improve air quality and health in Hong Kong and the rest of China, all efforts need to be geared at reducing criteria air pollutants, namely: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter (both PM2.5 and PM10), and sulfur dioxide. When it comes to global warming, the EU and UN are up to their old tricks again, ignoring 4.53 billion years of evidence that the climate is driven by solar activity and not by carbon emissions. They are brainwashing people into believing carbon dioxide is bad when in reality carbon dioxide is good, as it provides more food, via photosynthesis, to feed a growing population. Reducing carbon dioxide will not improve air quality; reducing criteria air pollutants will.

Further, reducing carbon emissions is irrelevant to climate. Genuine climate scientists know this and have accordingly resigned from the UN puppet organisation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, calling it a political not scientific body. Hong Kong and the rest of China should reject international agreements and focus on the very real problems at home, namely reducing air pollution, reducing toxins in products and reducing electronic waste. Not a single dollar of tax payers’ money should be wasted in trying to reduce carbon dioxide. For those individuals that think carbon dioxide is a problem; stop driving, stop flying, stop bombing other countries, and stop sending your kids for an overseas education – hypocrisy should not be tolerated. Dr Robert Hanson, Tseung Kwan O

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1888316/letters-editor-december-9-2015

2015 may be the warmest on record, but heat waves will only intensify unless we act now

Gabriel Lau says research focusing on East Asia, North America and Europe shows that hot weather is likely to become more frequent and severe without action to address global warming, and coastal cities like Hong Kong will not be immune

The UN’s meteorological agency says the global average surface temperature in 2015 is likely to be the warmest on record. The Hong Kong Observatory believes this year will be the city’s warmest since records began in 1884. In India, a severe heat wave claimed the lives of more than 2,500 people in May. And, three months ago, Hong Kong experienced its hottest day on record.

The message is clear. Despite fluctuations, on a long-term scale, global temperatures are unquestionably rising. Hong Kong is beginning to feel the wrath of summer heat and the gradual blurring of the seasons.

Global warming is not a bluff. It poses an imminent threat. It is imperative that action is taken immediately to avert possible disaster on a global scale

Many scientific studies have concluded that this year’s sporadic weather pattern is not an aberration but a direct result of the sustained warming of our climate. The consequences are more than just the discomfort brought by hotter days. The extreme weather conditions experienced in many parts of the world may be linked to sustained climate change.

As a climate scientist, my current research on heat waves in East Asia (and two of my earlier studies focusing on North America and Europe) suggests that unless we act responsibly now, hot weather will prevail and intensify. Heat waves will not only become more frequent, but will last longer and be more severe. Coastal cities like Hong Kong will also be affected.

In 2012 and 2014, I collaborated with colleagues at the US Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and the Chinese University of Hong Kong on two separate studies on extreme weather events in North America and Europe. This year, the research procedure and projections were repeated for East Asia.

These studies point to a consistent trend: as we head towards the end of this century, there are likely to be more than twice as many heat waves each year; and each is likely to last up to twice as long. These changes are equally likely in East Asia, Europe and North America.

In reaching our projections, we are already assuming that global-warming-contributing emissions will be reduced by half of the current level by 2080. Even with these efforts, the average global temperature will rise by about 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. If our energy consumption grows at current rates, the increase in emissions could easily push the temperature up by as much as 4 degrees, with even more extreme weather events.

Our most recent study suggests that if nothing is done to cut carbon emissions, the increasingly frequent severe heat waves that result would destroy crops in several sectors of East and Southeast Asia, causing widespread food shortages in the region. Hong Kong is unlikely to be spared. Temperatures of up to 40 degrees for several consecutive days in the summer could occur.

It is imperative that action is taken immediately to avert possible disaster on a global scale. A target of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees by 2100 may look challenging, but it is achievable. What is crucial is a willingness on the part of the international community to cooperate, and reduce carbon emissions responsibly.

The Paris climate conference is an important platform, albeit a protracted process, for countries to set realistic and tangible targets, and to arrive at a set of policies and a collaboration framework. Individual governments need to play their part and adopt environmentally conscious development strategies.

In Hong Kong, certain policies could bring environmental benefits; emission reduction measures are the obvious choice. If energy consumption cannot be reduced significantly, a cleaner fuel mix should be pursued using natural gas and renewable energy, along with the promotion of green-building practises.

Intelligent city planning policies that allow better air circulation at street level would reduce the “heat island effect”, and the reliance on air conditioning. Encouraging mass transit travel would cut the number of private cars on the road, and the amount of emissions generated.

Small changes count. A switch to energy-saving appliances will save money and reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Even cutting meat consumption can make a difference.

Global warming is not a bluff. It poses an imminent threat. Unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will accelerate global warming with dire consequences. The heat waves that are closely linked to rising temperatures will become more frequent, more severe and last longer. Governments need to take the Paris meeting seriously – and act now for the sake of the next generation.

Professor Gabriel Lau Ngar-cheung is AXA professor of geography and resource management in the Faculty of Social Science, and director of the Institute of Environment, Energy and Sustainability, at Chinese University of Hong Kong

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1888904/2015-may-be-warmest-record-heat-waves-will-only-intensify

Paris climate summit: Any deal reached on carbon emissions simply won’t be good enough

Kevin Rafferty says despite high expectations, whatever the final outcome of the UN conference, it is unlikely to be sufficient to stop dangerous global warming

There is good news and bad news from the circus of world leaders meeting in Paris for the next two weeks to try to save the planet and all of us on it from rising temperatures that will make life on earth unbearable.

The good news is that there is increasing hot air about a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions to try to slow global warming. The bad news is that any deal will not be enough.

The world is still divided into squabbling, often bitterly nationalistic countries, whose immediate or short-term interests are opposed to any global ideals

It is not merely a question of too little, too late: there are substantial unresolved scientific, economic, political and moral issues at stake, which require a global solution, but the world is still divided into squabbling, often bitterly nationalistic countries, whose immediate or short-term interests are opposed to any global ideals.

The meeting is starting on Monday in Paris [2]. Finally, except in US Republican circles, which are trying to silence scientists from scaring people with hard facts, the message is getting through that the world can’t go on living if we chuck carbon dio­xide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

This year will be the hottest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, and the world is on course to reach the significant milestone of 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

In spite of the gloom, some scientists optimistically believe that “Science Superman” will ride to the rescue in the nick of time. Rapid development of electric cars could transform transport by replacing polluting cars, lorries and buses with clean green energy.

The cost of renewable energies, like solar power, is coming down, giving hope that in the foreseeable future, renewable non-polluting energy may replace the power plants that spew poison into the atmosphere. If transport and energy production go green, surely there is hope for humanity!?

The world’s governments have finally woken up to the dangers and opportunities of climate change. More than 180 of the 196 parties which have gathered in Paris, representing 97.8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, known as the “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs.

“Green Planet” has become a buzz phrase. Big Western, Chinese and Japanese companies are salivating at the prospect of US$90 trillion in energy infrastructure business over the next 15 years. Optimists assert that if leaders in Paris signal they are serious about a green earth, business will deliver.

Such is the momentum that Timmons Roberts of the Brookings Institution declared that “2015 has been an unexpectedly positive year for climate change efforts, as the long-floundering UN process has finally begun to deliver some of what is needed”.

Roberts conceded that it’s not enough: “What do the INDCs add up to? Not enough reductions, unfortunately.” The world is still headed to 3.5 degrees Celsius, 3.1 degrees, or 2.7 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, “depending on the assumptions one uses in projections”, he said.

INDCs are indicators, not binding. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has ruled out any agreement signed and sealed, knowing that a formal deal would have to be passed in the US Senate, where the Republicans would kill it. Still to be resolved is who will pay for cuts in developing countries’ emissions. With 45,000 delegates, lobbyists, media and other hangers-on in Paris, any agreement will be a baby step forward.

The US could and should be named and shamed for acting with no thought for the consequences of its selfishness, especially on poor and vulnerable countries.

So should other major polluters. China recently revealed that it was burning 17 per cent more coal than previously disclosed. The increase in carbon dioxide involved is more than Germany’s annual emissions from fossil fuels. It was also unhealthily appropriate that, on the eve of the Paris talks, Beijing issued a warning of high smog levels.

India, third in carbon dioxide emissions with 2.4 billion tonnes (behind China and the US), is on track to be at least the second biggest emitter by 2030 or even the biggest without dramatic measures.

The Paris pledges are in terms of emissions per unit of gross domestic product growth, so a rapidly growing country could meet its pledges and still increase total emissions.

India has been aggressive in what chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian calls resistance to “the West’s carbon imperialism”. This accuses the West of hypocrisy in pumping mega tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the past 250 years to put the planet at risk, and then trying to handicap today’s rapidly developing countries because of their heavy reliance on coal.

Chinese and Indians would be dicing with disaster for themselves and the planet if they ape wasteful Western ways, even if they don’t go the greedy hog into meat diets, with meat requiring far more resources to produce than vegetables.

Chinese and Indians would be dicing with disaster for themselves and for the planet if they ape wasteful Western ways

Let’s not forget a dishonourable mention for Japan, which pledged 1.3 trillion yen (HK$82 billion) a year to help developing countries fight global warming (and help its own companies to good business). Environment minister Tamayo Marukawa last week declared that coal technology exports “remain a priority” for Japan: surely she understands that clean coal is an oxymoron.

Maverick economist Bjorn Lomborg suggests that all the huffing and puffing in Paris is indeed a lot of hot air. If all the INDC promises are fully met by 2030 and then extended for 70 years, he claims, “the entirety of the Paris promises will reduce global temperatures by just 0.17 degrees Celsius”. Lomborg advocates pouring money into renewable energy, though it is doubtful whether it will yield big enough benefits worldwide before it is too late.

Many scientists have cast doubt on optimistic computer models suggesting that the temperature rise can be restricted to 2 degrees. Some claim that the only way to go is massive geoengineering, such as mirrors to deflect the sun or other large-scale interventions in the earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change. But such measures could be costly and might set off dangerous chain reactions.

The problem is that greenhouses gases are already swirling in the atmosphere. Temperatures a couple of degrees higher may not seem much, and have led to warped jokes about Greenland as the world’s farming leader and permanent sun tans for the rest of humanity.

Even a 2-degree temperature increase will trigger rising sea levels, engulfing Pacific island countries and invading Bangladesh and cities like Miami, New York, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Mumbai. Deserts will grow and millions of hectares of fertile farmland will disappear.

One basic problem that Paris exemplifies is that we are one earth, and damage to a small corner of the planet comes to haunt us all, but leadership is narrow, national and selfish. Another is that the much revered market solution does not come with any guarantees about caring for our common home.

The biggest problem for the broken leadership of the earth is that the time for action was the day before yesterday, but the way that leaders are talking, they might reach a workable agreement the day after the tomorrow that never comes.

Kevin Rafferty is a journalist and commentator, former professor at Osaka University, and author of a briefing book for delegates at the 2008 UN climate change conference in Poznan

 

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1885172/paris-climate-summit-any-deal-reached-carbon-emissions

`Perfect storm’ coming in 85 years

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?we_cat=4&art_id=162898&sid=45508430&con_type=1&d_str=20151105&fc=7

A “perfect storm” could see sea levels surge by six meters and flood the Cross-Harbour Tunnel by the end of the century.

Hong Kong-based World Green Organisation made the claim yesterday and said this situation would cripple the SAR’s infrastructure.

While Hong Kong has been able to dodge most super typhoons in recent years, rising sea levels, high tides with heavy rain and storm surges make for a perfect storm.

“We have constructed a perfect storm scenario, which is possible by the end of the century,” said WGO chief executive William Yu Yuen-ping.

Their prediction is based on the fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-backed international organization for climate change assessment.

“As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has almost reached a level that makes the temperature increase by two degrees, this climate change may lead to extreme weather around the world,” Yu said.

Using Tai Po Kau as an example, if a storm similar to 2013’s Typhoon Usagi hit Hong Kong at the end of the century, the sea level will rise six meters, flooding the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.

If there is a storm similar to Typhoon Haiyan which killed 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013 sea levels could rise by eight meters.

This would exceed the drainage capacity of infrastructure such as gasworks and power plants. Fifteen percent of Hong Kong is considered lowland area. This includes Sheung Wan, Tai O and Sai Kung. These places will be more prone to flooding in the future, Yu said.

He said according to Hong Kong Observatory data, Typhoon Hagupit in 2008 caused sea levels to rise 3.53 meters at Victoria Harbour a situation that occurs once in 50 years.

However, this may drop to once in five years during the middle of this century and even every year at the end of the century.

Cities, not nations, will lead fight against climate change, international expert says in Hong Kong ahead of crunch talks

It is cities, not nations, that will play a bigger role in preventing the world’s temperatures from rising more than two degrees following landmark climate talks in Paris, according to an official from a global network on climate change.

Government leaders and representatives from around the world will meet in the French capital at the end of this month and into December with hopes of producing a legally binding agreement to cap global warming.

“The mayors of the world are those in the best position to take the actions needed, and they [already] are,” said Zachary Tobias, head of sustainable communities at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which involves more than 80 cities worldwide. He was speaking on the sidelines of the World Green Building Council Congress in Hong Kong last week, which focused on sustainable city development.

Research by the leadership group – which started with 40 cities a decade ago but has since grown to a network of 80 including Hong Kong – shows that cities have increased the rate at which they are tackling climate change by a scale of “260 per cent since 2011”. Those actions will be delivered over the next five years.

“This is critical as actions made from the treaty made at COP21 in Paris won’t kick in till 2020,” he added. The organisation advises and provides technical support to cities on how to achieve their sustainable goals and replicate successes of other cities.

“Cities are very much action-oriented. Mayors get elected and re-elected on whether garbage is picked up in their cities. National governments are not, for the most part.”

Tobias pointed to the “carbon locked-in effect”, which refers to investments or policy decisions being made to date that “locked-in emissions” which had consequences for the future.

Scientists have found that to keep global warming within two degrees – the pre-industrial average that experts claim is necessary to stave off the most serious effects of warming – total global carbon emissions cannot exceed 1,000 gigatonnes.

As of 2012, about 80 per cent of this budget has already been committed by policy decision in infrastructure globally, Tobias said. About a third of the remaining 20 per cent will be locked in by infrastructure decisions made in urban areas in the net five years, largely in the “global south”, or developing cities of the world.

“Based on the business as usual trajectory, the remaining 20 per cent of the carbon budget will be locked-in based from decisions that will be made in the next five years,” he said. “The carbon locked-in effect means that mayors are in a position today to impact what is going to happen tomorrow. The decisions made today re going to be much cheaper than in the future.”

“By choosing low-carbon objectives, power, buildings, industry and transportation sectors over less efficient technologies in the near term, the investment cost needed would four times less over the long-term.”

And the built environment will naturally be the area where local governments could focus their efforts on – particularly in existing private buildings – given that the entire sector is responsible for around 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, said Bruce Kerswill, chairman of the World Green Building Council.

“With the right government incentives,” said Kerswill. “It’s been recognised that the biggest impact can be made with the lowest cost in the least amount of time”. The council has set a target for all newly constructed buildings to be “net zero” in emissions by 2050.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1875147/cities-not-nations-will-lead-fight-against-climate