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GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

What is COP23?

Anthropogenic climate change is threatening life on this planet as we know it. It’s a global issue… and not one that is easily solved. The Conference of the Parties (COP) provides world leaders, policy workers, scientists and industry leaders with the space to share ideas and decide on how to tackle climate change and generate global transformative change. COP23 will predominantly focus on increasing involvement from non-state actors (such as cities and businesses), how to minimise the climate impacts on vulnerable countries and the steps that are needed to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Hold on – what’s the Paris Climate Change Agreement…?

You’ve probably heard about the Paris Climate Change Agreement (often shortened to just Paris Agreement) before, but what exactly does it refer to?

During the COP21, held in Paris during 2015, 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) reached a historic agreement in response to the current climate crisis. This Paris Agreement builds on previous UN frameworks and agreements. It acknowledges climate change as a global threat and that preventing the Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2°C should be a global priority. The only nations not to sign the agreement were Syria, due to their involvement in a civil war and their inability to send a delegation, and Nicaragua, who stated that the agreement was insufficiently ambitious. Both of these countries have since signed the agreement while the US has unfortunately made headlines by leaving it.

The Paris Agreement states that there should be a thorough action plan that details how the Paris Agreement should be implemented by COP24 in 2018. There is still a long way to go before this action plan is finalised but COP23 was able to make a strong headway.

You can learn more about the UN climate frameworks and Paris Climate Change Agreement here or read more about COP21 here.

What did the COP23 achieve?

Today is the last official day of the COP23 and while it is often difficult to determine whether large scale political events are successful until after the dust has settled, there are some positive signs.

1. Making progress on the Paris Agreement action plan

The COP23 has been described as an implementation and ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ kind of COP. While the COP21 resulted in a milestone agreement, the COP23 was about determining what staying below 2°C actually entails – what needs to be done and when. Some of the measures discussed to keep us under 2°C included: halving global CO2 emissions from energy and industry each decade, scrapping the $500 billion per year in global fossil fuel subsidies and scaling up carbon capture and storage technology. Simple, right?

These actions are all feeding into the detailed “rulebook” on how the Paris Agreement should be implemented which will be finalised at COP24.

2. Cities have stepped up to the plate

Mayors from 25 cities around the world have pledged to produce net zero emissions by 2050 through ambitious climate action plans which will be developed with the help of the C40 Cities network. Having tangible examples of what net zero emissions looks like and how it can be achieved will hopefully encourage other cities to follow suit. For this reason “think global, act local” initiatives are also picking up steam.

A new global standard for reporting cities’ greenhouse gas emissions has also been announced by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The system will allow cities to track their contributions and impacts using a quantifiable method. This will not only allow the UNFCCC to track the progress of cities more effectively but it may also result in a friendly competition with cities around the globe. It is also expected that all cities will have a decarbonisation strategy in place by 2020.

3. Phasing out coal by 2030?

19 Countries (ranging from Angola to the UK) have committed to phasing out unabated coal generation by 2030. Unabated coal-powered energy generation refers to the generation of electricity from a coal plant without the use of treatment or carbon capture storage technology (which generally reduces emissions from between 85-90%). With 40% of the world’s electricity currently being generated from coal, this commitment is clearly a huge step in the right direction that will hopefully put pressure on other nations and steer energy investment towards lower-emission sources.

4. There is the will to change… and the funding is there too!

One of the key features of the Paris Agreement was the amount of financial aid committed, 100 billion USD annually by 2020, from developed countries to support developing states mitigate their emissions. While this level of funding is still far from being reached, the aim to jointly mobilise 100 billion USD annually by 2020 was reiterated.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, also announced that Europe will fill the funding gap in the IPCC budget that was left by the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

 

The Green Climate Fund booth at the COP23 exhibition area. Credit: Jonathan Bamber

 

Other outcomes

Not only do COPs generally result in solid outcomes and agreements being made but they also go a long way to strengthen global unity and the belief that we are able to tackle climate change despite it being a huge and often daunting problem. This was also highlighted by Jonathan Bamber, the EGU President, who attended the event, “It was so impressive to see politicians, policy makers and scientists all striving hard to ensure that the world’s economies achieve the goals laid out in COP21 in Paris. There was a lot of energy for change and action and much less cynicism than I have witnessed at previous COP events. I really hope it helps steer us towards a more sustainable future“.

While these are just a few of the immediately obvious results from the COP23, I am sure that there will be more agreements and outcomes announced within the next few days. Keep tuned to the GeoPolicy Blog for more updates!

Further reading

 

GeoSciences Column: The dirty business of shipping goods by sea

“Above the foggy strip, this white arch was shining, covering one third of the visible sky in the direction of the ship's bow,” he explains. “It was a so-called white, or fog rainbow, which appears on the fog droplets, which are much smaller then rain droplets and cause different optic effects, which is a reason of its white colour.”

Shipping goods across the oceans is cost-effective and super-efficient; that’s why over 80% of world trade is carried by sea (according to the International Maritime Organisation). But the shipping industry also contributes significant amounts of air pollutants to marine and coastal environments.

A new study, published in the EGU’s open access journal Earth System Dynamics, reports on concentrations of sulphur, nitrogen, and particulate matter (PM), from 2011 to 2013, in the Baltic and North Seas – one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. The study aims to provide policy-makers with better knowledge about how shipping impacts local environments. The end-goal being better industry regulations and technology to make shipping more sustainable in the long-term.

The reality of shipping goods by sea

In the past two decades reduction pledges, like the Paris Climate Accord, and strict regulation have driven down air pollutants from land-based emissions across Europe, but greenhouse-gas emissions from the shipping industry are not subject to as strict international protocols.

And that’s a problem.

It is estimated that there are about half a million ships in operation at present, which together produce almost one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year (that’s more than Germany emits in the same period!). Over the past 20 years, emissions of pollutants from shipping in the Baltic Sea and North Sea have increased.

Worryingly, economic growth in the region means shipping is only set to increase in the future. In fact, the European Commission predicts that shipping emissions will increase between 50% and 250% by 2050.

Why should you care?

While cruising the high seas, ships emit a dangerous cocktail of pollutants. When burnt, their fuels emit sulphur dioxide and as ship engines operate under high pressure and temperature, they also release nitrogen oxides. Combined, they are also the source of particulate matter of varying sizes, made up of a mixture of sulphate (SO4), soot, metals and other compounds.

The authors of the Earth System Dynamics paper, led by Björn Clareman of the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University, found that international shipping in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea was responsible for up to 80% of near-surface concentrations of nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide in 2013.

Total emissions of SOx and deposition of OXS (oxidized sulphur) from international shipping in the Baltic Sea and North Sea in 2011. From B.Claremar et al., 2017.

In addition, the team’s simulations show that PM from shipping was distributed over large areas at sea and over land, where many people will be exposed to their harmful effects. The highest concentrations are found along busy shipping lanes and big ports. In total, shipping was responsible for 20% of small sized PM (known as PM2.5) and 13% of larger particles (PM10) during the studied period.

These pollutants have harmful effects on human health: It is thought that living close to the main shipping lanes in the Baltic Sea can shorten life expectancy by 0.1 to 0.2 years. Sulphur oxides in particular, cause irritation of the respiratory system, lungs and eyes; while a 2007 study estimated that PM emissions related to the shipping industry cause 60,000 deaths annually across the globe.

Environmentally, the effects of shipping pollution are concerning too. Deposition of nitrate and sulphate causes the acidification of soils and waters. The brackish waters of the Baltic Sea make them highly susceptible to acidification, threatening diverse and precious marine ecosystems.

The current problem

Legislating (and then monitoring and enforcing) to limit the negative impact of shipping emissions is tricky given the cross-border nature of the industry. For instance, currently, there is no international regulation for the emission of PM. However, the International Maritime Organisation’s (as well as others; see Claremar, B., et al., 2017 for details of all regulations) does impose limits on sulphur and nitrogen emissions from ships (in some parts of the world).

Low-sulphur fuels and switching to natural gas are an effective way to control emissions. However, operators can also choose to fit their vessels with an exhaust gas treatment plant, or scrubber, which uses sea water to remove sulphur oxides – the by-products of high-sulphur fuels. So called open-loop scrubbers release the dirty exhaust water back into the ocean once the tank is cleaned. The practice is known to increase ocean acidification globally, but particularly along shipping lanes.

As of 2021, the transport of goods via the North and Baltic Seas will be subject to the control of nitrogen and sulphur emissions, which could decrease nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80%. However, the study highlights that the continued use of scrubber technology will significantly offset the benefits of the new legislation. If cleaner alternatives are not implemented, total deposition of these harmful particles may reach similar levels to those measured during the 1970s to 1990s, when shipping emissions were largely unregulated.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

 

Those who have an interest in this subject might want to contribute an EU Public consultation on the revision of the policy on monitoring, reporting and verification of CO2 emissions from maritime transport. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted the legal framework for the global data collection system (IMO DCS) in July 2017. This Consultation is now reviewing the situation and would like input on things such as the monitoring of ships’ fuel consumption, transparency of emission data and the administrative burden of the new system. While the Consultation is not specifically aimed toward scientists, it may interest EGU researchers who are working in the marine, climate and atmospheric sciences sectors.

 

Refences and resources

Claremar, B., Haglund, K., and Rutgersson, A.: Ship emissions and the use of current air cleaning technology: contributions to air pollution and acidification in the Baltic Sea, Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 901-919, https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-8-901-2017, 2017.

Lower emissions on the high seas. Nature, 551, 5–6, https://doi:10.1038/551005b, 2017

Corbett, J. J., Winebrake, J. J., Green, E. H., Kasibhatla, P.,Eyring, V., and Lauer, A.: Mortality from ship emissions: a global assessment, Environ. Sci. Technol., 41, 8512–8518, 2007.

Dashuan, T., and Shuli, N.: A global analysis of soil acidification caused by nitrogen addition, Environ. Res. Lett., 10, 024019, https://doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/2/024019, 2015

What is Ocean Acidification? Ocean Facts by NOAA

Reducing emissions from the shipping sector, Climate Action by the European Commission

October GeoRoundUp: the best of the Earth sciences from around the web


Carbon dioxide plays a significant role in trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. The gas is released from human activities like burning fossil fuels, and the concentration of carbon dioxide moves and changes through the seasons. Using observations from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) satellite, scientists developed a model of the behavior of carbon in the atmosphere from Sept. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31, 2015. Scientists can use models like this one to better understand and predict where concentrations of carbon dioxide could be especially high or low, based on activity on the ground. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/K. Mersmann, M. Radcliff, producers

Drawing inspiration from popular stories on our social media channels, as well as unique and quirky research news, this monthly column aims to bring you the best of the Earth and planetary sciences from around the web.

Major story

Our top pick for October is a late breaking story which made headlines across news channels world-wide. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that ‘Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had surged to new records’ in 2016.

“Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event,” reported the WMO in the their press release.

The last time Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3 to 5 million years ago (around the period of the Pliocene Epoch), when temperatures were 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now. You can put that into context by taking a look at this brief history of Earth’s CO2 .

Rising levels of atmospheric CO2  present a threat to the planet, most notably driving rising global temperatures. The new findings compromise last year’s Paris Climate Accord, where 175 nations agreed to work towards limiting the rise of global temperatures by 1.5 degrees celsius (since pre-industrial levels).

No doubt the issue will be discussed at the upcoming COP 23 (Conference of Parties), which takes place in Bonn from 6th to 17th of November in Bonn. Fiji, a small island nation particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather phenomena (a direct result of climate change), is the meeting organiser.

What you might have missed

The 2017 Hurricane season has been devastating (as we’ve written about on the blog previously), but in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, one of the latest storms to form over the waters of the Atlantic, took a turn towards Europe.

Storm Ophelia formed in waters south-west of the Azores, where the mid-latitude jet stream push the storm toward the UK and Ireland. By the time it made landfall it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but was still powerful enough to caused severe damage. Ireland, battered by 160 kmph winds, declared a national emergency following the deaths of three people.

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite took this thermal image of Hurricane Ophelia over Ireland on Oct. 16 at 02:54 UTC (Oct. 15 at 10:54 p.m. EDT).
Credits: NOAA/NASA Goddard Rapid Response Team

The effects of the storm weren’t only felt across the UK and Ireland. In the wake of an already destructive summer fire season, October brought further devastating forest fires to the Iberian Peninsula. The blazes claimed 32 victims in Portugal and 5 in Spain. Despite many of the wildfires in Spain thought to have been provoked by humans, Ophelia’s strong winds fanned the fire’s flames, making firefighter’s efforts to control the flames much more difficult.

On 16th October many in the UK woke up to eerie red haze in the sky, which turned the Sun red too. The unusual effect was caused by Ophelia’s winds pulling dust from the Sahara desert northward, as well as debris and smoke from the Iberian wildfires.

And when you thought it wasn’t possible for Ophelia to become more remarkable, it also turns out that it became the 10th storm of 2017 to reach hurricane strength, making this year the fourth on record (and the first in over a century) to hit that milestone.

But extreme weather wasn’t only limited to the UK and Ireland this month. Cyclone Herwart brought powerful winds to Southern Denmark, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic over the final weekend of October. Trains were suspended in parts of northern Germany and thousands of Czechs and Poles were left without power. Six people have been reported dead. Hamburg’s inner city area saw significant flooding, while German authorities are closely monitoring the “Glory Amsterdam”, a freighter laden with oil, which ran aground in the North Sea during the storm. A potential oil spillage, if the ship’s hull is damaged, is a chief concern, as it would have dire environmental concerns for the Wadden Sea (protected by UNESCO).

Links we liked

The EGU story

This month we released not one but two press releases from research published in our open access journals. The finding of both studies have important societal implications. Take a look at them below

Deforestation linked to palm oil production is making Indonesia warmer

In the past decades, large areas of forest in Sumatra, Indonesia have been replaced by cash crops like oil palm and rubber plantations. New research, published in the European Geosciences Union journal Biogeosciences, shows that these changes in land use increase temperatures in the region. The added warming could affect plants and animals and make parts of the country more vulnerable to wildfires.

Study reveals new threat to the ozone layer

“Ozone depletion is a well-known phenomenon and, thanks to the success of the Montreal Protocol, is widely perceived as a problem solved,” says University of East Anglia’s David Oram. But an international team of researchers, led by Oram, has now found an unexpected, growing danger to the ozone layer from substances not regulated by the treaty. The study is published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.