GeoLog

Paris Climate Deal

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

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

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

In the last couple of weeks of May, the news world was abuzz with the possibility of Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Though the announcement actually came on June 1st, we’ve chosen to feature it in this round-up as it’s so timely and has dominated headlines throughout May and June.

In withdrawing from the agreement, the United States becomes only one of three countries in rejecting the accord, as this map shows. The implications of the U.S joining Syria and Nicaragua (though, to be clear, their reasons for not signing are hugely different to those which have motivated the U.S withdrawal) in dismissing the landmark agreement have been widely covered in the media.

President Trump’s announcement has drawn widespread condemnation across the financial, political and environmental sectors. Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX CEO, was one of many in the business sector to express their criticism of the President’s decision. In response to the announcement, Musk tweeted he was standing down from his duties as adviser to a number of White House councils. While in early May, thirty business CEOs  wrote an open letter published in the Wall Street Journal to express their “strong support for the U.S. remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement.”

In a defiant move, U.S. States (including California, New York and Vermont), cities and business plan to come together to continue to work towards meeting the targets and plans set out by the Paris Agreement. The group, coordinated by former New York City mayor Mark Bloomberg, aims to negotiate with the United Nations to have its contributions accepted to the Agreement alongside those of signatory nations.

“We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” Bloomberg, said in an interview.

Scientist and learned societies have also been vocal in expressing their criticism of the White House decision. Both Nature and Science collected reactions from researchers around the globe. The EGU, as well as the American Geophysical Union, and many in the broader research community oppose the U.S. President’s decision.

“The EGU is committed to supporting the integrity of its scientific community and the science that it undertakes,” said the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber.

For an in-depth round-up of the global reaction take a look at this resource.

What you might have missed

This month’s links you might have missed take us on a journey through the Earth. Let’s start deep in the planet’s interior.

The core generates the Earth’s magnetic field. Periodically, the magnetic field reverses, but what caused it to do so? Well, there are several, competing, ideas which might explain why. Recently, one of them gained a bit more traction. By studying the seismic signals from powerful earthquakes, researchers at the University of Oxford found that regions on top of the Earth’s core sometimes behave like a giant lava lamp. It turns out that blobs of rock periodically rise and fall deep inside our planet. This could affect the magnetic field and cause it to flip.

Meanwhile, at the planet’s surface, the Earth’s outer solid layer (the crust) and upper layer of the molten mantle,  are broken up into a jigsaw of moving plates which pull apart and collide, generating earthquakes, driving volcanic eruptions and raising mountains. But the jury is still out as to when and how plate tectonics started. The Earth is so efficient at recycling and generating new crustal material, through plate tectonics, that only a limited record of very old rocks remains making it very hard to decipher the mystery. A recently published article explores what we know and what yet remains to be discovered when it comes to plate tectonics.

Tectonic plate boundaries. By Jose F. Vigil. USGS [Public domain], distributed by Wikimedia Commons.

Oil, gas, water, metal ores: these are the resources that spring to mind when thinking of commodities which fuel our daily lives. However, there are many others we use regularly, far more often than we realise or care to admit, but which we take for granted. Sand is one of them. In the industrial world it is know as ‘aggregate’ and it is the second most exploited natural resource after water. It is running out. A 2014 United Nations Environment Programme report highlighted that the “mining of sand and gravel greatly exceeds natural renewal rates”.

Links we liked

  • Earth Art takes a whole new meaning when viewed from space. This collection of photographs of natural parks as seen from above is pretty special.
  • This round-up is usually reserved for non-EGU related news stories, but given these interviews with female geoscientists featured in our second most popular tweet of the month, it is definitely worth a share: Conversations on being a women in geoscience – perspectives on what being a female in the Earth sciences.
  • We’ve shared these previously, but they are so great, we thought we’d highlight them again! Jill Pelto, a scientist studying the Antarctic Ice Sheet and an artist, uses data in her watercolous to communicate information about extreme environmental issues to a broad audience.

The EGU story

Temperatures in the Arctic are increasing twice as fast as in the rest of the globe, while the Antarctic is warming at a much slower rate. A new study published in Earth System Dynamics, an EGU open access journal, shows that land height could be a “game changer” when it comes to explaining why temperatures are rising at such different rates in the two regions. Read the full press release for all the details, or check out the brief explainer video, which you can also watch on our YouTube channel.

 

And don’t forget! To stay abreast of all the EGU’s events and activities, from highlighting papers published in our open access journals to providing news relating to EGU’s scientific divisions and meetings, including the General Assembly, subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter.

GeoPolicy: What was decided from the Paris COP21?

GeoPolicy: What was decided from the Paris COP21?

Last week saw the world’s leaders come together in Paris for the 21st ‘Conference of the Parties’ (aka COP21) to discuss climate change. The 12 day meeting saw over 50,000 participants (half of which from Government organisations) come to reach an agreement on limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) production.

Background

Manmade climate change, resulting from the increased production of GHG into the atmosphere, has caused the Earth to warm by over 1 °C since pre-industrial times. If global emissions continue to rise at this rate the world will be roughly 5 °C warmer by 2100 (that’s the same difference in temperature between now and the last ice age). A temperature change of that range will have major impacts on the Earth and its inhabitants. For decades, world leaders have met to discuss strategies for reducing GHG emissions. The 2009 COP aimed to limit global warming to 2 °C; a level considered to be preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” [1]. However, there has been no legally binding treaties to come from a COP where all countries were in agreement. A legislative agreement was the major goal for COP21.

The video below gives a good summary of the COP history including which meetings were considered successes and which were failures.

COP21 primer: A brief history of climate talks

What did the EU countries pledge?

Before COP21, countries submitted ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’, or INDCs, which laid out their individual plans for GHG reduction.

As a whole, the EU submitted relatively aggressive INDCs, pledging a reduction of GHGs of at least 60 % below 2010 levels by 2050. This pledge would be legally binding if all parties agree. The EU already has legislation that requires all 28 member states to reduce their emissions by at least 40 % by 2030, compared to 1990 [2].

The UNFCCC ‘Climate Action Now’ briefing

The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the organisation who organises the COPs. After all the INDCs were submitted but before the meeting they published their ‘Climate Action Now’ briefing which summarised the pledges so far and the major policy routes to be taken to achieve only a 2 °C warming. I summarised this document into a storify of tweets but the major highlights are listed below:

  • Current INDC pledges do not limit global warming to 2 °C but to 3.7-4.8 °C
  • 2 °C limit can still be reached through suggested policy solutions but ‘Achieving the 2 degree goal requires immediate action and the full engagement of Parties and other relevant stakeholders’
  • Targeted financial support, tech transfer and capacity-building (especially for developing countries) is needed.
  • There are multiple co-benefits to climate mitigation policies which include water and food security, biodiversity improvements, economic benefits, improved health, and higher air quality.
  • 6 policy themes are: Renewables, Energy Efficiency, Transport, Carbon Capture, Non-CO2 GHGs, Land use, Adaptation co-benefits.

Highlights from the meeting

  • Drafting the agreement throughout the meeting and getting the new treaty signed was the primary goal of COP21. A consensus had to be met from all 196 participating countries to make a legally binding document. The draft agreement went through three rounds of edits over the 2 week meeting. It started being 48 pages in length which was reduced to 28 pages, then 27, but finally ending up at 31 pages. Prior draft agreements highlighted any contentious issues in square brackets. The first draft had a staggering 939 areas of disagreement. This was reduced to 367, and then to 50 in the final draft published on December 11th.
  • Day 1 of the meeting saw 150 of the world leaders come together to give key speeches and highlight their Nation’s pledges. President Obama spoke of the need for a “flow to the countries that need help preparing for the impacts of climate change we can no longer avoid”. China’s President, Xi Jinping, spoke of his country’s aim to peak GHG emission by 2030. Other new initiatives were announced including the Solar Alliance, which aims to “foster cooperation and collaboration between solar-rich nations”. New Zealand’s Prime Minister spoke of the need to reduce fossil fuel subsidies and to allow these funds to be invested in low-carbon technology. [More information on Day 1’s highlights can be found on the Carbon Brief Website[3].
  • 1.5 or 2 degrees warming was a hotly debated topic throughout the meeting. It was put forward at the beginning of COP21 by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which consists of 20 developing countries. 100% renewable energy and full decarbonisation by 2050 was also called for by this forum. Before the meeting the 2 degree limit was discussed more often, but surpassing a 1.5 degree rise could still be damaging, as Dr Rachel Warren, a from the University of East Anglia, told the Carbon Brief: “In the 5th assessment of the IPCC (2013), when we assessed the reasons for concern about climate change and we considered unique and threatened systems, we found that a transition from moderate to high risk to those systems occurred somewhere between 1.1-1.6 °C above pre-industrial, whereas by 2 °C the risks to those systems were already high.” Article 2 was heatedly debated but the final wording of the treaty became “Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C” [4].
  • The long term goal has been included in the agreement to account for the current pledges falling short of the 2 degree limit. This was another debated issue throughout COP21. The resulting text reads that “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of GHGs in the second half of this century”. This is a compromised statement compared to previous drafts which offered either specific dates for these goals to be achieved or used the more vague term of achieving “emissions neutrality”. The term ‘balance’ has also been criticised as being too ambiguous. Additionally, the final text offers the opportunity for carbon capture techniques to be used to achieve net zero emissions [5].
  • A five year review cycle features in the agreement where countries must continue to make pledges, similar to the INDCs, that demonstrate how they plan to further reduce their emissions. This section was included to account for the gap in countries’ pledges and the desired 2 degree warming limit. These meetings will commence in 2020 (when the agreement legally comes into being).
  • Financial aid from developed countries to support developing states with renewable energy projects is described as a legal requirement in the agreement. In previous drafts this included a quantified amount of at least $100 billion per year, however this value is now in a flexible / voluntary section of the agreement. A new ‘Loss and Damage’ term legally requires developed countries to offer financial aid to ‘small islands and vulnerable states’ to help them tackle inevitable effects of climate change these nations are/will experience. However, liability and compensation terms have been explicitly left out of the agreement. For a full list of the current funding pledges please see the UNFCCC’s Climate Funding Announcements webpage. [6].

‘Not perfect’

The agreement has been described by many as ‘not perfect’. Some phrases have been criticised as too vague and not all terms are legally binding, for example, a voluntary emissions trading scheme is described. Willing countries can sign up but there must be at least 55 parties, covering at least 55% of global emissions for the scheme to be adopted.

Future implications

President Obama stated that the Paris agreement is “the best chance we have to save the one planet we have”. China’s chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua also stated that, although the agreement is not ideal, “this does not prevent us from marching historical steps forward” [7]. The positivity and optimism from the first day of COP21 has remained throughout the whole meeting. Now, countries must adhere to their pledges to decrease GHG emissions if we are to limit global climate change to a 2 degree warming.

You can read the signed treaty on the UNFCCC’s website.

Sources

[1] – http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/climate/2015-paris-climate-talks/what-are-the-paris-climate-talks

[2] – EP At a glance plenary 12 October 2015 ‘EU approach to the Paris climate conference’

[3] – http://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-the-key-announcements-from-day-1-at-cop21

[4] – http://www.carbonbrief.org/scientists-discuss-the-1-5c-limit-to-global-temperature-rise

[5] – http://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-the-long-term-goal-of-the-paris-climate-deal

[6] – http://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-the-final-paris-climate-deal

[7] – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35086346