Equity or inertia: how emissions sharing philosophies shape climate policy success

Some timely research in advance of the key upcoming climate talks

Good Night Earth

What is the best way for the global community to set greenhouse gas emission goals to stave off global temperature increases over the dreaded 2 degrees Celsius? This question framed the heart of negotiations between 190 countries during a UN-sponsored meeting in Lima earlier this year.1 As a result, countries agreed to create ‘fair and ambitious’ post-2020 emission standards tailored to each country’s economic, environmental, and social circumstances.

Next, countries will declare their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) at the Paris Climate Conference next month. Each INDC is a national pledge made by a country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a certain amount by a particular date, with the entirety of INDCs summed to meet UN reduction goals. The expectations for the conference are high: the declared goals will set the stage for post-2020 reductions and dictate the course of human civilization’s combat against global warming.


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Nature’s Eyes on Environment Blog: the story of a cave and climate change

Science and history combine to give some interesting predictions!

Good Night Earth

Courtesy of Reference 1 Courtesy of Reference 1

The following was originally published on Nature’s Eyes on Environment blog!


Among the foothills of a vast mountain range, a mayor guides his nervous citizens into the dank darkness of a nearby cave. The two hundred people huddle together, scared by the thought of possible starvation during another year of drought. The group shifts unsteadily along the rocky terrain as they move farther beneath the hills until they reach a large room typically full of water during monsoon season. This year, only damp rocks greet them. A fortuneteller steps away from the crowd and prays for more rain for their village.

This vignette is not fiction but rather inspired by a recent discovery of inscriptions in the Dayu Cave in central China. The writings span four hundred years and reveal societies across eras that visited the cave during times of drought to pray or…

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Carbon Budget

This is a very clear analysis – upshot: humanity can burn a trillion tonnes of carbon before being committed to the 2°C warming limit governments have agreed. We’re 60% of the way there, and on course for 1.5 trillion, which would commit us to 3°C.


On Quora someone asked:

What is the most agreed-on figure for our future carbon budget?

My answer:

Asking “what is our future carbon budget?” is a bit like asking how many calories a day you can eat. There’s really no limit on how much you can eat if you don’t care how overweight and unhealthy you become. So, to set a carbon budget, you need to say how much global warming you will accept.

That said, here’s a picture of how we’re burning through our carbon budget:

It says that our civilization has burnt 60% of the carbon we’re allowed to while still having a 50-50 chance of keeping global warming below 2 °C.

This chart appears in the International Energy Agency report World Energy Outlook Special Report 2015, which is free and definitely worth reading.

The orange bars show CO2 emissions per year, in gigatonnes. The blue…

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The global warming hiatus could last another five years. Its aftermath is the real problem.

You may or may not know or care that the rate of increase in Earth’s average surface temperature has apparently eased off in recent years. A paper this week found that this ‘hiatus’ could go on for some years yet, but that it’s not that surprising, and definitely doesn’t mean we can stop worrying about climate change.

Of tree rings and rain: droughts predicted to worsen in southwestern United States

By the end of the 21st century, the average drought conditions in the Southwest US will exceed even the worst conditions during the megadroughts in the Medieval period

Good Night Earth

Figure courtesy of pixabay.com Figure courtesy of pixabay.com

Droughts have intensified in already dry regions around the world, including in the Southwest United States and in Australia throughout the first decade of this century.  The severity of these droughts has been attributed to global warming and climate change, which climate models predict should make traditional weather patterns more extreme, so dry regions will get drier.

However, there’s an inherent difficulty in determining the causes behind contemporary droughts because of their naturally long timescales.  During the medieval 12th and 13th centuries, North America experienced ‘megadroughts’ spanning 1000 years!  With such long timescales, it’s hard to know whether the intense dry spells we see now in California and nearby states are due to natural climatic variability or spurred on by anthropogenic carbon emissions.  Is man-made global warming to blame?

A recent paper in Science Advances provides a comprehensive answer to this question.  The group from…

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Climate researcher Bart Strengers wins wager with climate sceptic Hans Labohm

There has been some discussion of the accuracy of climate forecasts this week – this is an interesting reflection of the outcome when people of opposing viewpoints are prepared to bet on their position.

My view on climate change

Guestpost by Bart Strengers. Originally appeared as a news item on the PBL website.

Late 2009, in the run-up to the international climate conference in Copenhagen, PBL climate researcher Bart Strengers had an online discussion with climate sceptic Hans Labohm on the website of the Dutch news station NOS (in Dutch). This discussion, which was later also published as a PBL report, ended in a wager. Strengers wagered that the mean global temperature over the 2010–2014 period would be higher than the mean over 2000 to 2009. Hans Labohm believed there would be no warming and perhaps even a cooling; for example due to reduced solar activity.

At the request of Labohm, it was decided to use the UAH satellite temperature data set on the lower troposphere (TLT) (roughly the lowest 5 km of the atmosphere). These data sets are compiled by the University of Alabama in Huntsville…

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2014: A year in weather

According to the Met Office, 2014 was UK’s warmest since 1910, beating 2006 by 0.2°C. Central England Temperature also set to be the warmest in a series that dates back to 1659. It was also the fifth wettest year for the UK since 1910.

Official blog of the Met Office news team

2014 has been another year of eventful weather across the UK. Here we take a look at some of the year’s more notable aspects.


The obvious headline from 2014 is that it will be the warmest year in our UK record dating back to 1910, knocking 2006 from its top spot.

Using figures up to 28 December then assuming average conditions for the last three days of the year, the expected mean temperature for the UK is 9.9 °C. This beats the previous record of 9.7 °C set in 2006 and means all the UK’s top eight warmest years have happened since 2002.

Despite the overall warmth, there were no record-breaking months – it’s just a case that 11 out of 12 months (August being the exception) were warmer than average. Although individual months were unremarkable, it was the persistence of the warmth that was unusual and together they add…

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A pause or not a pause, that is the question.

With 2014 looking set to be the warmest year ever (possibly by some way) I’ve been wondering what position the people claiming “global warming has stopped” might retreat to. This neat tale hints at one possibility, and explains why it wouldn’t be a convincing argument.

Open Mind

UPDATE: A new post at RealClimate is very relevant, and well worth the read.

One day, a new data set is released. The rumor runs rampant that it’s annual average global temperature since 1980.


Climate scientist “A” states that there is clearly a warming trend (shown by the red line), at an average rate of about 0.0139 deg.C/yr. She even computes the uncertainty in that trend estimate (using fancy statistics), and uses that to compute what’s called a “95% confidence interval” for the trend — the range in which we expect the true warming rate is 95% likely to be; it can be thought of as the “plausible range” for the warming rate. Since 95% confidence is the de facto standard in statistics (not universal, but by far the most common), nobody can fault her for that choice. The confidence interval is from 0.0098 to 0.0159 deg.C/yr. She also…

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United States and China reach landmark carbon emissions deal

The recent US-China climate deal seems to bode well for next December’s key talks: In case you missed it this is a good summary.


B Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have agreed a deal on cutting emissions into the 2020s

The big news this morning is that the US and China have unveiled a “secretly negotiated deal” to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025. China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its emissions by 2030 or earlier if possible, and has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-carbon sources to 20 per cent by 2030. The US has pledged to cut its emissions 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Barack Obama said the deal was an “historic agreement”. China’s premier, Xi Jinping, said the US and China had agreed to make sure a global climate deal is reached in Paris next year.

  • Under the deal…

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Will anyone follow this route to low emission, low cost farming?

Ammonia fertiliser plays a crucial role in producing the food we need. Image credit: Allen (roadsidepictures) used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.

Ammonia fertiliser plays a crucial role in producing the food we need. Image credit: Allen (roadsidepictures) used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.

Can we make sure we make the most of the promising ideas people come up with to restrain and adapt to the changes we’re making to the climate? I’ve been considering this question thanks to a recent invention seeking to help cut increasing greenhouse gas emissions that arise from feeding the world’s growing population. Stuart Licht’s team at George Washington University in Washington, DC, has worked out how to make a key component of fertiliser – ammonia – that could eliminate emissions and minimise cost. In fact it’s an extension of a method that Stuart told me can also produce zero carbon cement, iron, bleach, magnesium, and capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere. So when will we see this amazing approach in use? I can’t tell you that – because Stuart has no plans to commercialise it.

I became aware of the new ammonia production system when Chemistry World asked me to cover it for them. Ammonia is a simple molecule, comprising only two elements, hydrogen and nitrogen. Humans have been using it in fertiliser since at least the early 19th century, when it was mined, both in mineral form and as bird guano, for delivery to farmers. That was necessary because although nitrogen is hugely abundant – it makes up four-fifths of Earth’s atmosphere – it’s equally as unreactive. Chemists often replace the air above the reactions in their flasks with pure nitrogen when they’re worried that oxygen will affect their results. That stability meant synthetic ammonia was at first elusive.

But in the early 20th century Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch found a way to overcome nitrogen’s reluctance to react. They could take nitrogen from the air, and bring it together with hydrogen gas in the presence of an osmium catalyst at very high pressures and temperatures. During the First World War ammonia’s other main application – as a basis for explosives – saw that ramped up to industrial scale. The Haber-Bosch process has provided fertilisers that have been crucial in feeding Earth’s growing population since then. But it comes with a downside: it requires huge amounts of energy – 2% of the entire world’s consumption – whose generation usually releases the greenhouse gas CO2. Read the rest of this entry »