Peru’s environmental law takes a turn for the worse

Read about this new law signed by Peruvian President Ollanta Humala that weakens the enforcement ability of Peru’s environmental ministry — at the same time that Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal takes the helm of the COP20 presidency.  COP20 Peru

Cuzco (the jumping off point for tourist treks to UNESCO World Heritage site Machu Picchu) congresswoman Veronika Mendoza called it “an embarrassment” for her country to have ”a completely debilitated environment ministry” while trying to lead efforts to draft a global GHG emissions reduction agreement to take the place of the Kyoto Protocol.

WG3′s report published today

The last part of the IPCC’s fifth report on climate change, AR5, is out today.  Here’s how the New York Times captures it:  “Delivering the latest stark news about climate change on Sunday, a United Nations panel warned that governments are not doing enough to avert profound risks in coming decades. But the experts found a silver lining: Not only is there still time to head off the worst, but the political will to do so seems to be rising around the world.”

wg3coverIn WG III’s summary for policymakers, the IPCC makes several key points based on the earlier reports by WG II (on the human and environmental impacts) and WG I (on the physical science):

1. World leaders have dragged their feet since the 1992 signing of the UNFCCC and the 1997 signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

2. This inaction has led to crisis, with GHG emissions rising faster than ever.

3. Yet it is possible to keep planetary warming to a habitable level, if concerted action is taken during the next 15 years.

4. This action is becoming less expensive and more politically feasible, as technologies and policies tried out in individual countries during the past decade become more routine (e.g. wind and solar energy, efficiency standards in building codes and automobile manufacturing).

5. As evidence of growing political will to acknowledge and address climate change, countries, states, and cities around the world have adopted climate planning.  (NYT note: ”They include China and the United States, which are doing more domestically than they have been willing to commit to in international treaty negotiations.”

6. To meet climate targets, annual investment in electrical power plants that use fossil fuels must decline by about 20% in the next 20 years while investment in low-carbon energy will need to double from current levels.

7. Money spent now to mitigate and adapt to climate change is the best insurance against severe climate impacts.

Are deserts carbon sinks?

Can arid regions – specifically deserts – act as carbon sinks?  This study, led by Professor David Evans of Washington State University and published in the current edition of Nature Climate Change, offers this conclusion:  “Results provide direct evidence that CO2 fertilization substantially increases ecosystem C storage and that arid ecosystems are significant, previously unrecognized, sinks for atmospheric CO2 that must be accounted for in efforts to constrain terrestrial and global C cycles.”desert

Good news in terms of potential progress on reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming.  But Christopher Field, who directs the department of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, runs a project where similar experiments are conducted on grasslands, and is the lead author of the new IPCC report, puts it into perspective:   ”It is worth noting that, although the sink in this experiment is significant, it is … about a hundredfold less than typical sinks in young forested ecosystems not exposed to elevated carbon dioxide, so the bottom line is that deserts will not save us from climate change.”


WG2 report out today!

Read here at my Environmental Health Law blog for a terrific analysis of today’s IPCC Working Group 2 report approved and released in Japan earlier today.  Chapeaux to Caitlin Stanton, 3L student and RA extraordinaire!

Preview of IPCC Working Group 2 Report

The Guardian reports that IPCC Working Group 2′s report — entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, which is due to be debated by WG2 next week in Yokohama, Japan and released to the public on March 31 — underscores that developed countries will avoid the worst impacts of southeast asiaclimate change caused by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in the first half of the 21st century while developing countries in low latitudes, particularly those along the coast of Asia, will suffer the most.  Hundreds of millions of people living in cities in coastal east, south-east and south Asia are likely to lose their homes as flooding, famine and rising sea levels sweep the region.  Forecasting with “very high confidence,” WG2 says that “heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, as well as drought and water scarcity, pose risks in urban areas with risks amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in exposed areas.”

But the draft report authors also warn that other climate change effects will be global and affect bothWG2 report cover developing and developed countries.  ”Climate change throughout the 21st century will lead to increases in ill-health in many regions, as compared to a baseline without climate change,” the report states. “Examples include greater likelihood of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heatwaves and fires; increased likelihood of under-nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions; and increased risks from food-borne and water-borne disease.”


UNFCCC Turns 20

Today matl_unfccc_logo_1992_435rks the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  To celebrate the past, present, and future of international climate change law, the UNFCCC Secretariat created this timeline that provides perspective on the progress that’s been made since the 1992 signing and the 1994 entry into force.

In addition to providing historical facts, the timeline also lays the groundwork for Trivial Pursuit, UNFCCC Edition.  Did you know that Angela Merkel, then Germany’s Environmental Minister, presided over the first Conference of Parties (COP1) in Berlin?  And that she did so the year that Toy Story (I, that is) was released?!

Greenland Ice Melt

New research published in Nature Climate Change this week points to increased melting of the ice sheet that currently covers Greenland and thus a greater factor in sea-level rise.  According to its summary:

“The Greenland ice sheet has been one of the largest contributors to global sea-level rise over the past 20 years, accounting for 0.5 mm yr−1 of a total of 3.2 mm yr−1. A significant portion of this contribution is associated with the speed-up of an increased number of glaciers in southeast and northwest Greenland. Here, we show that the northeast Greenland ice stream, which extends more than 600 km into the interior of the ice sheet, is now undergoing sustained dynamic thinning, linked to regional warming, after more than a quarter of a century of stability. This sector of the Greenland ice sheet is of particular interest, because the drainage basin area covers 16% of the ice sheet (twice that of Jakobshavn Isbræ) and numerical model predictions suggest no significant mass loss for this sector, leading to an under-estimation of future global sea-level rise. The geometry of the bedrock and monotonic trend in glacier speed-up and mass loss suggests that dynamic drawdown of ice in this region will continue in the near future.” (emphasis added)


According to one news report, the northeast region of Greenland’s ice sheet retreated 12.4 miles between 2003 and 2012 after a period of particularly high temperatures.  This resulted in 10 billion tons of water added to the ocean each year of that nine-year span.  Greenland contributes approximately .012 to .13 inches annually to sea-level rise, accounting for almost one-sixth of annual sea-level rise.

Survey says . . .

As the U.S. negotiators return from Bonn today with their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) homework in hand, a recent Gallup poll informs the Obama Administration’s political task.

Its conclusion:  “Most Americans believe global warming’s effects will occur during their lifetimes, though this sentiment is no higher than it was 17 years ago, and is down from a peak of 75% in 2008. At the same time, although Americans largely do not view global warming as a likely threat to their way of life, they are more likely to believe this now than in the 1990s.”

Trend: Expectations for Global Warming During Lifetime

There are variations by age and party affiliation, with younger voters and Democrats more likely to believe that global warming will occurr and affect their way of life.  It’s for this reason that this Gallup official thinks that the Senate’s recent climate change all-nighter (brainchild of the Senate’s new Climate Action Task Force) was a smart political move.  Funny, it occurred on the eve of the ADP’s meeting start.  In fact, given the five-hour time difference, I watched the morning shift speakers on CSPAN finish up the speaking marathon while climate change negotiators from around the world gave their opening remarks at the ADP plenary.

What’s in a picture?

At this week’s ADP meeting in Bonn, both developing and developed country delegations have characterized their GHG emissions quite persuasively.  China has focused on per capita and historical accountability statistics, while the U.S. highlighted the percentage responsibilities for total CO2 currently in the atmosphere.

A new study slices up the actual degrees of global warming attributable to each country.  For example, of the seven major emitters (U.S., China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany, and U.K.), the U.S. is responsible for a global temperature increase of 0.15 C or 20% of observed warming.  China and Russia each account for about 8%; Brazil and India, about 7% each; and Germany and U.K., around 5% each.  Canada places 10th, after France and Indonesia, respectively.   The top positions of Brazil and Indonesia reflect their CO2 emissions from deforestation.

CC mapsThe study also displays country emissions in terms of their physical size and population.   Western Europe, the U.S., Japan, and India are thus hugely expanded, corresponding to the fact that their emissions exceed their geographic area.  In contrast, Russia, China and Brazil stay the same.  Looking at emissions this way can lead to the conclusion that Brazil and China emit in proportion with landmass expectations.  It can also lead to the surprising conclusion that Canada and Australia, which appear stick thin on this map, emit much less than they could.  (Surprising because Canada, with its tar sands oil, and Australia, the fourth largest exporter of coal, are regular recipients of CAN International’s Fossil of the Day award at international climate change negotiations.)

Dividing each country’s climate contribution by its population paints a much different picture, clearly pointing to the role of historical industrialization in creating climate change.   Industrialized countries occupy the top seven per-capita positions, with Canada falling in third place behind the U.K. and the United States.  In this ranking, China and India drop to the bottom of the list.

Africa on track to contribute to majority of global particulate matter

A study co-authored by researchers from France and Cote d’Ivoire concludes that Africa will contribute as much as 55% of the world’s particle pollutants by 2030.  In 2005, the continent accounted for 5% of suAfrica_Climatelphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and 20% of organic carbon emissions.  These particles come from petrol and diesel fuel combustion for transportation, and coal, fuel wood, charcoal, and animal waste incineration for heating and cooking.   By 2100, Africa will represent 40% of the world population, with its urban population doubling from 2000 to 2030.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than two million people die every year from breathing in tiny particles in indoor and outdoor air pollution.  These particles can cause asthma and allergies, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

What to do?  The study recommends two strategies to fit the continent’s geography and development:  Increased use of biofuels to decrease domestic emissions in west and east Africa, and decreased reliance on coal as a source of industrial and power plant emissions in southern Africa.