Other stories below: Extreme summer high temperatures expected more frequently; Leak offers glimpse into campaign against climate science
Those concerned about climate change and greenhouse gas pollution have been justifiably frustrated in the last few years. Despite some significant moves by the Obama administration — particularly improving vehicle efficiency and creating incentives for significant investment in wind and solar power — national action has been ground down by partisanship fueled by climate skepticism.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s announcement Thursday plants seeds of hope. The United States, with Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden, is launching a partnership aimed at reducing “short-lived climate pollutants” with a focus on methane, black carbon and hydroflurocarbons.
This new coalition to reduce short-lived climate pollutants aims to raise $10 million in the first year to enhance public and private efforts worldwide to reduce these pollutants and scale up as we move forward.
We know the bulk of climate pollution comes from carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels for energy. Mitigating this is essential — but has met fierce resistance from fossil fuel industries.
What is less understood is that carbon dioxide is a relatively long-lived greenhouse gas, with lasting effects. About half of all carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for roughly 100 years, but some 20 percent remains for many thousands of years. It effectively locks in whatever warming we create well beyond our lifetimes.
This fact adds to the political difficulty in reducing these emissions — since the climate benefits of action now are felt decades in the future.
In contrast, gases like methane, black carbon (soot) and many types of HFCs are both shorter lived than most carbon dioxide and stronger in terms of their potential to cause atmospheric warming. Methane, for example, lasts only 12 years, but it has around 25 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.
HFCs can also be much shorter lived, yet hundreds or tens of thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. The rapid growth in these gases makes the case for action even more urgent. HFCs, largely used as refrigerants, now exert less than 1 percent of the impact on global warming as carbon dioxide, but at current rates they will rise to between a fifth and a quarter of the impact by 2050. Since these gases are used and produced in relatively discrete parts of the economy, they can more easily be substituted with off-the-shelf, affordable technology.
Action now on these gases can have relatively fast benefits. A study in Science last month by an international team of 24 scientists, led by NASA climate modeler Drew Shindell, estimated the effects of initiating 14 methane and black carbon control measures. Combined with other greenhouse gas reductions, these measures would reduce total projected warming by half a degree.
This is significant — given that the international goal to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is to try to stabilize temperature increase caused by humans at 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. These measures would also save millions of lives by improving air quality, and increase crop yields by some 30-135 million metric tons by 2030.
With these benefits, the cost is minimal. Reducing a metric ton of methane costs around $250, while the benefit is worth $700-$5,000.
Clinton’s new partnership is not the first time this administration has proposed action on these pollutants. An initiative by the U.S., Mexico and Canada to reduce HFC emissions under the Montreal Protocol has been blocked over the last few years by a handful of countries.
Thursday’s announcement should help to push that effort over the finish line. If successful, it would garner eight times the emission reductions of the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol.
Action on these short-lived gases is not a substitute for the needed reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. That will require rapidly transforming America’s energy portfolio by developing clean energy, clean energy technology and clean energy services.
But this new initiative is a bold move needed to achieve long-term climate safety for vulnerable people today and future generations tomorrow.
John D. Podesta is chairman of the board of the Center for American Progress. Andrew Light is director of the Center for Global Ethics at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Extreme summer heat that historically has occurred only once every 20 years will be common during the coming decades, especially in the South, Southwest and Northeast, according to researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Already, record high temperatures are outpacing record lows by more than two to one.
The careful statistical study, led by the lab’s Phil Duffy, compared temperatures records from different periods in the past and use models to project future temperature trends. The results show that summer extremes are already occurring more frequently and will become the norm by mid-century if the world continues on a business as usual schedule of emitting greenhouse gases.
“The observed increase in the frequency of previously rare summertime-average temperatures is more consistent with the consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations than with the effects of natural climate variability,” said Duffy. “It is extremely unlikely that the observed increase has happened through chance alone.”
The study was published in a recent edition of the journal Climatic Change.
Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation’s culture wars.
The documents, from a nonprofit organization in Chicago called the Heartland Institute, outline plans to promote a curriculum that would cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet. “Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective,” one document said.
While the documents offer a rare glimpse of the internal thinking motivating the campaign against climate science, defenders of science education were preparing for battle even before the leak. Efforts to undermine climate-science instruction are beginning to spread across the country, they said, and they fear a long fight similar to that over the teaching of evolution in public schools.
The Heartland Institute, a private group backed by industry and independent donors opposed to government regulation, has for years supported an array of efforts fighting restrictions on greenhouse gases. There’s no great secret there.A blog storm began building Tuesday and broke on Wednesday as environmental groups posted a batch of documents — ranging from tax forms to lists of donors to a 2012 Heartland “climate strategy” — that appeared to expose the group’s game plan, budgets and backers in remarkable detail.
Late on Wednesday, Heartland posted a statement asserting that the strategy document was a “total fake” and the others, while appearing to be authentic, might have been altered and were, in any case, obtained through criminal means:
Minister for Agriculture Prof. Jumanne Maghembe has stated that farming is the most hit sector by the impacts of climate change in Africa, challenging experts to come up with measures to mitigate the impacts.
He was addressing a three-day Post-Durban Dialogue on Climate Change and Agriculture to examine the outcome of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP 17) that was held last November-December 2011 in Durban, South Africa.
“Governments in East African Community countries and other regional economic communities were fully committed to responding to the impacts of climate change collectively through policy and practical measures since the impacts had no boundaries,” Prof. Maghembe told the gathering here on Tuesday.
The dialogue was organized jointly by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), in collaboration with Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS-EA), a global programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
The dialogue, which brought together climate change and agriculture experts from nine eastern African countries of Burundi, DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, focused on agriculture with a view to proposing activities that would be considered under the agricultural work programme of Parties (members of UNFCCC).
China’s polysilicon industry, the biggest supplier to solar-panel manufacturers worldwide, has idled almost one-third of production and may keep the plants closed until prices recover from a 60 percent plunge.The price tumble spurred the smallest producers including units of Baoding Tianwei Baobian Electric Co. and Dongfang Electric Corp. to halt plants, according to Xie Chen, an analyst from the China Nonferrous Metals Industrial Association, a trade group that advises the government. China has about 45 percent of global production capacity to purify silicon into polysilicon.
The suspensions may be short-lived because the average spot price for the most expensive ingredient in making solar panels rose 9 percent since mid-December from a decade low. A recovery would boost margins for the biggest makers such as GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., China’s largest, and Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. of the U.S., which is No. 1 in the world by capacity.
“The freeze in production won’t last too long,” Xie said in an interview. “Many companies have said they will return to manufacturing if prices rise to $47 a kilogram” from the current level of about $28.80.