September 22, 2015
(Doors open at 8:45 a.m. for light breakfast. Program begins at 9:15.)
Bank of America Tower
One Bryant Park
New York, NY
Read the report and executive summary, watch video of the report launch and find additional resources on resilience.
How are companies are assessing and addressing climate vulnerabilities?
What is keeping them from doing more?
Which tools, data and partnerships can drive action to the next level?
Global Environmental Executive, Bank of America
Amy Luers, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Climate Resilience and Information
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Executive Office of the President
Global Environmental Director, Diageo
Vice President of Public Policy
Corporate Sustainability Officer, PG&E
It is well known that climate change will alter the occurrence of extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, and severe storms. But weather is unpredictable and naturally variable, so how can we be sure climate change is happening today?
Climate change attribution
Scientists have recently developed tools for so-called event attribution, to say (through the use of statistics) whether a particular extreme weather event is caused by climate change. The fourth annual report on event attribution was just published in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). Researchers around the globe used different methods to assess 28 events that occurred in 2014. They found that some of these events probably would not have happened without climate change.
Any individual weather event is a part of a chaotic and complex system (yes, those are the technical terms). Because of this, it is theoretically impossible to predict weather over any meaningful timescale. So scientists turn to probabilities.
When your local weather forecaster tells you there’s a 30 percent chance of rain, that number doesn’t come out of a hat. The percentage comes from many weather models run over and over again. A 30 percent chance of rain tomorrow means that for every 100 model simulations of the weather tomorrow, 30 had rain.
To attribute an event to climate change, scientists run climate models many times both with and without the effects of greenhouse gases. They then compare the model results to observations. If the observed event, say a major heat wave, occurred often in the models that included greenhouse gases but only rarely in the models without them, they would conclude that the heat wave can probably be attributed to climate change. There’s still a chance the event would have occurred anyway – but you wouldn’t bet on it. Just like if your local weather forecast called for a 90 percent chance of rain, you’d probably leave home with your umbrella.
2014 events attributable to climate change
The BAMS study was not an exhaustive study of all extreme weather events in 2014, so it is possible that more events can be attributed to climate change than just those listed here. The researchers found that climate change is responsible for:
- An increased risk of fire in California (though not the 2014 fire season, specifically)
- The major heat wave that hit Argentina in December 2013
- Record warmth observed in Europe in 2014 (as measured by the annual average temperature over the region)
- The 2014 drought in East Africa (drought is caused by many factors – several, but not all, factors in this event were caused by climate change)
- The broiling spring of 2014 in Korea (spring temperatures in northern China were also higher than average, though the climate change influence was not as strong there)
- A greater probability of warm surface ocean temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean
- The increased frequency of hurricanes near Hawaii, as was seen in 2014
- Increasing the likelihood of several hot spells across Australia in 2014
The significance of climate change
What’s significant about the BAMS study is not which particular events in 2014 were probably caused by climate change but that any at all were probably caused by climate change.
If greenhouse gases weren’t changing the climate, then the simulations with and without greenhouse gases would give equal probabilities of a particular event. But they don’t.
To say it another way, if greenhouse gases weren’t changing the climate, then the model simulations without greenhouse gases would be just as successful as the others at predicting the observed events. But they’re not.
Extreme weather events have always happened, and always will. But the fact that the natural variability in climate models no longer predicts all extreme events is strong evidence that greenhouse gases are changing the climate right now. And the models tell us that the impacts will only grow in the future.
In an important breakthrough, parties to the Montreal Protocol meeting in Dubai have agreed to a path forward aimed at phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of highly potent greenhouse gases. This progress adds to the momentum leading up to the UN climate talks starting later this month in Paris.
HFCs, chemicals widely used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing, were developed in response to limits on ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol.
The United States and 40 other countries had put forth a range of proposals this year for phasing down HFCs. While these efforts fell short of producing a consensus amendment, extensive discussions throughout the week resulted in a path toward delivering an HFC phasedown amendment at a special, additional meeting of the parties to be held in 2016.
Parties agreed on the fundamental issue that the Montreal Protocol has legal jurisdiction to act and has the experience, expertise, and institutions best suited to tackling the challenge of reducing HFCs. The Dubai meeting also produced a common understanding and a path forward on a range of issues related to how to modify the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund to provide financial support to developing countries to comply with controls on HFCs and on the need to exempt uses of HFCs in high ambient temperature conditions where no viable substitutes exist.
As the fastest growing group of greenhouse gases, HFCs represent an important target in global efforts to limit climate change. It’s estimated that limiting HFCs could achieve a 0.5 degree Celsius reduction in the temperature increase due to greenhouse gases by the end of 2100 – a target well within reach of Montreal Protocol parties when they reconvene next year.
These reductions are critical to global efforts to keep temperature increases under the 2 C goal established under the UN Framework Convention. It’s estimated that national commitments to addressing greenhouse gases made in the lead up to Paris could limit temperature increases to around 2.7 C. More needs to be done, and HFC reduction under the Montreal Protocol can contribute to filling the gap.
With a final decision coming well past midnight Thursday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy led the United States’ negotiating team in finding a way forward – overcoming the concerns of India, Saudi Arabia and a small number of other countries about the availability of substitutes to replace HFCs and the adequacy and rules governing financial support.
Representing the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, I presented two papers at side events in Dubai addressing issues of concern to the negotiators. Technological Change in the Production Sector under the Montreal Protocol addressed concerns of developing countries that production of alternatives to HFCs would be limited to a few multinational corporations. A second paper, Patents and the Role of the Multilateral Fund, analyzed whether the Multilateral Fund would pay for intellectual property rights associated with substitutes for HFCs.
|Hurricane Patricia (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory)|
These are just a few of the consistent predictions from models investigating our future in a world with climate change. Or, it’s a list of some of the impacts of the periodic weather pattern called El Niño.
So which one has been driving some of this year’s extreme weather events?
A record year for Pacific tropical cyclones
The National Hurricane Center reports that eight major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) have developed in the eastern North Pacific Ocean so far this season. This is consistent with the characteristics of El Niño that have been shaping up over the course of the year.
During an El Niño year, the surface ocean in the Eastern Pacific basin warms (it’s usually very cold) and the trade winds in the area weaken. These two meteorological developments favor the formation of tropical cyclones, the general term that includes hurricanes and related systems. Hurricane Patricia achieved record strength in a record short period of time this month, becoming the strongest Pacific hurricane to make landfall. Meanwhile, climate change will probably not change the number of hurricanes overall, but warmer ocean surface temperatures and higher sea levels are expected to intensify their impacts.
Driver: El Niño
Remember when Boston was buried in snow?
The Northeast saw record amounts of snowfall during the 2014-2015 winter. The extreme snow amounts were caused by two factors. First, a weakened polar vortex (the global wind pattern that usually keeps Arctic-cold air trapped over the poles) brought extended periods of bitter cold weather to the region. Then major storm systems arrived, bringing large amounts of moisture that fell as snow.
It’s unclear if or how climate change affects the polar vortex. But it’s very clear that a warmer world is a wetter world. Warmer air causes more water to evaporate over the oceans, forming storm systems heavy with moisture. When these systems hit cold air, as they did repeatedly this winter, that means lots of snow.
Driver: Climate change
More record high temperatures
Final global average temperature data is in for September 2015, and it was the hottest September ever measured. Moreover, this year is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. While El Niño makes many (but not all) parts of the world warmer than normal, the effect is strongest in winter months, so it probably had little effect in September.
A record-setting month for temperature probably sounds like familiar news because records for high temperatures have been broken over and over again in recent years. This is one of the most certain outcomes of climate change. As the climate warms, it means not only hotter summers, but warmer autumns and springs, too.
Driver: Climate change
While climate change isn’t the cause of all extreme weather events, it contributes to many of them. And it is playing a role in making other long-term weather phenomena like El Niño more impactful. That’s why it’s critical to both build resilience to climate impacts and also reduce climate-altering emissions so that those impacts aren’t more than we can bear.
The fastest growing family of greenhouse gases – extremely potent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- aren’t going to be growing as fast in the future.
Today’s White House announcement of voluntary industry commitments to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), along with new regulations put in place over the past year, have created game-changing shifts toward more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Developed as substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the late 1980s, HFCs have become widely used worldwide in refrigerators, air conditioners, foam products, and aerosols. While they don’t contribute to ozone depletion, HFCs can trap 1,000 times or more heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. This means they have a high global warming potential (GWP).
The amount of these compounds produced around the world has been growing at a rate of more than 10 percent per year. Unless controlled, emissions of HFCs could nearly triple in the U.S. by 2030. Strong international action to reduce HFCs could reduce temperature increases by 0.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate change.
The 16 voluntary industry commitments that make up today’s announcement highlight the innovation and leadership U.S. industry is showing in meeting the challenges of addressing climate change. These actions build on 22 commitments made by industry at a White House event just a year ago.
Progress in developing alternatives has been dramatic and is likely to accelerate even more over the next few years. For example:
- Coca Cola has installed 1.5 million HFC-free cooler units in its global network.
- Dow Chemical is shifting several of its foam lines to low-GWP alternatives.
- Mission Pharmacal introduced the first zinc oxide aerosol product using a new low-GWP alternative.
- Goodman Global Inc. will soon be introducing the first package terminal air-conditioning unit that relies on a low-GWP coolant.
- Both Chemours (formerly DuPont) and Honeywell have commissioned a number of new plants to ensure adequate quantities of alternatives with lower global warming potential are available to companies worldwide.
As a critical complement to these voluntary industry actions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a series of new rules over the past year under its Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP). These rules both expanded the range of acceptable low-GWP alternatives and limited the use of high-GWP HFCs where more environmentally friendly alternatives are available.
Today’s announcement also includes a new proposed rule that would extend refrigerant managing practices (e.g., recycling) now required for ozone-depleting substances to HFCs.
Together, these voluntary and regulatory actions demonstrate both the importance of acting and the feasibility of shifting to alternatives. They also help the United States make a strong case to the international community as nations gather the first week in November to discuss phasing down HFCs globally.
Weathering the Next Storm:
September 22, 2015
By Katy Maher and Janet Peace
Infographic with key takeaways
Increased extreme weather and climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on society and on companies. While businesses are increasingly taking steps to assess risks and prepare for future climate changes, many companies face internal and external challenges that hinder efforts to move toward greater climate resilience. Building and expanding on an earlier review completed in 2013, C2ES examined how large companies are preparing for climate risk, who they are partnering with, and what is keeping them for doing more.
Download the infographic as a PDF
Increased extreme weather and climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on communities and companies alike. While some businesses are taking steps to assess and address climate risks, many face internal and external challenges to building climate resilience.
In a new report, Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resilience, released at Climate Week NYC, C2ES examined how major global companies are preparing for climate risks, and what is keeping them from doing more.
C2ES reviewed public disclosures of S&P Global 100 companies, conducted in-depth interviews, and held workshops with business leaders, government officials, academics and other stakeholders. Key findings include:
Major companies recognize and report climate risks.
We found 91 of the world’s largest 100 companies see extreme weather and other climate impacts as business risks. Business leaders see climate risks firsthand – in damaged facilities, interrupted power and water supplies, disrupted supply and distribution chains, and impacts on their employees’ lives.
Most (84 companies) discussed climate risk concerns in CDP questionnaires. Fewer companies did so in their sustainability reports (47) or financial filings (40).
More companies are assessing their vulnerabilities.
The vast majority of companies rely on existing risk management or business continuity planning to address climate risks.
Many see climate change as a “threat magnifier” that exacerbates risks they already know and understand. This lens puts climate change into a familiar business context, but companies could overlook or underestimate the threats they face.
Weathering the Next Storm:
September 22, 2015
By Katy Maher and Janet Peace
Infographic with key takeaways
As we saw once again in 2014—the warmest year globally on record—increases in extreme weather and other climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on society. Even as governments, companies and communities strengthen efforts to reduce emissions contributing to climate change, they are awakening to the urgent need to address growing climate impacts. Across the United States, governments at all levels are taking steps to strengthen climate resilience. Simultaneously, a growing number of companies are recognizing extreme weather and climate change as present or future business risks. For many companies, these rising risks extend well beyond the “fence line” to critical supply chains and infrastructure, and can be effectively managed only in partnership with the public sector.
The wildfires ravaging the Western United States are among the most damaging on record, and the season isn’t over yet. For those who have been following the region’s changing climate patterns, however, the damage is hardly surprising, and this could be only the beginning.
So far this year, 41,000 fires have burned 7.5 million acres of forests and grasslands across the United States. Only nine years have seen more acres burned in total than have already burned this year. The record is 9.8 million acres in 2006.
In Alaska, the 2015 wildfire season will likely go down as the second-biggest on record. More than 5.1 million acres – or 8,000 square miles – have burned so far this year. The most damaging – 6.6 million acres – occurred in 2004. Although this was an extreme fire season, the state was fortunate that the weather eventually cooperated. By mid-July, the fires had already charred 4.5 million acres, or 88 percent of the total.
The fires that plagued central Alaska during the late spring and early summer months are now mostly under control, as the dry summer heat gives way to cooler and wetter weather. The persistent ridge of high pressure has broken down as waves of moisture now stream in from the surrounding waters – the annual sign that autumn is quickly approaching.
As the fires die out in Alaska, the attention now turns to the lower 48. What was a sporadic, yet manageable, start to the fire season has now turned into conflagration of tragic proportions.