If you live in the central or eastern United States and have been outside lately, you can attest to the downright summery weather we’ve been experiencing. In fact, this March weather is not just unusual; it is unprecedented. In Detroit, there has not been a comparable spring heat wave since 1886, and that warm spell occurred a full month later (April 16-24). In Chicago, last week’s high temperatures in the low 80’s are similar to Chicago’s average high in August (82°).
Daily record highs have been falling in droves across the region, with some remarkable occurrences. One weather station in Michigan hit 85°F, breaking the previous daily record high by an unheard of 32°, which is also 48° above average. Two stations recorded low temperatures that beat the previous record high, something that experienced weatherman Jeff Masters had never seen before. This record warmth is not confined to the United States. Several Canadian cities surpassed both their all-time March and April records this week, an amazing feat considering the vast differences between March and April during a normal spring.
NOAA recently declared this winter to be the 4th warmest on record for the contiguous United States. That sort of announcement might be expected in a warming world. But what about the relatively cold winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, which featured historic blizzards in the Midwest and the East Coast? Florida had snow seven times in 2010! And while we Americans enjoyed a very mild winter this year, Europe endured its most frigid cold snap in decades. That sort of winter weather may seem counter-intuitive in a warming world; it’s the sort of weather columnist Thomas Freidman has in mind when he writes about “Global Weirding.”
NOAA reported today that this winter turned out to be the 4th warmest on record in the contiguous United States. That’s not surprising given how much the world has warmed over the past few decades. In fact, all of the seven warmest years in over 100 years of climate data have occurred since 1992, and over the past three decades, a warmer-than-average winter has been twice as likely as a cool one. These data are consistent with how scientists say global warming affects the weather. The risk of warm winters is increasing over time, but that doesn’t mean that cold winters disappear, similar to the way that loaded dice change the probability of a particular roll but don’t eliminate other possibilities.
C2ES is pleased to release our updated report, Climate Change Adaptation: What Federal Agencies are Doing, which lays out the rapidly expanding efforts across the federal government to respond to the increasing economic risks of extreme weather and climate change.
Federal agencies are under growing pressure to reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary regulations, and make certain the public is getting a good return on the tax dollars they invest in government. In the context of climate change, federal agencies are reviewing the programs they operate and the facilities and resources they manage to identify cost-effective steps to minimize their vulnerability and enhance their resilience to increased risks of extreme weather and a changing climate. With our nation having experienced a record number of extreme weather events last year, each causing economic damages exceeding $1 billion, it’s both common sense and smart fiscal policy to analyze and minimize the vulnerability of federal assets to extreme weather and climate impacts.
Learn about the new international coalition aimed reducing short-lived climate pollutants, a framework for carbon capture and storage, and how federal agencies are incorporating climate adaptation into their decision making, the start of a clean energy standard conversation, and more in C2ES's February 2012 newsletter.
With Secretary Clinton’s announcement this week of a new coalition aimed at short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and soot, the U.S. is helping to focus international attention on a critical but frequently overlooked dimension of the climate challenge. To maximize its leadership on this front, the U.S. should also take stronger steps to tackle these pollutants at home.
The new multilateral effort to address short-lived climate pollutants (also called short-lived climate forcers) is an important recognition of both the scientific and political realities that surround climate change. A growing body of scientific evidence underscores the importance of near-term action to slow the rate of climate change, which is proceeding more rapidly than scientists predicted. Because methane, black carbon and hydroflurorocarbons (HFCs) have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, reductions in these compounds will have significant near-term benefits in reducing climate change. In contrast, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Reductions in CO2 are critical to limit the amount of warming over the longer term, but have more limited impact in the near term.
Eileen Claussen Comments on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution
Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
February 16, 2012
The Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution offers a promising avenue for practical action to slow the pace of global warming.
Going after black carbon, methane and other short-lived climate forcers is no substitute for a strong, sustained effort to significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change. Nor can this new coalition take the place of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the principal forum for mobilizing the global climate response.
But targeted efforts to reduce short-lived climate pollution can moderate climate impacts in the near term while we work toward the longer-term strategies needed to rein in carbon dioxide emissions. They could prove especially critical in slowing the loss of sea ice and of glaciers that millions rely on for freshwater. Many of these measures would also protect public health by curbing local air pollution, particularly in developing countries.
At a time when comprehensive solutions to the climate challenge are not yet at hand, we need to tackle it piece by piece, pursuing practical strategies wherever we can. This coalition is a good example. If the countries launching it can deliver the resources, and succeed in recruiting others to the effort, this new initiative has the potential to make a real difference.
Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 703-516-4146
Learn more about short-lived climate forcers
There is growing recognition within the scientific and policy communities that efforts to address climate change should focus not only on substantially reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but also on near-term actions to reduce climate-warming substances with much shorter atmospheric lifetimes. These are called short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs). This two-pronged strategy would accomplish two goals:
- Reducing CO2 emissions limits the ultimate amount of warming. Because CO2 represents by far the largest source of climate-warming emissions, and because it stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, large reductions in CO2 emissions are required to meet any long-term climate stabilization goal, such as the 2°C goal set by the international community.
- Reducing emissions of short-lived climate forcers would, on the other hand, slow the near-term rate of climate change. Scientists estimate that SLCFs account for 30 to 40 percent of the human-induced warming to date. Yet as SLCFs remain in the atmosphere for periods of only a few days to a few decades, their warming effect is short-lived, and reducing their emissions would result in more immediate benefits. In addition to limiting climate impacts already underway, including important regional impacts such as glacial melting, SLCF reductions would reduce local air pollution and produce other co-benefits. The U.N. Environment Programme recently estimated that aggressive efforts to reduce SLCFs would avoid 2.4 million premature deaths by 2030 and reduce warming between now and 2040 by a half a degree.
Key Short-Lived Climate Forcers
Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years. Human-induced methane emissions result primarily from oil and gas production and distribution, coal mining, solid waste landfills, cultivation of rice and ruminant livestock, and biomass burning. Reductions in methane emissions improve local air quality by reducing ground-level ozone, which harms agriculture and human health, and is itself an SLCF.
Black carbon (BC) results from incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels. Its major sources are diesel cars and trucks, cook stoves, forest fires, and agricultural open burning.
Because of a very brief atmospheric lifetime measured in weeks, black carbon's climate effects are strongly regional. BC particles give soot its black color and, like any black surface, strongly absorb sunlight. In snow-covered areas, the deposition of black carbon darkens snow and ice, increasing their absorption of sunlight and making them melt more rapidly. BC may be responsible for a significant fraction of recent warming in the rapidly changing Arctic, contributing to the acceleration of sea ice loss. BC also is contributing to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, a major source of freshwater for millions of people in Asia, and may be driving some of the recent reduction in snowpack in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
Black carbon's short lifetime also means that its contribution to climate warming would dissipate quickly if emissions were reduced. Additionally, since BC contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, reductions in BC emissions would have significant co-benefits for human health, particularly in developing countries.
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrially produced chemicals widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning. They were developed to replace ozone-depleting substances a few decades ago, HFC-134a, the most widely used of these compounds, has an atmospheric lifetime of 13 years.
As many ozone-depleting substances are also potent greenhouse gases, their phase-out under the Montreal Protocol has contributed indirectly but very significantly to climate mitigation efforts to date. The treaty's net contribution to climate mitigation is estimated to be five to six times larger than the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period targets.
Many countries now favor working through the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs. A proposal by the United States, Mexico and Canada would require an 85 percent reduction in specified HFCs by 2033 for developed countries, and 2043 for developing countries. A proposal by the States of Micronesia and Mauritius calls for a 90 percent reduction by developed countries by 2030, but specifies no schedule for developing countries.
- Bachmann, John and Seidel, Stephen, Domestic Policies to Reduce the Near-Term Risk of Climate Change. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2013.
This paper sets out a series of cost-effective steps that the Obama Administration can implement under existing authorities that would deliver substantial near-term reductions in the rate of climate change.
- Fast Action to Reduce the Risks of Climate Change: U.S. Options to Limit Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, Feb. 2012
- Bodansky, Daniel, Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Nov. 2011.
This report looks at a number of multilateral entities that could play a role in addressing certain of the SLCFs including: the Montreal Protocol as a possible venue for HFCs and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution as a possible venue for BC, methane and other ozone-precursors.
- Bachmann, John, Black Carbon: A Science/Policy Primer, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), 2009.
This paper summarizes current knowledge on the effects of soot components—black carbon and organic particles—on climate, and identifies sources and technologies to mitigate their impacts. It also presents perspectives on the potential role of soot mitigation approaches in developing more comprehensive climate strategies.
- What is Black Carbon?, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), April 2010.
This factsheet provides an overview of black carbon as a major contributor to global climate change. It describes why reducing black carbon is a win-win scenario for both climate and health reasons.
- Read Eileen Claussen's statement on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution
- UNEP and WMO, Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone: Summary for Decision Makers, 2011
- UNEP, Near-term Climate Protection and Clean Air Benefits: Actions for Controlling Short-Lived Climate Forcers, 2011.
- Montzka, S.A., Dlugokency,E.J., Butler, J.H., Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change. Nature, 476, 43-50. August 2011.
- Shindell, D. et. al., Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security, Science, 335, 183-188 Jan 13, 2012.
- UNEP, HFCs: A Critical Link in Protecting Climate and the Ozone Layer, Nov. 2011.
- Velders, G.J.M., Fahey, D.W., Daniel, J.S., McFarland, M, Andersen, S.O., The Large Contribution of Projected HFC Emissions to Future Climate Forcing. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 106, 10949-10954. 2009
- US EPA, Report to Congress on Black Carbon: External Peer Review Draft, March 2011.
International Forums Focused on SLCFs:
- Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution
- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Remarks at the Climate and Clean Air Coalition To Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Initiative
- Briefing on Global Climate Change and Clean Air Initiative
- Arctic Council
Arctic Council, Progress Report and Recommendation for Ministers, Arctic Council Task Force on Short-lived Climate Forcers, 2011
- Montreal Protocol
- Ministerial Meeting
Co-Chairs Summary, Ministerial Meeting on Short-lived Climate Forcers, Mexico City, 2011
A common analogy to explain the link between climate change and extreme weather is gambling with “loaded dice.” For people who aren’t the gambling type but love America’s pastime, perhaps Barry Bonds’ homerun statistics would be more enlightening, or at least more entertaining. A new video from the National Center for Atmospheric Research draws an analogy between a batter on steroids and the “doping” of the atmosphere with manmade CO2.
Learn about the Climate Leadership Conference, Australia's new carbon pricing mechanism, the Make an Impact energy conservation challenge, and more in C2ES's January 2012 newsletter.