Climate Compass Blog

Attributing extreme weather events to climate change

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.

Why ‘probably’?

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.

Tags:

Will the Paris agreement be a legally binding treaty?

Secretary of State John Kerry caused a bit of a stir with comments this week in the Financial Times suggesting that the Paris climate agreement will not be a legally binding treaty.

It appears Mr. Kerry has stepped somewhat inelegantly into a legal morass that doesn’t translate easily into sound bites.

There’s understandably a great deal of confusion about the finer legal points at issue here, in part because the term “treaty” means different things under international and U.S. law. The bottom line is that the Paris agreement will very likely be a treaty under international law, but probably not a treaty as that term is generally understood in the U.S. context.

To elaborate a bit (for a fuller explanation see an excellent legal analysis authored for us by Arizona State University legal scholar Dan Bodansky):

Significant progress toward limiting HFCs under the Montreal Protocol

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.

New business models plus public support can boost investment in EV charging

More than 300,000 electric vehicles (EVs) are already on the road in the United States, but to ramp up adoption of this technology, consumers will need more access to charging beyond their home or office.

C2ES has identified business models that, combined with near-term public support, could boost investment in publicly available EV charging and expand the environmental benefits of EVs.

The business models are detailed in a new C2ES publication, Strategic Planning to Implement Publicly Available EV Charging Stations: A Guide for Businesses and Policymakers. The guide draws on research from a two-year initiative in partnership with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) to explore innovative financing mechanisms aimed at accelerating the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles and fueling infrastructure.

This figure illustrates the business challenge facing charging service providers presently. Over the expected life of the charging equipment, the direct revenue for the provision of charging services is less than the cost of owning and operating the charging station.

Putting the UNFCCC to the test

There’s a theory I’ve been advancing for some time and the upcoming Paris climate talks will, for the first time, put it to a test.

The issue is whether the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is capable of delivering. Established nearly a quarter century ago as the global forum for countries to take on climate change, the UNFCCC enjoys universal participation – and is universally deemed a disappointment.

The harshest assessments came in the wake of the ill-fated Copenhagen conference in 2009, when many quietly, and some openly, began urging governments to abandon the UNFCCC as a place worth investing any effort or hope.

But governments chose to stick with it. The following year, in Cancún, they hammered out an agreement through 2020. And the year after that, in Durban, they launched a new round of negotiations culminating next month in Paris. The aim: a new global agreement beyond 2020.