Climate Compass Blog

Are 2015's extreme weather events driven by climate change or El Niño?

Hurricane Patricia (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory)

Record warmth, increased precipitation, and more intense tropical cyclones.

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

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There's growing business momentum for climate action

Can you feel the momentum?

With negotiators meeting in Bonn this week and only six weeks to go until Paris, the business community is not only stepping up to the plate, but is swinging for the fences on its support climate action (Yes, it’s playoff season, so baseball is also on my mind).

This week’s announcement that 69 companies have joined the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge brings the total to 81. Many of these companies pledging to reduce their emissions, take other actions to tackle climate change and support a strong international agreement include a number of members of our own Business Environmental Leadership Council: Alcoa, Bank of America, GE, General Motors, HP, IBM, Intel and PG&E. Together the 81 companies represent a combined $3 trillion in revenue and 9 million employees.

And last week, 14 companies with a combined revenue of $1.1 trillion and 1.5 million employees signed a statement organized by C2ES in support of a Paris climate agreement, that began “Paris presents a critical opportunity to strengthen efforts globally addressing the causes and consequences of climate change, and to demonstrate action by businesses and other non-state actors. ”

But these companies aren’t just talking about climate change; they’re doing something about it. They’re making commitments to reduce their own emissions, and some are even committing to use 100% renewable energy through the RE100 campaign.  They are also working both internally and with communities and cities to increase climate resilience.

Now it’s time to take this enthusiasm and put it to work. We know there is growing support for a strong agreement in Paris, and hopefully that’s what we’ll get in December.  But that’s just the first step—we’ll need to ensure that countries live up to their commitments, and back here in the United States, we’ll be working with businesses, states, and cities to build partnerships that harness the power of the markets to reduce emissions, develop innovative financing for clean energy and strengthen our resilience to climate impacts.

We have some real momentum going now. Let’s make the most of it.

Cities are driving climate solutions

Cities and counties are increasingly emerging as climate leaders, becoming laboratories and incubators for climate solutions. These solutions take a fresh approach to emerging local challenges, and could drive progress at a larger scale.

Here are two key ways cities are stepping up:

·      Local governments are creating an invaluable knowledge base for efficiency and sustainability efforts.

To reach your destination, you have to know where you are starting from. That’s why it’s so important that cities are taking advantage of ever-improving data collection and analytical capabilities to become the providers of rich databases of energy and water use in their jurisdictions.

Philadelphia's Energy Benchmarking program requires large commercial buildings to disclose their energy use. As a result, the city has a baseline of energy usage by nearly 2,000 buildings across multiple sectors. By sharing this data with building owners and energy managers, the city is focusing more attention on saving energy. And by sharing building data online with potential tenants, the city hopes to create a market for efficient buildings.

A similar program in New York City has had promising results. The disclosure policy corresponded with energy savings of nearly 6 percent - worth more than $260 million.

New commitments to reduce HFCs show leadership

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.

Why businesses, states and cities must collaborate on climate

When it comes to dealing with climate and energy challenges, you often get the sense that the right people aren’t talking to one another.

Energy policies at different levels of government aren’t always coordinated. How one business, state or city is reducing greenhouse gases or planning for climate impacts may not be well understood or even known outside its area or industry.

The sustainability director for the city of Philadelphia, Katherine Gajewski, expressed this feeling during a recent C2ES panel discussion, saying there’s almost “no alignment” on climate and energy issues.

We hear you, Katherine. And we agree.

That’s why C2ES is launching a major new initiative – the C2ES Solutions Forum -- to bring together businesses, states, and cities to expand clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthen resilience to climate change impacts.

Over the next two years, these key players will join us in a series of public and private forums around the country to explore critical, cross-cutting issues, develop collaborative approaches, and create a set of practical solutions that we can broadly share.

As we’ve talked to business, state and city leaders across the country, it became clear that a platform for communication and collaboration on climate and energy issues was needed.