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.
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
The latest working group meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Paris produced much useful discussion, but few concrete results due to limited but vocal opposition to an amendment to phase down hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs), a fast-growing, extremely potent family of global warming gases.
Efforts to achieve an amendment at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties in November had gained considerable momentum over the past year. Four proposals for an amendment had been submitted by India, the European Union, the Island States, and North America (Mexico, Canada and the U.S.). Beyond those proposals, the African States also have voiced their clear support for an amendment and recent meetings between President Obama and his counterparts from Brazil, India, and China had produced joint statements in support of action on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.
Despite support for these proposals from nearly 100 countries, the week-long meeting in Paris this month failed to reach agreement on even starting the negotiating process through the creation of a contact group. After opposing these efforts over several meetings, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries) voiced their willingness to allow a two-stage process to move forward, but Pakistan stood firm in opposition, blocking any agreement.
In the absence of a mandate to begin negotiations, a number of sessions in Paris focused on a very useful exchange of views on issues raised by the four amendment proposals. India, China and others identified concerns about the costs and availability of alternatives to HFCs (including concerns about obstacles created by patents), the performance of these alternatives in high ambient temperatures, the time required to address flammability concerns of some key alternatives, the importance of energy efficiency, and the need for financing through the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.
All agreed to hold another working group session prior to the November Meeting of the Parties. But time is fast running out on this year’s efforts to reach agreement on an HFC phasedown amendment.
What can be done to break this stalemate?
In the past, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has sometimes played an active role convening senior representatives from key countries and driving needed compromise. During the early years of the Protocol, UNEP’s Mostafa Tolba was masterful in bringing key countries together to find a workable solution. Through informal, senior-level consultations, Tolba either forged a compromise text acceptable to all, or developed his own proposals that he would offer as a way forward.
While times have certainly changed, it may be that the moment has now arrived for Achim Steiner, UNEP’s current executive director, to actively engage with senior officials from key countries with the goal of advancing efforts at bringing HFCs into the Montreal Protocol.
National security leaders deal with deep uncertainty on a daily basis about everything from North Korea’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon to the location and timing of the next terrorist attack by non-state actors such as ISIS and al-Qaida. Security decision-makers don’t use uncertainty as an excuse to ignore security threats.
Borrowing a page from security analysts, a new report out today by renowned climate experts and high-level government advisors from China, India, the United Kingdom and the United States assesses the risks of climate change in the context of national and international security.
Photo Courtesy Xiquinho Silva, via Flkickr
St. Peter's Square
Pope Francis brings a clear and powerful moral voice to a climate change debate too often clouded by competing ideologies. He reminds us of our responsibilities to the planet and to one another, and makes plain the stakes and the urgency of stronger action.
Pope Francis’ encyclical, a top-level teaching document to more than 1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, builds on a foundation of accepted science that tells us the Earth is warming and that human activity is the primary cause.
But he is speaking to all of us, not only the Catholic faithful, about our core values – especially our duty to care for the Earth and all those who live on it.
The Earth is undoubtedly warming. What’s the cause, what are the impacts, and what can we do about it?
Below is a list of resources to learn more about the impacts of climate change, what individuals can do to help, and which policies can make a big difference
What are the Impacts of Climate Change?
The Earth is warming and will continue to do so if we keep releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This warming brings an increased risk of more frequent and intense heat waves, higher sea levels, and more severe droughts, wildfires, and downpours. To learn more:
What can you do to help?
C2ES works to help individuals learn how they can save energy at work, school, and home. Learn some of the steps you can take to make an impact:
What would make a huge difference?
Sensible policies can spur demand for clean energy and technologies and reduce carbon emissions cost-effectively. Learn about some of the options:
I have an in-law who is, shall we say, rather skeptical about climate change. Any discussion on the topic usually begins with some contrarian science theory that he heard on one of his favorite talk shows (e.g. sun spots, deep ocean magma, urban heat islands), and then devolves from there.
Why do some Americans believe the antithesis of the scientific consensus on issues like climate change?
This topic is explored by Professor Andy Hoffman of the University of Michigan in his new book, How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate. As suggested by the title, Hoffman’s thesis – a distillation of considerable research from social scientists over the past several years – is that the public’s understanding of climate change, like other historically contentious issues such as evolution, acid rain, the ozone hole, and genetically modified food – is as much a cultural issue as a scientific one.
One of the key arguments is that a scientific consensus does not necessarily reflect a “social consensus,” the latter being something that the majority of society would consider to be true. For instance, the scientific consensus that cigarettes harm human health emerged decades before the social consensus emerged.
Last year was the warmest globally in the 135 years since records have been kept. That was confirmed today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
What’s significant about one year’s temperature?
What does one record-breaking year say about climate change? Alone, very little, but 2014’s heat did not happen in isolation. It was part of a longer streak of warm years. The last 38 years have been warmer than the 20th century average. All of the top 10 warmest years have occurred since 1998. Taken together, these warm years demonstrate that the Earth’s climate has changed and continues to change. The “warm streak” also provides a strong argument against those who claim global warming somehow stopped in the last 15-20 years. Although it is true that the rate of warming since 1998 was slower than in prior decades, the longer-term picture is unequivocal. The planet is still warming up. And as we’ve discussed previously, the ups and downs that occur over a few years or even a decade should not be used to undermine (or unnecessarily embellish) the reality of the broad warming trend.
Another interesting aspect of 2014 is that the high-temperature mark was broken without much help from El Niño. El Niño events occur when a large area of the tropical Pacific Ocean maintains above-average temperatures for many consecutive months. So, when we have an El Niño, the planet has a good chance of being warm as a whole. El Niños helped make 1998, 2005, and 2010 some of the warmest years in the temperature record. However, in 2014, ocean conditions fell somewhere between neutral and a bona fide El Niño (see NOAA’s recent blog on the state of El Niño).
|Global average annual temperatures since 1880, from NOAA and climate.gov. The dark red columns represent the 10 warmest years in the record. 2014 is the warmest year in the record.|