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Uganda Climate Leader Vanessa Nakate Joins Fight Against German Coal Mine

By Jon Queally | Common Dreams 

Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, a key leader of the international youth climate movement, was in Germany on Saturday where she joined opponents of the country’s largest lignite coal mine to denounce its proposed expansion in the face of the ever-growing threat of fossil fuels and planet-heating emissions.

“With the expansion of this coal mine, it means people’s cultures will be destroyed, people’s traditions, people’s histories of this place,” she said of the mining operation known as Garzweiler and plans to destroy the nearby village of Luetzerath to allow for the owners, German utility giant RWE, to expand its already vast footprint.

“I came to see how much destruction is being done in Luetzerath with the coal mine and to see how much of this destruction is not just affecting the people in this place, but also the people in my country, Uganda,” Nakate said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Now in her mid-twenties, Nakate began a local climate strike in Uganda as a high school student during her teen years and, like Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, has leveraged her voice to urge leaders across the world to take much bolder action on the planetary emergency. Last month, as Common Dreams reported, Nakate and Thunberg teamed up to deliver a scathing rebuke to world leaders who they accused of utter failure.

“Our leaders are lost, and our planet is damaged,” said Nakate during her keynote address at the opening of the three-day Youth4Climate summit in Milan.

“Why is it so easy for leaders to open up new coal power plants, construct oil pipelines, and extract gas—which is all destroying our climate,” she said, “but so hard for them to acknowledge that loss and damage are here with us now?”

In conversation with local activists not far from the mine on Saturday, Nakate explained that while the challenges of the Global South are often ignored by the major newspapers, climate activists around the world—including across her country and the African continent—are working incredibly hard to change that reality.

Witnessing the German mine first-hand, Nakate told AP it was “really disturbing to see how much destruction is taking place.”

Leonie Bremer, a local opponent of the operation, added that it was “absurd that my friend Vanessa has to come here from Uganda to show people that what we are doing here in Germany, that what RWE is doing here, that’s affecting countries like Uganda.”


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‘Speeding in the Wrong Direction,’ Fossil Fuel Demand Tops Pre-Pandemic Levels

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams 

Climate campaigners and energy experts are responding to a recent rise in fossil fuel demand by reiterating the necessity of rapidly transitioning to renewable sources like solar and wind, with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg warning Monday that “we are still speeding in the wrong direction.”

Thunberg yet again took aim at world leaders’ empty promises to combat the climate emergency, including through policies and investments provoked by the Covid-19 pandemic. As she put it: “So much for ‘building back better’ and a ‘green recovery.'”

The 18-year-old—whose solo protests outside the Swedish Parliament sparked the global youth-led Fridays for Future movement—was reacting on Twitter to new reporting from Reuters that demand for coal and gas has topped pre-coronavirus highs, “with oil not far behind, dealing a setback to hopes the pandemic would spur a faster transition to clean energy.”

Reuters highlighted figures from International Energy Agency (IEA), the global energy watchdog which made clear in May that countries’ current climate pledges are deeply inadequate and allowing new fossil fuel projects is incompatible with the global goal to dramatically cut planet-heating pollution.

Three-quarters of the world’s total energy demand is still met by fossil fuels and both coal and gas demand are projected to surpass 2019 levels, according to the IEA. Coal demand is expected to rise 4.5% this year and gas demand is on track to increase 3.2%, after falling 1.9% last year.

As the news agency reported:

Global natural gas shortages, record gas and coal prices, a power crunch in China, and a three-year high on oil prices all tell one story—demand for energy has roared back and the world still needs fossil fuels to meet most of those energy needs.

“The demand fall during the pandemic was entirely linked to governments’ decision to restrict movements and had nothing to do with the energy transition,” Cuneyt Kazokoglu, head of oil demand analysis at FGE told Reuters.

“The energy transition and decarbonization are decade-long strategies and do not happen overnight.”

Fatih Birol, head of the Paris-based IEA, has recently not only agreed with the consultant’s analysis but also made a case for transitioning power systems.

Faced with a steep rise in European gas prices last month, Birol said in a statement that “it is inaccurate and misleading to lay the responsibility at the door of the clean energy transition.”

“Today’s situation is a reminder to governments, especially as we seek to accelerate clean energy transitions, of the importance of secure and affordable energy supplies—particularly for the most vulnerable people in our societies,” Birol added. “Well-managed clean energy transitions are a solution to the issues that we are seeing in gas and electricity markets today—not the cause of them.”

“Well-managed clean energy transitions are a solution to the issues that we are seeing in gas and electricity markets today—not the cause of them.”
—Fatih Birol, IEA

Reporting last week on the rising demand for gas and its impact on electricity bills and factories, The New York Times noted that “growing concerns about climate change, expressed by shareholders or via court cases like the decision by a Dutch court in May ordering Royal Dutch Shell to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, may make some companies hesitate to invest in new multibillion-dollar fossil fuel projects.”

While one expert at the consultancy Rystad Energy suggested that such hesitancy could lead to “more volatile” markets, the Times added that a shift to power from clean sources like wind and solar eventually “may help protect consumers from the tyranny of the global commodity markets,” though “the events of this fall suggest that goal is some distance away.”

In response to that report, some experts called for speeding up the transition to clean energy and storage rather than clinging to gas. The Times coverage came as youth climate leaders, including Thunberg and Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, marched through Milan, Italy.

That march followed the United Nations-sponsored Youth4Climate summit that featured speeches from Thunberg and Nakate and was held to craft proposals for attendees of the U.N. conference known as COP 26, set to begin in Glasgow, Scotland later this month.

“‘Build back better.’ Blah blah blah,” Thunberg said in her address. “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words—words that sound great but so far have led to no action. Our hopes and dreams drowned in their empty words and promises.”


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‘Coal Is Dead’: New Global Pact Announced After China’s Bold Step

Seven countries on Friday pledged they would cease building new coal power plants. (Photo: 123RF)

By Julia Conley | Common Dreams

Just two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the world’s largest coal producer would stop funding overseas coal projects, seven countries on Friday pledged they would also cease building new coal power plants—the latest sign one of the world’s dirtiest energy sources is on its way out.

“I call on more countries to come forward and sign up to this compact ahead of COP26, and play their part to limit global warming and keep 1.5 degrees alive.” —Alok Sharma, COP26

Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Montenegro, Sri Lanka, and the U.K. signed the No New Coal agreement at the U.N. High-level Dialogue on Energy in New York, where officials this week aimed to gather more support for the pact at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.

“Development of new coal-fired power plants must stop this year to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Dan Jørgensen, the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy, and Utilities, in a statement. “That is why I am thrilled that we stand together with fellow ambitious countries with the aim to end construction of new coal-fired power plants. This energy compact is an important step on the way for a complete phase-out of coal power and consigning coal power to history at COP26. I encourage all governments to join this very important initiative.”

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), all emissions from coal power plants—the world’s largest source of carbon emissions—must be eliminated by 2040 in order to keep the heating of the planet below 1.5C.

The No New Coal agreement requires countries to immediately stop approving permits and end new construction of “unabated coal-fired power generation projects by the end of the year,” according to Bloomberg.

Noting that the seven countries signed on to the pact following Xi’s announcement—which is expected to eliminate 40 gigawatts of new coal power and avoid as much as 235 million tons of carbon emissions—the climate action group 350.org said the agreement is a clear sign that “coal is dead.”

“China’s decision is pretty much the end of public financing for coal,” Chris Littlecott, associate director of fossil-fuel transition at climate think tank E3G, told Bloomberg.

The No New Coal agreement comes four years after more than 40 countries signed onto the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which requires a commitment to phase out existing coal operations as soon as 2030 as well as a pledge to halt construction of new plants.

Alok Sharma, U.K. lawmakers and president of COP26, applauded the countries’ “bold leadership to cancel coal through the No New Coal Power Compact, demonstrating the positive impact that countries working closely together can have in generating climate action,” noting that transitioning away from coal and towards renewable energy, technology has increasingly been shown to be cost-effective as well as vital for the survival of the planet.

“Consigning coal to history is crucial to avoiding catastrophic climate change,” said Sharma. “The cost of clean renewable technologies continues to fall, making coal expensive and uncompetitive. I call on more countries to come forward and sign up to this compact ahead of COP26, and play their part to limit global warming and keep 1.5 degrees alive.”

The No New Coal initiative, along with China’s announcement, has put countries around the world “on notice,” Littlecott said.

“Governments can have confidence in committing to no new coal,” Littlecott said. “The No New Coal Power Compact provides a space for them to step forward together.”

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Arctic Sea Ice Hits Its Minimum Extent for the Year – 2 NASA Scientists Explain What’s Driving the Overall Decline

September marks the end of the summer sea ice melt season and the Arctic sea ice minimum when sea ice over the Northern Hemisphere ocean reaches its lowest extent of the year.

For ship captains hoping to navigate across the Arctic, this is typically their best chance to do it, especially in more recent years. Sea ice cover there has dropped by roughly half since the 1980s as a direct result of increased carbon dioxide from human activities.

As NASA scientists, we analyze the causes and consequences of sea ice change. In 2021, the Arctic’s sea ice cover reached its minimum extent on Sept. 16. While it wasn’t a record low, a look back through the melt season offers some insight into the relentless decline of Arctic sea ice in the face of climate change.

The Arctic is heating up

In recent years, Arctic sea ice levels have been at their lowest since at least 1850 for the annual mean and in at least 1,000 years for late summer, according to the latest climate assessment from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC concluded that “the Arctic is likely to be practically sea ice-free in September at least once before 2050.”

As the Arctic’s bright ice is replaced by a darker open ocean surface, less of the sun’s radiation is reflected back to space, driving additional heating and ice loss. This albedo feedback loop is just one of several reasons why the Arctic is warming about three times faster than the planet as a whole.

What happened to the sea ice in 2021?

The stage for this year’s sea ice minimum was set last winter. The Arctic experienced an anomalous high-pressure system and strong clockwise winds, driving the thickest, oldest sea ice of the Central Arctic into the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska. Sea ice scientists were taking note.

Summer melt began in earnest in May, a month that also featured multiple cyclones entering the Arctic. This increased sea ice drift but also kept temperatures relatively low, limiting the amount of melt.

The extent and pace of melting increased significantly in June, which featured a predominant low-pressure system and temperatures that were a few degrees higher than average.

By the beginning of July, conditions were tracking very close to the record low set in 2012, but the rate of decline slowed considerably during the second half of the month. Cyclones entering the Arctic from Siberia generated counterclockwise winds and ice drifts. This counterclockwise ice circulation pattern generally reduces the amount of sea ice moving out of the Arctic through the Fram Strait, east of Greenland. This likely contributed to the record low summer sea ice conditions observed in the Greenland Sea.

This ice circulation pattern also increased ice export out of the Laptev Sea, off Siberia, helping create a new record low for early summer ice area in that region. The low-pressure system also increased cloudiness over the Arctic. Clouds generally block incoming solar radiation, reducing sea ice melt, but they can also trap heat lost from the surface, so their impact on sea ice melt can be a mixed bag.

In August, sea ice decline slowed considerably, with warm conditions prevailing along the Siberian coast, but cooler temperatures north of Alaska. The Northern Sea Route – which Russia has been promoting as a global shipping route as the planet warms – was actually blocked with ice for the first time since 2008, although ice breaker-supported transits were still very much possible.

At this stage of the melt season, the sea ice pack is at its weakest and is highly responsive to the weather conditions of a given day or week. Subtle shifts can have big impacts. Freak end-of-summer weather events have been linked to the record low sea ice years of 2007 and 2012. “The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012” is an interesting example.

There’s an ongoing debate over the effect they have. However, scientists are broadly in agreement that specific storms may not have actually played that big a role in driving the record lows in those years – things are never that straightforward when it comes to weather and sea ice.

Map showing sea ice reach
Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent on Sept. 16, 2021.
NASA Earth Observatory/NSIDC

The Arctic sea ice reached its 2021 minimum extent on Sept. 16, coming in at 4.72 million square miles (1.82 million square kilometers), the 12th lowest on record.

So, the 2021 melt season was, despite all the stops and starts, pretty typical for our new Arctic, with the September minimum ending up slightly higher than what we would have expected from the long-term downward trend. But various new record lows were set in other months and regions of the Arctic.

As the hours of sunlight dwindle over the coming weeks and temperatures drop, Arctic sea ice will start to refreeze. The ice pack will thicken and expand as the surrounding ocean surface temperatures drop toward the freezing point, releasing a lot of the heat that had been absorbed and stored through summer.

Map of the Arctic showing areas freezing later in the season, particularly north of Alaska and in the Kara Sea off Russia
Where Arctic sea ice is forming later in the season.
Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

This refreeze has started later in recent years, shifting into October and even November. The more heat the ocean gains during summer, the more heat needs to be lost before ice can begin to form again. Because of this, some of the biggest warming signals are actually observed in fall, despite all the attention given to summer ice losses.

There’s still a lot we don’t know

For people living and working in the high Arctic, understanding local ice conditions on a given day or week is what really matters. And predicting Arctic sea ice at these more local scales is even more challenging.

As 2021 demonstrated, sea ice is highly dynamic – it moves and melts in response to the weather patterns of the day. Think how hard it is for forecasters to predict the weather where you live, with a good understanding of weather systems and many observations available, compared to the Arctic, where few direct observations exist.

Weather events can also trigger local feedback loops. A freak heatwave, for example, can trigger ice melt and further warming. Winds and ocean currents also break up and spread the ice out across the ocean, where it can be more prone to melt.

Sea ice scientists are hard at work trying to understand these various processes and improve our predictive models. A key missing part of the puzzle for understanding sea ice loss in ice thickness.

Thickness times area equals volume. Like area, sea ice thickness is thought to have halved since the 1980s, meaning today’s Arctic ice pack is only about a quarter of the volume it was just a few decades ago. For those hoping to navigate the Arctic Ocean, knowing the thickness of any ice they may encounter is crucial. Sea ice thickness is much harder to measure consistently from space. However, new technologies, like ICESat-2, are providing key breakthroughs.

Despite all this uncertainty, it’s looking pretty likely that summer ice-free Arctic conditions are not too far away. The good news is that the path forward is still largely dependent on future emissions, and there is still no evidence the planet has passed a tipping point of sea ice loss, meaning humans are still very much in the driver’s seat.The Conversation

By Alek Petty, Associate Research Scientist in polar sea ice variability, NASA and Linette Boisvert, Sea Ice Scientist and Deputy Project Scientist for NASA’s Operation IceBridge, NASA

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Rainfall Observed at Peak of Greenland Ice Sheet for First Time on Record

Greenlandic ice cap melting glacier with tundra aerial view, near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. (Photo: Vadim Nefedov /Ambeon via 123RF)

By Jake Johnson | Common Dreams

This past weekend, researchers at the National Science Foundation’s Summit Station observed rainfall at the peak of Greenland’s rapidly melting ice sheet for the first time on record—an event-driven by warming temperatures.

“It’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”
—Ted Scambos, the University of Colorado at Boulder

“This was the third time in less than a decade, and the latest date in the year on record, that the National Science Foundation’s Summit Station had above-freezing temperatures and wet snow,” the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said in a press release earlier this week. “There is no previous report of rainfall at this location (72.58°N 38.46°W), which reaches 3,216 meters (10,551 feet) in elevation.”

Temperatures at the summit of the ice sheet rose above freezing at around 5:00 am local time on Saturday, “and the main event began at the same time,” NSIDC noted. “For the next several hours, rain fell and water droplets were seen on surfaces near the camp as reported by on-station observers.”

The anomalous rainfall at the ice sheet’s peak marked the start of a three-day period during which “above-freezing temperatures and rainfall were widespread to the south and west of Greenland… with exceptional readings from several remote weather stations in the area,” said NSIDC. “Total rainfall on the ice sheet was 7 billion tons.”

The warmer-than-usual temperatures caused significant melting of the ice sheet, with melt extent peaking at 337,000 square miles on August 14.

“Warm conditions and the late-season timing of the three-day melt event coupled with the rainfall led to both high melting and high runoff volumes to the ocean,” NSIDC observed. “On August 15, 2021, the surface mass lost was seven times above the mid-August average… At this point in the season, large areas of bare ice exist along much of the southwestern and northern coastal areas, with no ability to absorb the melt or rainfall. Therefore, the accumulated water on the surface flows downhill and eventually into the ocean.”

Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told the Washington Post on Thursday that while the three-day melting event “by itself does not have a huge impact,” it is “indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland.”

“Like the heatwave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change,” said Scambos. “Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing. We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland—and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

In a landmark report released earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “it is very likely that human influence has contributed to the observed surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet over the past two decades.”

In July—which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently deemed the hottest month ever recorded on Earth—a heatwave in Greenland caused enough melting to cover the entire state of Florida with two inches of water.

“What is going on is not simply a warm decade or two in a wandering climate pattern,” Scambos told CNN in response to the rainfall at the ice sheet’s summit. “This is unprecedented.”


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IPCC climate report: Profound Changes are Underway in Earth’s Oceans and Ice – A Lead Author Explains What the Warnings Mean

Humans are unequivocally warming the planet, and that’s triggering rapid changes in the atmosphere, oceans, and polar regions, and increasingly extreme weather around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns in a new report.

The IPCC released the first part of its much

Sixth Assessment Report on Aug. 9, 2021. In it, 234 scientists from around the globe summarized the current climate research on how the Earth is changing as temperatures rise and what those changes will mean for the future.

We asked climate scientist Robert Kopp, a lead author of the chapter on Earth’s oceans, ice, and sea-level rise, about the profound changes underway.

What are the IPCC report’s most important overall messages in your view?

At the most basic level, the facts about climate change have been clear for a long time, with the evidence just continuing to grow.

As a result of human activities, the planet is changing at a rate unprecedented for at least thousands of years. These changes are affecting every area of the planet.

Line chart showing influence over time of different sources of warming. Only human-caused emissions are on the same trajectory as the actual temperature rise.

Humans produce large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through fossil fuel burning, agriculture, deforestation, and decomposing waste. IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

While some of the changes will be irreversible for millennia, some can be slowed and others reversed through strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

But time is running out to meet the ambitious goal laid out in the 2015 international Paris Agreement to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels (2 C equals 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Doing so requires getting global carbon dioxide emissions on a downward course that reaches net-zero around or before 2050.

What are scientists most concerned about right now when it comes to the oceans and polar regions?

Global sea level has been rising at an accelerating rate since about 1970, and over the last century, it has risen more than in any century in at least 3,000 years.

In the years since the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2013 and the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate in 2018, the evidence for accelerating ice sheet loss has become clearer.

Over the last decade, the global average sea level has risen at a rate of about 4 millimeters per year (1.5 inches per decade). This increase is due to two main factors: the melting of ice in mountain glaciers and at the poles, and the expansion of water in the ocean as it takes up the heat.

Ice sheets in particular are primarily responsible for the increase in the rate of sea-level rise since the 1990s. There is clear evidence tying the melting of glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet, as well as ocean warming, to human influence. Sea level rise is leading to substantial impacts on coastal communities, including a near-doubling in the frequency of coastal flooding since the 1960s in many sites around the world.

Since the previous reports, scientists have made substantial advances in modeling the behavior of ice sheets. At the same time, we’ve been learning more about ice sheet physics, including recognizing the potential ways ice sheets can become destabilized. We don’t well understand the potential speed of these changes, but they have the potential to lead to much more rapid ice sheet loss if greenhouse gas emissions grow unchecked.

These advances confirm that the sea level is going to continue to rise for many centuries to come, creating an escalating threat for coastal communities.

Sea level change through 2050 is largely locked in: Regardless of how quickly nations are able to lower emissions, the world is likely looking at about 15 to 30 centimeters (6 to 12 inches) of global average sea-level rise through the middle of the century.

But beyond 2050, sea-level projections become increasingly sensitive to the world’s emissions choices. If countries continue on their current paths, with greenhouse gas emissions likely to bring 3-4 C of warming (5.4-7.2 F) by 2100, the planet will be looking at a most likely sea-level rise of about 0.7 meters (a bit over 2 feet). A 2 C (3.6 F) warmer world, consistent with the Paris Agreement, would see lower sea-level rise, most likely about half a meter (about 1.6 feet) by 2100.

Line charts showing sea level rise accelerating the most in higher-impact scenarios.

The IPCC’s projections for global average sea-level rise in meters with higher-impact pathways and the level of greenhouse gas emissions. IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

What’s more, the more the world limits its greenhouse gas emissions, the lower the chance of triggering instabilities in the polar ice sheets that are challenging to model but could substantially increase sea-level rise.

Under the most extreme emissions scenario, we considered, we could not rule out rapid ice sheet loss leading to sea level rise approaching 2 meters (7 feet) by the end of this century.

Fortunately, if the world limits warming to well below 2 C, it should take many centuries for sea-level rise to exceed 2 meters – a far more manageable situation.

Are the oceans or ice nearing any tipping points?

“Tipping point” is a vague term used in many different ways by different people. The IPCC defines tipping points as “critical thresholds beyond which a system reorganizes, in a way that is very fast or irreversible” – for example, a temperature rise beyond which climate dynamics commit an ice sheet to massive loss.

Because the term is so vague, the IPCC generally focuses on characteristics of changes in a system – for example, whether a system might change abruptly or irreversibly – rather than whether it fits the strict dynamic definition of a “tipping point.”

One example of a system that might undergo abrupt changes in the large-scale pattern of ocean circulation is known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, of which the Gulf Stream is part. Paleoclimate evidence tells us that AMOC has changed rapidly in the past, and we expect that AMOC will weaken over this century. If AMOC were to collapse, it would make Europe warm more slowly, increase sea-level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast, and shift storm tracks and monsoons. However, most evidence indicates that such a collapse will not happen in this century.

Map showing ocean current now and in the future, slower

The Gulf Stream is part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. A slowdown would affect the temperature in Europe and sea-level rise along the U.S. East Coast. IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

There is mixed evidence for abrupt changes in the polar ice sheets, but clear evidence that changes in the ice sheets can be locked in for centuries and millennia.

If the world succeeds in limiting warming to 1.5 C (2.7 F), we expect to see about 2-3 meters (7-10 feet) of sea-level rise over the next 2,000 years; if the planet continues to warm and reaches a 5 C (9 F) increase, we expect to see about 20 meters (70 feet) over the next 2,000 years.

Some people also discuss summer Arctic sea ice – which has undergone substantial declines over the last 40 years and is now smaller than at any time in the past millennium – as a system with a “tipping point.” However, the science is pretty clear that there is no critical threshold in this system. Rather, the summer Arctic sea ice area decreases roughly in proportion to the increase in global temperature, and if the temperature were stabilized, we would expect the sea ice area to stabilize also.

What do scientists know now about hurricanes that they didn’t realize when the last report was written?

Since the last IPCC assessment report in 2013, there has been increasing evidence that hurricanes have grown more intense, and intensified more rapidly than they did 40 years ago. There’s also evidence that hurricanes in the U.S. are moving more slowly, leading to increased rainfall.

However, it’s not clear that this is due to the effects of greenhouse gases – reductions in particulate pollution have also had important effects.

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The clearest effect of global warming is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water, leading to more extreme rainfall, like that seen during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Looking forward, we expect to see hurricane winds and hurricane rains continue to increase. It’s still unclear how the overall number of hurricanes will change.

The report involved 234 scientists, and then 195 governments had to agree on the summary for policymakers. Does that broad range of views affect the outcome?

When you’re writing a report like this, a key goal for scientists is to accurately capture points of both scientific agreement and scientific disagreement.

For example, with respect to ice sheet changes, there are certain processes on which there is broad agreement and other processes where the science is still emerging and there are strong, discordant views. Yet knowing about these processes may be crucially important for decision-makers trying to manage risk.

That’s why, for example, we talk not only about most likely outcomes, but also about outcomes where the likelihood is low or as-yet-unknown, but the potential impacts are large.

A person walks away from a red flag waving out on the ice.

A scientist plants a flag to identify a GPS position on Greenland’s Helheim Glacier in 2019. The glacier had shrunk about 6 miles (10 kilometers) since scientists visited in 2005. AP Photo/Felipe Dana

The IPCC uses a transparent process to produce its report – the authors have had to respond to over 50,000 review comments over the three years we’ve spent writing it. The governments also weigh-in, having to approve every line of a concise Summary for Policy Makers that accurately reflects the underlying assessment – oftentimes making it clearer in the process.

I’m very pleased that, as with past reports, every participating government has signed off on a summary that accurately reports the current state of climate science.


Robert Kopp, Professor, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, and Director, Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers University

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‘A Day of Shame’: Australia Lobbying Thwarts Push to List Great Barrier Reef as Endangered

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. (Photo: Jimmy Lopes/Surpass via 123RF)

By Jake Johnson | Common Dreams

An intense lobbying campaign by the pro-fossil fuel Australian government succeeded Friday in keeping the Great Barrier Reef off a list of World Heritage Sites considered “in danger,” despite experts’ warnings that the biodiverse ecosystem is increasingly imperiled by the global climate emergency.

“The Great Barrier Reef is in danger, and trying to hide the facts won’t change a thing.”
—Lesley Hughes, Climate Council

The 21-nation World Heritage Committee—organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—voted down a push to categorize the Great Barrier Reef as endangered, an effort that the right-wing Australian government fervently opposed with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other oil-friendly countries.

Instead of designating the Reef as “in danger,” the World Heritage Committee on Friday instructed the government of Australia to produce a progress report on the structure’s condition by February 2022.

David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia, said in a statement that Friday’s vote “is a victory for one of the most cynical lobbying efforts in recent history.”

“Under the UNESCO treaty, the Australian government promised the world it would do its utmost to protect the Reef—instead it has done its utmost to hide the truth,” said Ritter. “This is not an achievement—it is a day of shame for the Australian government.”

Lesley Hughes, a spokesperson for Climate Council, an Australia-based advocacy organization, slammed the government lobbying blitz and said lawmakers “must stop censoring science.”

“The science is clear: climate change is accelerating and is the single, greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. In the past five years it has been repeatedly and severely damaged by three marine heatwaves,” said Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University in Sydney. “Until we see credible climate action, and the phasing out of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, this situation will worsen, not improve. The Great Barrier Reef is in danger, and trying to hide the facts won’t change a thing.”

Home to hundreds of types of coral and more than 1,000 species of fish, the Great Barrier Reef has been badly damaged in recent years by mass coral bleaching fueled by warming ocean temperatures—which is why scientists have been pushing Australia and the international community to formally recognize the system as endangered.

“Everyone knows the climate crisis is threatening the Reef. Delay is denial, and a sop to fossil fuels.”
—Sarah Hanson-Young, Australian Greens

The World Heritage Committee’s vote Friday came a month after UNESCO issued a report (pdf) warning that the Great Barrier Reef’s condition has “further deteriorated from poor to very poor” due to human-caused climate change. The U.N. body advised that the reef be listed among the world’s “in danger” sites—a call endorsed by scientists around the world.

UNESCO’s recommendation sparked a furious backlash from the Australian government, which launched an aggressive lobbying push to prevent the listing.

As The Guardian reported, “More than a dozen ambassadors flew from Canberra to Cairns, Queensland, for a snorkeling trip on the reef,” and “Australia’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, was dispatched to Europe on a RAAF diplomatic jet to visit Budapest, Madrid, Sarajevo, Paris, Oman, and the Maldives.”

“Australia—a major producer and exporter of coal and gas—initially won support from oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both members of the committee, to delay any decision on the danger listing until at least 2023,” the outlet noted. “But after an interjection from Norway, the committee decided instead the reef’s health would be considered again at next year’s meeting.”

Sarah Hanson-Young, an Australian senator with the Greens Party, warned following Friday’s vote that “the decision to delay the ‘in danger’ listing for the Great Barrier Reef is ridiculous and will cost Australia in the long run.”

“Everyone knows the climate crisis is threatening the Reef,” she added. “Delay is denial, and a sop to fossil fuels.”


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IEA Warns CO2 Emissions Set to Climb to ‘All-Time High’ as Rich Nations Skimp on Clean Energy

By Jake Johnson | Common Dreams

The International Energy Agency warned Tuesday that global carbon dioxide emissions are on track to soar to record levels in 2023—and continue rising thereafter—as governments fail to make adequate investments in green energy and end their dedication to planet-warming fossil fuels.

In a new report, IEA estimates that of the $16 trillion world governments have spent to prop up their economies during the coronavirus crisis, just 2% of that total has gone toward clean energy development.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, slammed what he characterized as the hypocrisy of rich governments that promised a green recovery from the pandemic but have thus far refused “to put their money where their mouth is.” Research published last month revealed that between January 2020 and March 2021, the governments of wealthy G7 nations poured tens of billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than renewable energy.

On top of being “far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century,” Birol said that the money allocated to green energy measures thus far is “not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record.”

“Governments need to increase spending and policy action rapidly to meet the commitments they made in Paris in 2015—including the vital provision of financing by advanced economies to the developed world,” Birol continued. “But they must then go even further by leading clean energy investment and deployment to much greater heights beyond the recovery period in order to shift the world onto a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, which is narrow but still achievable—if we act now.”

The IEA’s analysis—which examines roughly 800 policies implemented throughout the coronavirus crisis by more than 50 countries—finds that “full and timely implementation” of the economic recovery measures would result in CO2 emissions surging to an “all-time high” in 2023 and continuing to rise in the following years, more than wiping out the pandemic-related emissions drop.

“While this trajectory is 800 million tonnes lower in 2023 than it would have been without any sustainable recovery efforts,” the analysis notes, “it is nonetheless 3,500 million tonnes above” what’s necessary to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Paris-based agency’s latest findings come just months after it said world governments must immediately halt all new investments in oil and gas projects in order to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, which is wreaking havoc across the globe in the form of catastrophic flooding, deadly heatwavesdrought, and wildfires.

Birol plans to present the IEA’s new report to the leaders of G20 nations, which—according to research published Tuesday morning—have handed more than $3.3 trillion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris climate accord was finalized in 2015.

“The action taken by these countries up until this point is a far cry from what is needed,” Antha Williams, the environment lead at Bloomberg Philanthropies, which helped conduct the subsidy research, told The Guardian. “As a host of climate emergencies intensify around the world, the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure is nothing short of reckless. We need more than just words—we need action.”


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‘A False Solution’: 500+ Groups Urge US, Canadian Leaders to Reject Carbon Capture

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

More than 500 organizations on Monday pressured political leaders in the United States and Canada to reject carbon capture as “a false solution” that has become “a dangerous distraction driven by the same big polluters who created the climate emergency.”

“It’s time for decision-makers to abandon the dirty, dangerous myth of CCS.”
—500+ groups

The message about carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) were not only shared as letters—directed at President Joe Biden (pdf), congressional leaders, U.S. Department of Energy and White House officials, as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (pdf) and key Canadian ministers—but also published as full-page advertisements (pdf) in The Washington Post and Ottawa’s Hill Times.

The groups’ ad makes the case that CCS “is unnecessary,” “does not work,” and “will do little to reduce industrial emissions.” The practice “makes dirty energy even more dangerous for frontline communities” and “imposes even more risks on communities from CO2 pipelines and storage.” It also benefits polluters, who use CSS “to justify business-as-usual operations.”

“Carbon capture is not a climate solution,” says the letter. “To the contrary, investing in carbon capture delays the needed transition away from fossil fuels and other combustible energy sources, and poses significant new environmental, health, and safety risks, particularly to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities already overburdened by industrial pollution, dispossession, and the impacts of climate change.”

In other words, the letter says, “deploying CCS at any climate-relevant scale, in the short timeframe we have to avert climate catastrophe, without posing substantial risks to communities on the frontlines of the buildout, is a pipe dream.”

“It’s time for decision-makers to abandon the dirty, dangerous myth of CCS,” declares the ad. “We call on you to: Stop subsidizing CCS. Stop permitting CCS. Stop using CCS to justify climate inaction. And don’t pretend you’re a climate leader if CCS is part of your climate plan.”

The groups argue that “instead of capturing carbon to pump it back underground, we should keep fossil fuels in the ground in the first place. And instead of bankrolling CCS, public funds should be boosting sustainable, job-creating solutions to the climate crisis, for fossil-dependent workers and communities: phasing out oil, gas, and coal; investing in energy efficiency and non-combustion renewable energy sources, and protecting forests and other ecosystems that naturally capture and store carbon.”

Nikki Reisch, director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law, one of the group signatories, echoed that sentiment in a statement.

“CCS is life support for the fossil fuel industry—and a death sentence for the planet,” she said. “We need to ditch fossil fuels, not ‘fix’ them with technologies that are dangerous, costly, unproven at scale, and at odds with environmental justice.”

“Rather than bankroll the buildout of massive and risky CCS infrastructure on top of polluting industries,” Reisch continued, “policymakers should finance the future, by replacing fossil fuels with renewables and creating sustainable jobs.”

The letter comes as White House and congressional leaders are sorting out federal infrastructure and jobs legislation, and governments of countries across the globe who have signed on to the Paris agreement—including those of the United States and Canada—are preparing for a November climate summit.

Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, another signatory, pointed out that “the U.S. government has already spent billions of dollars on carbon capture to no end.” Demanding congressional action, he added that “continuing to do so is throwing good money after bad; diverting resources that could be put to use actually confronting our climate crisis.”

Julia Levin, senior Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defense Canada, similarly said that her country’s government “should not use any kind of financial support or tax incentive to prop up false climate solutions that only serve to delay the necessary transition off of fossil fuels. Instead, we should be focused on real climate solutions including renewable energy and energy efficiency that are job-creating, safe, affordable, and ready to be deployed.”

Other signatories to the letter and ad include 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity, Climate Justice Alliance, Friends of the Earth U.S., Global Witness, Greenpeace USA, Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, Indigenous Environmental Network, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), Oil Change International, and Sierra Club Canada Foundation.

“The climate crisis is upon us, it’s impacting every facet of our lives as well as taking far too many lives in its perilous process,” said Anthony Rogers Wright, director of environmental justice at NYLPI.

Calling out government leaders who have so far ignored warnings about “false solutions” like carbon capture, he added that “it must, therefore, be stated lucidly that support for CCS is an exacerbation of environmental racism, an affront on Tribal/Indigenous sovereignty, and nothing more than a perverse lifeline to industries that profit off of death and calamity.”


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‘Future Belongs to Renewable Energy’: Greenland Ditches All Oil Drilling

By Andrea Germanos | Common Dreams

Greenland announced Thursday a halt on new oil and gas exploration, citing climate and other environmental impacts.

“Great news!” responded the Center for International Environmental Law.

The government of Greenland, an autonomous Danish-dependent territory, framed the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels.

“The future does not lie in oil. The future belongs to renewable energy, and in that respect, we have much more to gain,” the Greenland government, Naalakkersuisut, said in a statement.

A government statement posted in English points to federal geological data showing there could be 18 billion barrels of oil off the country’s west coast as well as likely “large deposits” off the island’s east coast.

“However,” the statement reads, “the Greenlandic government believes that the price of oil extraction is too high. This is based upon economic calculations, but considerations of the impact on climate and the environment also play a central role in the decision.”

According to the Associated Press,

No oil has been found yet around Greenland, but officials there had seen potentially vast reserves as a way to help Greenlanders realize their long-held dream of independence from Denmark by cutting the subsidy of the equivalent of about $680 million Canadian the Danish territory receives from the Danish government every year.

“As a society, we must dare to stop and ask ourselves why we want to exploit a resource,” said Naaja H. Nathanielsen, minister for housing, infrastructure, mineral resources, and gender equality. “Is the decision based upon updated insight and the belief that it is the right thing to do? Or are we just continuing business as usual?”

“It is the position of the Greenlandic government,” said Nathanielsen, “that our country is better off focusing on sustainable development, such as the potential for renewable energy.”

Pele Broberg, Greenland’s minister for business, trade, foreign affairs, and climate, says the decision is simply good economics.

“International investments in the energy sector in recent years are moving away from oil and gas and into renewable energy. It is therefore natural that we emphasize business on the opportunities of the future and not on the solutions of the past,” he said.

“The decision to halt oil exploration is also the story of a population that puts the environment first,” said Broberg.

Greenland’s left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit Party [Community of the People party) gained control of the government after the April elections, which some saw as a referendum on further mining of rare earth elements and uranium. The Ataqatigiit Party had campaigned against a major mining project in Kvanefjeld.

Mikaa Mered, lecturer on Arctic affairs at HEC business school in Paris, told Reuters following the election that “Greenlanders are sending a strong message that for them it’s not worth sacrificing the environment to achieve independence and economic development.”

The Thursday statement also announced the release of a draft-bill to ban preliminary investigation, exploration, and extraction of uranium.

The ban on future oil drilling comes amid a slew of extreme weather events and planetary changes linked to the climate crisis, including what researchers say is a destabilizing of the Greenland ice sheet.

In a Friday tweet sharing AP‘s reporting on the ban, Greenpeace appeared to reference the climate emergency, writing that there’s “no time to lose. Who’s next?”


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Scientist Says BC Heat Wave Caused Over 1 Billion Tidal Creatures to Cook to Death

A mussel bed on Vancouver Island. (Photo: Stephen Bentsen/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Andrea Germanos | Common Dreams

It’s “a frightening warning sign,” said one observer.

“Heartbreaking,” another commented.

“Can we now mobilize en masse to save all Earthly beings?” asked another.

Those were some of the responses to new reporting by the CBC on how last week’s extreme heatwave that gripped British Columbia may have led to the deaths of over one billion intertidal animals like mussels and starfish that inhabit the Salish Sea coastline.

Christopher Harley, a marine ecologist at the University of British Columbia, told the outlet about how he had noticed a foul odor from dead intertidal animals on rocks at Vancouver’s popular Kitsilano Beach as the city experienced record heat. Harley then set off with a team of researchers to gather data on nearby coastlines.

What the researchers noticed, CBC reported, were “endless rows of mussels with dead meat attached inside the shell, along with other dead creatures like sea stars and barnacles.”

They tracked temperatures too, recording 50°C (122°F) on rocky shoreline habitats, well above the high 30s (around 100°F) mussels can endure for short spurts. Harley likened a mussel on the rock enduring the scorching temperatures to “a toddler left in a car on a hot day”—stuck “at the mercy of the environment” until the tide returns. “And on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, during the heatwave, it just got so hot that the mussels, there was nothing they could do.”

The heatwave was deadly for humans too.

Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, announced Friday that from June 25 to July 1, the province’s death toll was 719—three times higher than normal—and said the heat was likely “a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths.” The heatwave was also blamed for dozens of deaths in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.

The recent heat wave’s deadly impact on shellfish was noted in the U.S. Pacific Northwest as well.

The Daily Mail reported last week on comments from the family-run Hama Hama Oyster company in Washington. “The epic heatwave is something no one has seen and then we had a low tide that was as far as it has been in 15 years and it happened mid-day,” the company said.

The clams “look like they had just been cooked like they were ready to eat,” the company told the outlet.

In a June 30 Instagram post sharing an image of heat-impact clams, the company had a clear message: “Please vote for politicians who are brave enough to address climate change.”


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Water Protectors Protesting at Willow River Warn Line 3 ‘Is a Catastrophic Threat’

Water protectors protested against Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline on July 6, 2021, in and around Willow River in Minnesota. (Photo: Keri Pickett)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

The Indigenous-led fight against Line 3 continued Tuesday as water protectors descended on the area of Willow River where Canadian energy giant Enbridge is working to install a “climate-wrecking” tar sands pipeline to replace one that was built in the 1960s.

Water protectors attached themselves to drilling equipment and built blockades on access roads in an effort to halt construction in Minnesota on Tuesday, according to a statement from organizers.

Pipeline opponents also joined Indigenous leaders Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth, and Tania Aubid to stand in the river in prayer.

“We the people are here in the river because the rivers belong to the fish, they belong to the animals, and they belong to the people—and they don’t belong to Enbridge,” LaDuke said in a video from the river shared on social media.

Speaking from the river, which is part of the Mississippi watershed, Aubid said: “Minnesota, you will be held accountable along with the federal and Canadian governments for the genocide of Mother Earth.”

“We cannot allow them to take these rivers,” Taysha Martineau, a water protector of the Fond du Lac Tribe who has helped build Camp Migizi, said about Tuesday’s direct action.

“Enbridge was given a cease-and-desist notice in order to protect the ceremonial lodge,” Martineau explained. “The state of Minnesota has refused to abide by that order and so action was taken. Abide by the order or we will continue to use people’s power to shut it down.”

An unnamed water protector locked down in Minnesota declared that “Line 3 is a catastrophic threat to the land, the water, the people, wild rice, and the climate.”

“This pipeline violates the treaty rights of the Anishinaabe and is not being built with Indigenous consent,” the water protector noted, before taking aim at the company behind it:

Enbridge has a long history of spills, many of which occur in the first 10 years of a pipeline operating. They do not care about the land, the people, or their workers. They only care about the money, so we are putting pressure on their pocketbooks by slowing the progress of Line 3 until we stop it altogether. Polluted water, land, and rapid climate change are threats to us all, and Line 3 will cause unpredictable levels of damage if it becomes active.

“Actions like this one are a fight for all of our survival,” the activist added, “and should be seen as nothing less.”

In a series of tweets from the river Tuesday, Honor the Earth raised concerns that “a spot in the river is warmer, and appears to have been polluted with drilling mud.”

The advocacy group shared a photo of a nearby container labeled “spill kit,” and said that there was “no one working to contain this drilling mud from washing downstream and polluting the river.”

According to the Line 3 resistance movement, as of Tuesday, more than 500 people have been arrested for protesting the pipeline. As Common Dreams reported last week, some of them now face felony charges.

Under pressure from Indigenous leaders and climate justice advocates, the Minneapolis City Council last week unanimously passed a resolution opposing the pipeline, calling on elected leaders who can stop it to do so immediately, and requesting that the city’s mayor and police chief refuse to participate in a law enforcement coalition formed in response to protests.

“This water we protect serves the people of your city,” LaDuke said last week of the development in Minneapolis. “Together we need to stop the last tar sands pipeline.”

Despite running on a broad promise to tackle the global climate emergency, to which the fossil fuel industry substantially contributed, President Joe Biden has so far refused to stop the project.

In fact, last month Biden’s Department of Justice filed a legal brief in support of the federal government’s approval of the project under former President Donald Trump.

Tara Houska, the founder of the Giniw Collective, called the DOJ’s move “a horrific failure of the government’s duty to tribal nations, to climate science, to the sacred.”

Wen Stephenson, who protested against Enbridge in Massachusetts last week, wrote for The Nation Tuesday that “the Giniw Collective and #StopLine3 campaign are demanding that the Biden administration suspend the project and order a review of the water-crossing permits issued under Trump.”

As Stephenson reports:

The state-level environmental impact statement (EIS), they point out, failed to consider the risks of (all but inevitable) oil spills; the impacts on “tribal cultural resources,” such as wild rice beds sacred to Anishinaabe people; as well as the project’s impact on climate change. If Biden orders a review and applies the same standard that compelled the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline (to which Biden himself delivered the coup de grace upon taking office), then, as Houska says, “There’s no way it’s going to pass the test.”

According to Stephenson, who concluded with a call for solidarity with Line 3’s opponents, “What Enbridge is doing on Anishinaabe land in Minnesota, and what the fossil fuel industry and its political and financial backers are doing to drive global climate catastrophe, amounts to nothing less than a continuation of the genocide against the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Global South that began half a millennium ago.”


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Record-Breaking Northwest Heatwave Linked to Hundreds of Deaths

By Jake Johnson | Common Dreams

The record-shattering heatwave currently scorching the Pacific Northwest has been linked to hundreds of deaths in the region over just the past week, with British Columbia alone reporting at least 486 “sudden and unexpected” fatalities since last Friday.

“There is a way out of this nightmare of ever-worsening weather extremes… A rapid transition to clean energy.”
—Michael Mann, Susan Joy Hassol

While it’s unclear how many of those deaths were a direct consequence of the heatwave, the chief coroner of the Canadian province said in a statement that “it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather.”

In Oregon, the medical examiner’s office has received reports of more than 60 deaths believed to be tied to the dangerously high temperatures that have hit the state in recent days. On Monday, the temperature in Portland soared to a record 116°F—heat that was sufficient to melt city power cables. In the city of Salem, located roughly 50 miles south of Portland, the temperature reached an all-time high of 117°F.

“The preliminary cause of death for… 45 people in Multnomah County, ranging in age from 44 to 97, was determined to be hyperthermia, an unusually high body temperature caused by a failure of the body to deal with heat,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. “By contrast, there were 12 deaths from hyperthermia for all of Oregon between 2017 and 2019.”

According to the local medical examiner, many of those who died in Multnomah County were discovered alone without air conditioning or a fan.

Washington state has also experienced record-breaking heat, with two weather stations in Chelan County recording a temperature of 119°F on Tuesday afternoon. At least 13 people have reportedly died in the Seattle area as a result of the heatwave—a number that is likely to grow as high temperatures persist and investigations into recent deaths across the state continue.

CNN reported Thursday that “at least 676 people in Washington state visited emergency departments for heat-related symptoms from Friday through Sunday—before the heatwave hit its peak. On Monday alone, there were 688 heat-related emergency department visits.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who represents the Seattle area, said Wednesday that the heatwave further demonstrates that “climate action is literally a matter of life or death—and it can’t wait any longer.”

Scientists have directly attributed the devastating Pacific Northwest temperature spikes to the human-caused climate crisis, warning that governments’ continued failure to slash carbon emissions in line with the current science will lead to even more intense heatwaves in the near future, with the elderly, the unhoused, incarcerated people, and unprotected outdoor workers among the most vulnerable to such extreme conditions.

“We’ve long known that a warming climate would yield more extremely hot weather,” climate scientist Michael Mann and science communicator Susan Joy Hassol wrote in a New York Times op-ed earlier this week. “The science is clear on how human-caused climate change is already affecting heatwaves: Global warming has caused them to be hotter, larger, longer, and more frequent. What was once very rare events are becoming more common.”

“But there is a way out of this nightmare of ever-worsening weather extremes, and it’s one that will serve us well in many other ways, too,” they added. “A rapid transition to clean energy can stabilize the climate, improve our health, provide good-paying jobs, grow the economy, and ensure our children’s future. The choice is ours.”


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Yellowstone is Losing Its Snow as the Climate Warms, and that Means Widespread Problems for Water and Wildlife

When you picture Yellowstone National Park and its neighbor, Grand Teton, the snowcapped peaks and Old Faithful Geyser almost certainly come to mind. Climate change threatens all of these iconic scenes, and its impact reaches far beyond the parks’ borders.

A new assessment of climate change in the two national parks and surrounding forests and ranchland warns of the potential for significant changes as the region continues to heat up.

Map showing the parks and forest land within the Greater Yellowstone Area

The Greater Yellowstone Area includes both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, as well as surrounding national forests and federal land. National Park Service

Since 1950, average temperatures in the Greater Yellowstone Area have risen 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 C), and potentially more importantly, the region has lost a quarter of its annual snowfall. With the region projected to warm 5-6 F by 2061-2080, compared with the average from 1986-2005, and by as much as 10-11 F by the end of the century, the high country around Yellowstone is poised to lose its snow altogether.

The loss of snow there has repercussions for a vast range of ecosystems and wildlife, as well as cities and farms downstream that rely on rivers that start in these mountains.

Broad impact on wildlife and ecosystems

The Greater Yellowstone Area comprises 22 million acres in northwest Wyoming and portions of Montana and Idaho. In addition to geysers and hot springs, it’s home to the southernmost range of grizzly bear populations in North America and some of the longest intact wildlife migrations, including the seasonal traverses of elk, pronghorn, mule deer and bison.

The area also represents the one point where the three major river basins of the western U.S. converge. The rivers of the Snake-Columbia basin, Green-Colorado basin, and Missouri River Basin all begin as snow on the Continental Divide as it weaves across Yellowstone’s peaks and plateaus.

How climate change alters the Greater Yellowstone Area is, therefore, a question with implications far beyond the impact on Yellowstone’s declining cutthroat trout population and disruptions to the food supplies critical for the region’s recovering grizzly population. By altering the water supply, it also shapes the fate of major Western reservoirs and their dependent cities and farms hundreds of miles downstream.

Rising temperatures also increase the risk of large forest fires like those that scarred Yellowstone in 1988 and broke records across Colorado in 2020. And the effects on the national parks could harm the region’s nearly US$800 billion in annual tourism activity across the three states.

A group of scientists led by Cathy Whitlock from Montana State University, Steve Hostetler of the U.S. Geological Survey and myself at the University of Wyoming partnered with local organizations, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, to launch the climate assessment.

We wanted to create a common baseline for discussion among the region’s many voices, from the Indigenous nations who have lived in these landscapes for over 10,000 years to the federal agencies mandated to care for the region’s public lands. What information would ranchers and outfitters, skiers and energy producers need to know to begin planning for the future?

Shifting from snow to rain

Standing at the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Station and looking up at the snow on the Grand Teton, over 13,000 feet above sea level, I cannot help but think that the transition away from snow is the most striking outcome that the assessment anticipates – and the most dire.

Today the average winter snowline – the level where almost all winter precipitation falls as snow – is at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. By the end of the century, warming is forecast to raise it to at least 10,000 feet, the top of Jackson Hole’s famous ski areas.

The climate assessment uses projections of future climates based on a scenario that assumes countries substantially reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. When we looked at scenarios in which global emissions continue at a high rate instead, the differences by the end of century compared with today became stark. Not even the highest peaks would regularly receive snow.

In interviews with people across the region, nearly everyone agreed that the challenge ahead is directly connected to water. As a member of one of the regional tribes noted, “Water is a big concern for everybody.”

As temperature has risen over the past seven decades, snowfall has declined, and peak streamflow shifted earlier in the year across the Greater Yellowstone Area. 2021 Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment, CC BY-ND

Precipitation may increase slightly as the region warms, but less of it will fall as snow. More of it will fall in spring and autumn, while summers will become drier than they have been, our assessment found.

The timing of the spring runoff, when winter snow melts and feeds into streams and rivers, has already shifted ahead by about eight days since 1950. The shift means a longer, drier late summer when drought can turn the landscape brown – or black as the wildfire season becomes longer and hotter.

The outcomes will affect wildlife migrations dependent on the “green wave” of new leaves that rises up the mountain slopes each spring. Low streamflow and warm water in late summer will threaten the survival of coldwater fisheries, like the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and Yellowstone’s unique species like the western glacier stonefly, which depends on the meltwater from mountain glaciers.

Temperatures are projected to rise in the Greater Yellowstone Area in the coming decades. The chart shows two potential scenarios, based on different projections of what global warming might look like in the future – RCP 8.5, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a high rate; and RCP 4.5, if countries take substantial steps to slow climate change. The temperatures are compared with the 1900-2005 average. 2021 Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment

Preparing for a warming future

These outcomes will vary somewhat from location to location, but no area will be untouched.

We hope the climate assessment will help communities anticipate the complex impacts ahead and start planning for the future.

As the report indicates, that future will depend on choices made now and in the coming years. Federal and state policy choices will determine whether the world will see optimistic scenarios or scenarios where adaption becomes more difficult. The Yellowstone region, one of the coldest parts of the U.S., will face changes, but actions now can help avoid the worst. High-elevation mountain towns like Jackson, Wyoming, which today rarely experience 90 F, may face a couple of weeks of such heat by the end of the century – or they may face two months of it, depending in large part on those decisions.

The assessment underscores the need for discussion. What choices do we want to make?

Bryan Shuman, Professor of Paleoclimatology and Paleoecology, University of Wyoming

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




Global Hopes in Doubt After G7 Fails to Meet Climate Finance Pledges for Poor Nations

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through central Paris (and other French towns) on Saturday 13 Oct 2018 calling on the French government and the international community to do more to tackle climate change. (Photo: Jeanne Menjoulet via Flickr)

By Andrea Germanos | Common Dreams

The Group of 7 leaders last week ended their summit without a firm and clear commitment on how they’re going to deliver on the annual $100 billion climate finance pledge they made over a decade ago, sparking criticism from United Nations climate chief Patricia Espinosa.

The climate finance for developing nations, Espinosa has said, is “absolutely crucial” to the success of ongoing climate negotiations.

“Regarding finance,” she told the UK Observer, “I’d have really hoped for a clearer signal on how and when we will be able to see the commitment to mobilize the $100 billion fulfilled.”

“There is little point in climate-vulnerable nations showing up in Glasgow to do business with governments that break their promises.”

“This is one condition to be able to have a good basis to have a successful COP26,” Espinosa said in reference to the November climate negotiations in Glasgow. “It is essential. We cannot afford a lack of success.”

The G7 closed out the summit with “commitments to get to the target” ahead of Glasgow, the Guardian reported, “but a lack of detail remained about precisely how much money wealthier nations would be willing to give.”

Last week, Espinosa told Agence France-Presse that a commitment to climate finance would be a “central element for a successful outcome at COP26.”

“$100 billion is a lot of money,” she said, “but we also know what is required for the deep transformation that is needed is much more.”

Wealthy nations made the climate finance commitment (pdf) in 2010, and it was formalized in the Paris climate agreement. The annual funds would “help developing countries quit fossil fuels and protect against climate impacts,” as Mark Hertsgaard wrote this month for Covering Climate Now. He further explained:

This obligation, which was to take effect in 2020, was grounded in the truism that climate change is overwhelmingly caused by the rich but disproportionately punishes the poor. Rich countries have not honored their $100 billion pledge either. Instead of $100 billion a year of climate aid, they have provided about $20 billion, according to an analysis that the global anti-poverty NGO Oxfam conducted of 2018 figures (the last year of authoritative data). […]

Supplying climate aid is an act not of charity but rather of self-preservation, according to a landmark International Energy Agency report released last month. In order to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5 C, the IEA said, the world must halt all new fossil fuel development, and both developing and developed countries alike must shift rapidly to non-carbon energy. That shift will be “impossible” for developing countries, [U.N. Secretary General António] Guterres said, without sizable financial and technological help.

In May, ahead of the G7’s June 11-13 summit in Cornwall in the U.K., Espinosa stressed to G7 climate and environment ministers the urgency of “comprehensive financial support for developing nations to address climate change.”

“We cannot put out a wildfire threatening to engulf the whole world with a few wet blankets. We must fully extinguish it.”

“The reality is that this is an act of collective self-interest,” she said. “Again, we cannot put out a wildfire threatening to engulf the whole world with a few wet blankets. We must fully extinguish it.”

While the G7 communiqué issued at end of the summit reaffirmed a commitment to “jointly mobilize $100 billion per year from public and private sources, through to 2025,” as Reuters reported, climate activists said the pledge fell short.

“The G7’s reaffirmation of the previous $100 billion a year target doesn’t come close to addressing the urgency and scale of the crisis,” said Teresa Anderson of Action Aid.

Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Center for Climate Change and Development, expressed similar frustration.

In a Reuters op-ed last week, he wrote that the G7 “issued a communiqué touching on their plans [to] increase their climate finance and meet the goal—but failed to provide clarity on how, and simply punted the decision to the next meeting of the G20 taking place in Italy in September.”

“It is therefore clear that rich countries have simply decided to ignore this collective finance commitment—and each country is calculating for itself what it is supposed to provide and what they will count towards their respective share,” wrote Huq.

He further lamented that the climate finance pledge isn’t in the trillions, calling $100 billion annually “not at all commensurate with the scale of climate finance required to help developing nations adopt clean energy and adapt to worsening extreme weather and rising seas.”

Simply put, said Huq, if the wealthy G7 can’t pony up the pledged money immediately, developing nations should skip the COP26 climate talks in Scotland this November.

“If the money is not delivered before November,” he said, “then there is little point in climate-vulnerable nations showing up in Glasgow to do business with governments that break their promises.”


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