Climate Change: COP21 Paris December 2015. One month to go.

COP21 (21st Conference of Parties) is the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, it is taking place in Paris (France) from November 30 to December 11. The objective of this conference is to reach a universal, legally binding agreement on climate among all 195 nations.

This is the 21st conference the first one took place in Berlin in 1995, the next one COP22 will be in Morrocco next year.

Everyone should care about the outcome of the COP21 Paris because we are and will all be affected by the consequences of climate change, whether is it drought, flooding, heatwaves, we all live on the same planet.

What is this 2 degrees business and how is it linked to climate change?

The planet has had many different cycles of heat and cold and it is still here.
These patterns of warming and cooling cycles are not what is worrying in itself. Earth is strong and capable of regenerating itself. What is worrying and why we should do something fast is the speed at which the warming of the planet is happening right now and the fact that this acceleration has been linked to man made emission of green house gases.
If we stopped emitting so much green house gases, planet Earth will be able to look after itself.

According to scientists the world is 1 degree celsuis warmer now than it was pre-industrialisation. They have recommended a 2 degree target limit now to avoid further catastrophe. If we work hard and together, we can stay below 2 degrees and protect ourselves agains sea level rise, costal flooding, and prevent heatwaves.

This Ben and Jerry's video is fantastic.

There are ways to reduce emissions

Energy efficiency, we need to improve our use of energy to heat and light our homes, making appliances less energy greedy and using sustainable energy such as solar or wind, makes energy cheaper, which means more affordable energy all around as well as reduction of green house gases emissions.

We need to take actions to bring down green house gases emission, clean transportation, clean cooking stoves in developing countries can put a stop to air pollution and save millions of lives mainly in poorer countries but also in the UK, Europe and the US.

Lydia Agbobidi

Few Definitions Relevant to Climate Change

This is a list of terms used when referring to climate change,  these are most of the terms (but not all) you need to understand the conversations and the articles you are going to be have or read in the next few months in the runner up to COP21, the climate change summit taking place in Paris in December.

Carbon capture and storage (or sequestration) – Known by the acronym CCS it consists of a number of different technologies and processes for trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing it. Where it is stored varies depending on the technology provider. Some pump the gas into existing oil wells to increase production. Some pump it into underground saltwater aquifers. Some into sandstone formations. In all cases the idea is the CO2 gets permanently trapped or sequestered.

Carbon capture use and storage – Known by the acronym CCUS, it describes initiatives by industry to turn captured CO2 into useful commercial products. For example, captured CO2 is being added to concrete to make it lighter and more durable. The benefit, the CO2 is permanently sequestered. The XPrize initiative recently launched a $20 million prize to individuals and businesses that come up with ways of capturing and converting CO2 for commercial use.

Carbon sink – Usually the term refers to natural environments that absorb CO2. Plants are the main carbon sink on our planet. Ocean water acts as a carbon sink with  and in absorbing CO2 becomes more acidic. Marine plant life, phytoplankton and algae play a significant role in absorbing the gas. The soil is a carbon sink. When you combine all of these natural sources they absorb almost 50% of the emissions produced by humans today.

Climate change – This term refers to the record of change that has occurred in climate patterns both in the past and present. The geologic record shows many periods in Earth history where the global climate was different from today. The evidence that shows us  climate change can be found in sedimentary rocks, polar and alpine glaciers, tree rings and soil. Through physical evidence we can determine changes in temperature, precipitation, and seasonal distribution. See human climate change below for additional information. The determination on whether what is being observed is or is not climate change is solely based on duration. If observed data shows changes lasting multiple decades or longer then it falls under climate change.

Climate change adaptation –  We hear this  term more and more. It refers to how we are adjusting to climate change as a global society. For example, as ocean sea level rises, coastal cities are implementing infrastructure changes. These include restoring wetlands, expanding floodplains, building seawalls, berms and levees. To combat rising temperatures businesses, institutions, government and home owners are improving internal climate control within structures. People are altering the clothes they wear to reflect a changing climate. We are switching from fossil-fuel burning technologies to ones that minimize our carbon footprint. Electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars represent climate change adaptation and mitigation, which takes us to our next definition.

Climate change mitigation – This one is the simplest to understand. Mitigation involves reducing fossil fuel consumption. It involves ending deforestation and planting trees to replace the ones we have lost. It involves using technologies that minimize our carbon footprint such as virtual offices and telecommuting. It includes CCS (see definition above). It could include geoengineering (see definition below).

Climate variability – Many of those aspiring to the leadership of the Republican Party in the United States talk about natural climate variability in dismissing human-related climate change. They argue that climate is always changing and variability will always occur. Climate varies over seasons and years. Climate varies because of geography. For example the eastern part of North America experienced prolonged cold in the last two winters while western parts of North America experienced abnormal heat and drought. Globally mean temperatures set records. The politicians used the freeze in the east to “prove” that human-induced climate change was a canard.

COP21 Paris – The COP refers to Conference of the Parties who are members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (see description below). The Paris meeting is designated the 21st in the series, hence COP21.

Copenhagen Accord – In December 2009 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members met in Denmark at COP15 in a meeting focused on setting a long-term goal to ensure that global warming did not exceed 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) degrees. Participants committed to announcing 2020 emission targets for all greenhouse gases. Actions and oversight were left to the individual participants themselves rather than a global group. Developed nations agreed to provide funding to those nations in the Developing World vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. A mechanism to promote adaptation and mitigation technology was put in place. The agreement reinstated the goals and aspirations first established at Kyoto under its protocol.

Disaster risk reduction – Climate change, defined by changing precipitation patterns, significantly higher and lower temperatures and higher incidents of extreme weather, has been observed across the planet for the last five decades. Most notable has been the change in nighttime temperatures impacting energy use, agriculture and weather. The impact on human society can be measured in many billions of U.S. dollars annually. Through extrapolation and trend analysis consequences can be measured. It is expected that:
  • warmer conditions will impact human populations, particularly the elderly, young and chronically ill.
  • warmer oceans will alter fish populations putting food sources at risk.
  • rising sea levels combined with extreme weather events will lead to storm surges and the destruction of coastal communities.
  • some areas receiving higher than normal precipitation may be subject to landslides or floods with loss of life and infrastructure.
  • changes in climate will impact agricultural production and cause tropical diseases to spread into more temperate climates.
  • sea level rise will overwhelm low elevations island nations and coastlines.

Action taken to reduce these risks and their adverse impacts equals disaster risk reduction. In 2005, the Hyogo Framework for Action was established by 168 countries to promote global risk reduction strategies to deal with future climate change. The Framework called for the identification and monitoring of those deemed most vulnerable to establish an early warning system while reducing underlying risk factors to them. It also set as a goal standards for disaster preparedness.

Extreme weather events – Although not necessarily a symptom of climate change, extreme weather events are the canary in the coal mine. When one area of the planet experiences levels of heat never encountered before this could be variability or climate change. But when you see many parts of the planet suffering from extended heat waves in which thousands of lives are at risk, particularly in Developing World nations where climate controlled environments are few and far between, then one must sit up and take notice. This summer when my wife and I took a river cruise on the Danube in central Europe, an extended drought caused water levels to drop significantly leaving us high and dry on what is Europe’s second longest river. Daytime temperatures reached the mid-30s Celsius (over 90 Fahrenheit). In North America with climate control built into most buildings and homes a heat wave like the one we experienced is manageable. But in Central Europe air conditioning is a rarity and the sweltering conditions were of an extreme nature to say the least

Geoengineering – Often described as climate intervention, geoengineering is human manipulation of Earth’s systems. The best example is rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere leading to the phenomenon we call global warming. In this case the geoengineering is unintentional but consequential. So if we can through human acts cause warming why can’t we undo through the application of engineered solutions.The most discussed include CCS and CCUS (described above) and solar radiation management or SRM (see below). We have had proposals to use a fleet of jet aircraft to dump fine sulfur particles into the upper atmosphere to block sunlight and cool the planet surface. Another proposal would pump seawater into the air from a hundred funnels located on ships moored in the Arctic to increase cloud cover and therefore minimize land and sea ice, and permafrost melt.

Global warming – The term most associated with the reason for the upcoming Paris conference, it refers to average global temperatures on the rise and attributes this to a greenhouse effect produced by rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases – These are gases that absorb infrared light converting it to heat. CO2 is the gas most associated with human-induced climate change, but methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, water vapour, sulfur dioxide and sulfur hexaflouride all contribute to global warming.

Human climate change – Human fingerprints are all over the planet when studying climate change. Indicators include the volume of CO2 entering the atmosphere from human activity. This amounts to approximately 30 billion tons per year today. Our fingerprint can be found in temperature data showing nights are getting significantly warmer as the added CO2 absorbs solar radiation converting it to heat. We have been measuring CO2 increases in the air, approximately a 60% rise from the beginning of the 20th century to today. We can measure decreases in oxygen in our air. We have satellites that measure that heat loss to space from our planet is in decline. We measure rising ocean temperatures as the warmer atmosphere interacts with surface water.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – Established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations, this body reviews, assesses and reports on the latest scientific information of importance to understand climate change. Its reports are based on published peer-reviewed scientific and technical literature with a goal to inform national governments and the public on climate-related issues. The first report was issued in 1990 and subsequently reports have appeared each year updating the science. The IPCC  consists of working groups to review the enormous quantity of research it receives. Two co-chairs head the working groups, one from a Developed nation and the other from a Developing World nation. The reports are peer reviewed involving thousands from science, industry and non-government sources.

Kyoto Protocol – In 1992 the nation members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Kyoto, Japan and drafted an international legally binding agreement that set emission reduction targets for all participants. Canada is the only Developed nation to opt out of its commitments made at Kyoto. It did this in 2011 to save the government from having to pay $14 billion in penalties for not achieving its targeted greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement expired in 2012.

Ocean acidification – The world ocean is a carbon sink and the CO2 it uptakes is altering its chemistry. The measure of acidity is defined by the pH scale. 7.0 is neutral. 8.0 is alkaline. 6.0 is acid. For the past 300 million years the ocean pH has been 8.2. In the past 150 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the level has dropped to 8.1. As the ocean absorbs more CO2 pH is expected to drop further to as low as 7.7 by 2100. For ocean life attempting to adapt to such a drastic pH level change the implications are dire. A more acidic ocean will impact all shelled creatures including corals, bivalves, snails, zooplankton and crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrip, krill, etc.).

Sea level rise – In the last week alone a number of articles have come out citing sea level rise as being a significant threat to coastal cities such as New Orleans and Miami. A rise of close to a meter (just under 40 inches) which NASA believes is unavoidable will be devastating to low elevation urban coastal centres. With the world community targeting global warming to not exceed 2 degrees Celsius it is anticipated that ocean levels will rise much higher than a meter and that hundreds of millions will be climate refugees. For example, if the oceans rise four to five meters almost every coastal urban centre in the United States will find itself under water.

Solar radiation management – Known by the acronym SRM, this form of geoengineering addresses reflecting sunlight back into space to reduce global warming. Only a small amount of inbound solar energy need be reflected to create significant cooling state those who seek to launch pilot projects to prove the efficacy of this type of geoengineering. Sulfate particles in the stratosphere, the spraying of seawater into the upper troposphere and similar schemes have been suggested. Unintended consequences could lead to increased ocean acidification, changes to precipitation patterns, and increased frequency of extreme weather events.

Sustainable Development – This term is in common use these days. It refers to economic development in the present that doesn’t compromise the future. Sustainable development balances social, economic and environmental objectives. Sustainable development is complicated because what is needed locally in the present often has negative consequences for the future or conflicts with other societies in the present. Cut down a tree in present day Africa to provide fuel for your family for heating and cooking and the consequences of the act can be measured in the future with changes to soil moisture levels, water tables, erosion and sequestered carbon.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – Founded in 1994 it has 195 countries as members. Its focus is to prevent human interference with Earth’s climate by stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions and to do this within a time frame “sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change. to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”
If missing terms that need to be defined please let me know in your comments.


A two tonne lifestyle for the win

I read this article and found it so interesting I had to repost it. We need to reduce our greenhouse gases emissions and fast. That's an amazing initiative and an example we should all follow.
For the past eight years, I have been trying to live a two tonne lifestyle. That’s two tonnes of greenhouse gases from the things I own or buy – basically everything that I spend money on. I did this because I wanted to do something positive to fight climate change, and I felt that the place to start was with the things I can at least control. So I looked at the things I spent my money on.
During this time, I discovered something strange: a two tonne lifestyle has made my quality of life much, much better. I have saved a load of cash. I eat less meat, and have a lot more exercise built into my daily life. I still have a car, a nice warm house in winter, foreign holidays, and all the stuff I could ever need (a bit more than I need, actually, but I’m working on that). The reduced costs have helped me free up my time, so I can work less to ‘pay the bills’ and do more of the things I love.
But if there are personal benefits, what does a two tonne lifestyle do for climate change, or global warming, or whatever you want to call it? Let me try to explain why I think two tonnes is important, and break the numbers down a bit….


So the human race currently puts about 50 gigatonnes  of greenhouse gases a year into the atmosphere (1). (That’s 50,000,000,000 tonnes. Whoa! That’s a lot of zeros.) There are 7.3 billion people alive right now on the planet  (7,300,000,000) (2). So that’s about 7 tonnes of greenhouse gas per person on average – with about 70% of that coming from gas, oil, or coal in one way or another.
At this rate, in the next six years we will probably go past the point of being able to save many low lying countries and cities. We will also lose many more species of animal, a significant amount of agricultural land, and most of our coral reefs. (3) That is a pretty depressing scenario, and there are plenty more impacts, but I don’t want to dwell on all that. So, moving swiftly on to…

The results

Critically, a two tonne lifestyle buys us time – til around 2030 – to limit the impacts of a warming planet. It buys us time to massively increase clean energy sources and energy efficiency, as well as improve farming practices and a host of other things that we know we can do. All of this gives us a really good chance of avoiding the worst impacts, that we all know are coming to get us in a ‘business as usual’ world. So the hope is here. What is more, as I mentioned at the start of this post, there are immediate benefits. A two tonne lifestyle is not only achievable, it is also desirable, as it has the potential to increase our wealth, free up more time for fun, and make us healthier.

The catch

I’m sure you’ve already spotted it. As an individual, you will probably benefit personally from living a two tonne lifestyle (if you aren’t already). But if it is going to prevent climate change from getting any worse, everyone needs to be doing it. That’s tricky, alright. But things are moving quickly on that front. More governments, businesses and people realise that we need to do something, and do it quick.
It’s also worth pointing out that there are maybe two billion people on the planet who are already living a two tonne lifestyle. Most of these people lack the privilege of finance and technology that I have, because they live in developing countries. They will be the first to bear the brunt of the changes to our weather systems, even though they are least responsible for it. If, like me, you have the benefit of technology, education, healthcare, and finances to tackle this problem head on, then lets use all our resources to solve this problem, clean up our act, and keep the human race moving forward. If you’re already doing it, let’s keep it going. Let’s step it up some more, all of us. For the win.

(1) SPM3,
(3) based on IPCC  predictions published in 2014, but currently made unavailable online.

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