There is a new Climate Change study that has been published within Nature Climate Change and is titled “Machine-learning-based evidence and attribution mapping of 100,000 climate impact studies“. It has been authored by an international team of researchers, and reveals that Climate Change is already impacting most of the globe in noticeable ways.
What they did was to use machine learning algorithms to analyse over 100,000 studies of weather events. Well yes, I guess the study title was a subtle clue.
This posting is not specifically focused on that study, I’m simply using it as a launchpad to talk about a truly decisive moment that will happen in just a few weeks.
Why is this study significant?
The timing of publication, Oct 2021, along with many other similar studies and reports, has been carefully chosen to send a message. It is not for you and me, but rather is targeting the delegates who will be attending COP26 in a couple of weeks.
Starting Nov 1, COP26 takes place in Scotland. COP is an acronym for ‘Conference of the Parties’, and so COP26 is the 26th instance of a meeting of the multinational United Nations body that is working on addressing what is perhaps the greatest challenge our species will ever face – human induced climate change. It had been scheduled for last year, but COVID, so it is now happening Nov 1-12, 2021
COP26 is not just another get together, another opportunity for everybody to articulate how terrible climate change will be and to aspire to doing something meaningful one day. Instead, it is generally viewed as a very decisive key moment.
Attending will be decision makers from almost every nation state on the planet and now is when they need to do their job and actually make binding decisions, truly meaningful commitments, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Paris Agreement
The foundation for everything rests upon the 2015 Paris Agreement. Under this agreement each Nation state needs to create a plan that will commit them to reducing emissions to net zero by the 2050s.
But wait, we have been here before. There was the previous Kyoto Protocol that was signed in 1997.
That agreement resulted in 36 nations being legally bound to agreed greenhouse gas reductions. 17 failed to achieve those goals. Signing and agreeing to take meaningful action was not the same as actually taking meaningful action. Why it was like this is perhaps easy to see on a case by case basis. For example, the US happily and with the very best of intentions, signed, but then political reality kicks in. Without any senate ratification there was no road to actually achieving what had been agreed.
Now we have the Paris Agreement. Many more nations have already signed up, and also made ambitious and meaningful commitments, but will it yet again be a repeat of the Kyoto Protocol, will the actual results be a failure to actually action those commitments?
Here rests our problem, failure to deliver is no longer an option.
If we continue to belch out vast quantities of greenhouse gases then there are inevitable long-term consequences. This is well understood. Last August, just a couple of months ago, the latest scientific basis for it all was published by the IPCC. Let’s take a brief pass of that.
This comes from IPCC Working Group I. It is their contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which is coming in 2022, and is the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change. It brings together the latest advances in climate science, and combines multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.
The full report itself runs to over 1300 pages. I recommend it if you have trouble sleeping at night. Then again perhaps not, because what you read might result in nightmares that keep you awake. There is also a technical summary that is 150 pages, and an even shorter summary of just 39 pages for policy makers.
Here is a notable extract from the Headline Statements within the Summary for Policymakers …
A. The Current State of the Climate
- A.1 It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.
- A.2 The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.
- A.3 Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
- A.4 Improved knowledge of climate processes, paleoclimate evidence and the response of the climate system to increasing radiative forcing gives a best estimate of equilibrium climate sensitivity of 3°C, with a narrower range compared to AR5.
B. Possible Climate Futures
- B.1 Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
- B.2 Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming. They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.
- B.3 Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including its variability, global monsoon precipitation and the severity of wet and dry events.
- B.4 Under scenarios with increasing CO2 emissions, the ocean and land carbon sinks are projected to be less effective at slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.
- B.5 Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.
C. Climate Information for Risk Assessment and Regional Adaptation
- C.1 Natural drivers and internal variability will modulate human-caused changes, especially at regional scales and in the near term, with little effect on centennial global warming. These modulations are important to consider in planning for the full range of possible changes.
- C.2 With further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Changes in several climatic impact-drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels.
- C.3 Low-likelihood outcomes, such as ice sheet collapse, abrupt ocean circulation changes, some compound extreme events and warming substantially larger than the assessed very likely range of future warming cannot be ruled out and are part of risk assessment.
D. Limiting Future Climate Change
- D.1 From a physical science perspective, limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality.
- D.2 Scenarios with low or very low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (SSP1-1.9 and SSP1- 2.6) lead within years to discernible effects on greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations, and air quality, relative to high and very high GHG emissions scenarios (SSP3-7.0 or SSP5-8.5). Under these contrasting scenarios, discernible differences in trends of global surface temperature would begin to emerge from natural variability within around 20 years, and over longer time periods for many other climatic impact-drivers (high confidence).
To spell it out, if all the ice melts, then that’s enough water to raise sea level by roughly 70 meters. Goodby Boston, LA, NY and every other costal city on the planet. Not overnight and not in our lifetime. It is however an inevitable outcome as the climate system shifts into a new balance.
That would be the least of our worries, we would also face agricultural and ecosystem devastation.
For those that don’t want to read IPCC reports because they are too long, the two point simple translation for you is this…
- Climate Change is real, if we don’t do something meaningful about it, then we as a species are well and truly F**ked.
- We can still make meaningful changes to mitigate the worst impacts, it is not yet too late.
What will happen at COP26?
Hopefully you now get it, and can grasp why COP26 is a significant moment for our species. With the long view in mind, everything else, all the details that we fret about, fades into utter insignificance when viewed through this lens.
COP26 is perhaps our best shot at collectively taking meaningful decisive action.
All new fossil fuel exploration needs to end now – That’s the stance taken by the International Energy Agency.
The challenge is that some of the big players already admit (in private) that we will fail to hit the targets needed …
Senior observers of the two-week summit due to take place in Glasgow this November with 30,000 attenders, said campaigners and some countries would be disappointed that the hoped-for outcome will fall short.
However, the UN, UK and US insisted that the broader goal of the conference – that of “keeping 1.5C alive” – was still in sight, and that world leaders meeting in Glasgow could still set a pathway for the future that would avoid the worst ravages of climate chaos.
It is not a binary choice, it never has been
Thinking about it all with just the words “Success” or “Failure” are perhaps the wrong way to view it. COP26 is not akin too flipping a switch, but instead is about putting in place a scale of mitigation activity that gets us to net zero.
The most probable outcome for COP26 is that there will be a gap between the emissions pledges and the recommended scientific advice. Grasp a firm hold and cling to this thought – That gap does not mean “failure”.
If we did nothing at all and things rapidly unfolded in a short timeframe, for example meters of sea level rise wiping out costal cities in our lifetime, then we simply can’t adapt to that. If however, we slow things down so that events unfold over a far longer period of multiple centuries, that then gives us a decent chance of being able to adapt.
In other words, we are in with a shot here, all is not lost.
Yes, doing nothing really is not an option, but doing something, even if it is not ideal is very much on the agenda.