Atmospheric CO2 Levels Haven’t Been This High in 800,000 Years: NOAA

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A major report on climate says both greenhouse gas concentrations and global sea levels hit record highs in 2020.

Republished under a Creative Commons Licence. Original article at CommonDreams

KENNY STANCILAugust 25, 2021

Bolstering the case for meaningful climate action, a major report released Wednesday found that Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and sea levels both hit record highs in 2020.

“This situation is urgent, but it’s not hopeless. We have an opportunity to lead the global response in the fight against the climate crisis—we cannot afford to waste it.”
—Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Based on the contributions of more than 530 scientists from over 60 countries and compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), State of the Climate in 2020 is the 31st installment of the leading annual evaluation of the global climate system.

“The major indicators of climate change,” officials from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information pointed out in a statement, “continued to reflect trends consistent with a warming planet. Several markers such as sea level, ocean heat content, and permafrost once again broke records set just one year prior.”

“Annual global surface temperatures were 0.97°–1.12°F (0.54°–0.62°C) above the 1981–2010 average” in 2020, said NOAA, making last year one of the three warmest on record “even with a cooling La Niña influence in the second half of the year.”

Last year was the warmest on record without an El Niño effect, and “new high-temperature records were set across the globe,” NOAA said. The agency added that the past seven years (2014-2020) had been the seven warmest on record.

Although the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown resulted in an estimated 6% to 7% reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020, the global average atmospheric concentration of COincreased to a record high of 412.5 parts per million. The atmospheric concentrations of other major greenhouse gases (GHG), including methane and nitrous oxide, also continued to climb to record highs last year despite the pandemic.

According to NOAA, last year’s COconcentration “was 2.5 parts per million greater than 2019 amounts and was the highest in the modern 62-year measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.” Moreover, “the year-over-year increase of methane (14.8 parts per billion) was the highest such increase since systematic measurements began.”

In addition, global sea levels continued to rise, surpassing previous records.

“For the ninth consecutive year,” said NOAA, “global average sea level rose to a new record high and was about 3.6 inches (91.3 millimeters) higher than the 1993 average,” which is when satellite measurements began. As a result of melting glaciers and ice sheets, warming oceans, and other expressions of the climate crisis, the “global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.2 inches (3.0 centimeter) per decade.”

Other notable findings of the new report include:

  • Upper atmospheric temperatures were record or near-record setting;
  • Oceans absorbed a record amount of CO2, global upper ocean heat content reached a record high, and the global average sea surface temperature was the third highest on record;
  • The Arctic continued to warm at a faster pace than lower latitudes—resulting in a spike in carbon-releasing fires—and minimum sea ice extent was the second smallest in the 42-year satellite record;
  • Antarctica witnessed extreme heat and a record-long ozone hole; and
  • There were 102 named tropical storms during the Northern and Southern Hemisphere storm seasons, well above the 1981–2010 average of 85.

In contrast to the release less than three weeks ago of the latest assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that fossil fuel emissions are intensifying extreme weather disasters—provoking a flurry of reactions and even garnering a short-lived uptick in corporate media’s coverage of the climate emergency—NOAA’s new report was met with less fanfare.

In one of the few early statements issued by members of Congress in response to the report, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said that “scientists sounded the alarm on the climate crisis again.”

“It is clear that without swift action, we can, unfortunately, expect to set new records like these every year,” said Johnson, chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. “The consequences of climate change impact every American—especially disadvantaged communities—across the country; from the devastating floods in Tennessee a few days ago to the record-breaking wildfires in the West.”

“Building a better future for all means acting on climate now,” the lawmaker added. “This situation is urgent, but it’s not hopeless. We have an opportunity to lead the global response in the fight against the climate crisis—we cannot afford to waste it.”

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Climate change: why government failure to act isn’t the problem

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Nick Bernards, University of Warwick

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underscored the dire state of the climate crisis, concluding that “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” are needed to limit global warming even to 1.5°C or 2°C.

The report renewed calls for urgent action and an end to “dithering” by politicians. These echo longstanding arguments which bemoan the lack of “political will” to tackle climate change.

The world absolutely needs to reduce or eliminate emissions, and fast. But while many of the problems inhibiting effective climate action are political, they aren’t really about politicians failing to do anything. There has actually been plenty of climate action over the last couple of decades. So far, however, it’s largely failed.

Protesters carry a banner reading 'we demand climate action.'
What do we want? Ramona Diaconescu/Shutterstock

Climate action for whom?

Different kinds of climate action have different costs and benefits for different people. Because of this, choices about what courses of action to pursue are profoundly shaped by relations of power.

We live in a world marked by severe disparities of wealth and power within and between countries, many of which are rooted in longer histories of colonialism and exploitation. These disparities have often allowed powerful companies in sectors like finance and energy to dictate the course of climate action. This has made it very difficult to pursue measures that might threaten their interests, but which would dramatically reduce emissions – like banning fossil fuel exploration.

Instead, we’ve had a slew of measures to address climate change which rely on making emissions reductions profitable. But the quickest ways to reduce emissions aren’t always the most profitable. And what is profitable for some can be harmful for less powerful people and communities.

Read more: IPCC report: how to make global emissions peak and fall – and what’s stopping us

One example is carbon credits – permits that allow firms and governments to meet emissions targets and offset their pollution by funding projects that reduce emissions elsewhere, mainly in developing countries. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) organised by the UN was meant to help reduce emissions this way. As agreed in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the CDM was supposed to mobilise investment to install renewable energy, retrofit factories and restore habitats.

While a large market developed for carbon offsets, it failed to substantially reduce emissions. A major reason for this was its reliance on profit-seeking private investors. Many of the projects funded through the CDM were probably profitable on their own – the distribution of CDM credits very closely mirrors patterns of private foreign investment in developing countries, with the vast majority funding projects in China and India.

Only a narrow range of possible emissions reduction projects, which either delivered their own revenue or provided cost savings for existing businesses, were financed as a result. But even these efforts were hampered by the push to create secondary markets for carbon credits, in which banks and financial institutions speculated on the price of credits. This was supposed to create more accurate prices, but instead, it made them more volatile, inhibiting new projects, as it became hard to predict how much the carbon credits they generated were worth.

Carbon trading also privileged the interests of private investors over those of communities near CDM-funded projects. Windfarms built in southern Mexico and financed through the CDM, for instance, privatised communal land, displacing indigenous communities.

Not-so-sustainable energy

Another major plank of climate action so far has been incentivising the adoption of new technologies with lower emissions. Governments in developed countries have offered subsidies for people to buy electric cars, or increased funding for research and development of clean energy technology.

It is tempting to think public and private investment in renewable energy might allow governments, businesses and civil society to pull together and fight climate change. But there remain significant obstacles. For one, many of the major energy firms investing in wind and solar power, like Shell and British Petroleum, also supply oil and gas. As long as producing fossil fuels remains profitable, these firms will resist efforts to stop selling them.

More importantly, shifting to fully renewable energy sources would require mineral extraction on a truly massive scale to supply the materials for batteries, wiring and other components of solar panels and wind turbines. Recent estimates suggest that meeting current global energy demand with 100% renewable energy would take more cobalt, lithium, and nickel than is known to exist on earth.

A scramble for these minerals is already underway. Demand for batteries in phones, laptops, and electric cars has triggered a rush to establish industrial mines in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the majority of the world’s known reserves of cobalt are found.

Foreign-owned industrial mines employ very few Congolese workers and the profits largely accumulate abroad. Some communities have been removed to make way for mining operations. Small-scale mining by local people, often operating without permits or formal mineral rights and using their own tools, has become the main means by which cobalt has benefited local livelihoods.

A rocky landscape with ponds full of industrial waste.
A cobalt mine in Morocco. Sunart Media/Shutterstock

But according to media and activist reports, child labour is rife in these smaller mines. Meanwhile, the cobalt boom has been linked to landslides, river pollution, and deforestation, and locals have suffered widespread exposure to toxic mining dust in the air and in food and drinking water.

Some firms, including manufacturers of cars and electronics, as well as financial institutions involved in trading cobalt, have tried to minimise the negative effects of mining. Most of these programmes focus on tackling child labour, by certifying that cobalt was extracted from industrial mines rather than from the small-scale mines where most of the problem exists. But replacing smaller mines with industrial-scale ones wouldn’t necessarily benefit mining communities.

Climate action so far has failed to confront the interests of powerful businesses and governments, while passing costs on to vulnerable people and places which have contributed very little to the climate crisis. If we want results, we may need to go beyond simply demanding action and instead focus on changing the way the global economy is organised and governed.

Nick Bernards, Associate Professor of Global Sustainable Development, University of Warwick

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

Continue ReadingClimate change: why government failure to act isn’t the problem

‘Civil Disobedience Is Our Duty’: Swiss Climate Campaigners Occupy Zürich Financial Center

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Republished from under a Creative Commons licence

Climate justice activists occupied the center of Zürich’s financial district on August 2, 2021 to demand that the two biggest banks in Switzerland divest from oil, gas, and coal. (Photo: Rise Up for Change/flickr/cc)

“We have no other choice. Either phase out fossil fuels or face forest fires, famines, droughts, and floods.”

KENNY STANCILAugust 2, 2021

Climate justice campaigners occupied the center of Zürich’s financial district Monday to demand that the two biggest banks in Switzerland divest from oil, gas, and coal.

Dozens of “singing and chanting activists” blocked entrances to the headquarters of Credit Suisse and a UBS office building on Paradeplatz square, Reuters reported. Police officers arrested about 30 people who refused to disperse during the peaceful demonstration.

Frida Kohlmann, spokesperson for the Rise Up for Change group, said in a statement that Credit Suisse and UBS have failed to respond appropriately to the climate emergency. 

“That is why the climate justice movement is occupying the Credit Suisse headquarters and the nearby UBS office today to draw attention to the consequences of the Swiss financial institutions’ inaction,” Kohlmann said.

“Civil disobedience is our duty,” tweeted Collectif BreakFree Suisse, part of the movement to stop financial actors from continuing to fund dirty energy projects that are fueling extreme weather-related disasters. “Either phase out fossil fuels or face forest fires, famines, droughts, and floods.”

In response to the protest, UBS said in a statement: “Climate protection is a top priority at UBS… We are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our business to net zero by 2050, with science-based interim targets for 2025, 2030, and 2035.”

Despite having “decreased fossil fuel financing by 73%, from $7.7 billion in 2016 to $2.1 billion in 2020,” UBS continues to invest money in “thermal coal mining, oil refining, shale gas drilling,” and more, according to a recent analysis by CNBC.

Credit Suisse asserted that it “is committed to climate protection and achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement,” referring to the 2015 international treaty that seeks to reduce carbon pollution and limit global temperature rise to below 1.5°C.

On its “DisCreditSuisse” campaign website, Collectif BreakFree Suisse said that while “Credit Suisse claims to align itself with the objectives of the Paris Agreement… it is one of the banks that is fueling the climate catastrophe the most.” According to a recent analysis (pdf) of the world’s largest asset managers, the bank ranks 72 out of 75 in terms of responsible investing.

“Although Credit Suisse officially supports the objectives of the Paris climate agreement, it has been financing companies in the coal, oil, and gas sectors since 2015 with billions of dollars for the exploration, production, and processing of fossil fuels,” the group said. “Between 2016 and 2019, Credit Suisse invested (pdf) a total of $74.3 billion in fossil fuels. In particular, the bank provided almost $23 billion in financial support for global firms actively expanding their fossil fuels businesses.”

“The existing instruments and guidelines do not appear to have led to any changes in the bank’s decision-making processes,” the group added. “The bank’s loan and investment portfolios are simply not being decarbonized at a pace commensurate with IPCC recommendations and the climate crisis. The bank is thus discrediting itself.”

Republished from under a Creative Commons licence

With Amazon Rainforest at ‘Tipping Point,’ Big Banks Told to End Fossil Fuel Financing

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Continue Reading‘Civil Disobedience Is Our Duty’: Swiss Climate Campaigners Occupy Zürich Financial Center