All Issues‎ > ‎

Issue No. 86 - August 15, 2016

1. Climate scientists warn 1.5C warming limit will soon be exceeded

Global Temperature Spiral 5/2016

Only eight months after participants at the COP21 climate conference in Paris agreed to "pursue efforts" to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, scientists have warned that the possibility of staying below that temperature limit may already be out of reach.

According to a new study published in Nature Climate Change, "the window for limiting warming to below 1.5C with high probability and without temporarily exceeding that level already seems to have closed."

According to Climate Change News, this study is the most up-to-date analysis available of global warming data. The researchers, led by Joeri Rogeli at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, found that the national climate pledges under the COP21 agreement would lead to a temperature rise of between 2.6C and 3.1C above pre-industrial levels, meaning that substantial additional efforts will be needed to reduce warming to "well below 2C" agreed as the main goal in the Paris agreement.

While the study found that, given the current situation, staying below 1.5C of warming is not realistic, the researchers do not rule out the possibility of returning to below this level at some point in the future. However, this will require measures to extract CO2 from the air and sequester it, referred to as "negative emissions" measures. This would involve, for example, the use of bioenergy – growing plants to absorb CO2, burning them for energy, and then pumping the emissions underground. This approach is controversial because resources needed for food crops would be used for energy.

According to study author Rogerli, "It is a really important precondition to do this in a sustainable and a just way. The faster one cuts emissions, the less one relies on these massive negative emissions afterwards to clean up the atmosphere."

His concerns are echoed by other prominent climate scientists, interviewed by the Observer for this article published on the Guardian website, which notes that global temperatures for every month but one over the past year were already more than 1C above pre-industrial levels. In February and March, temperatures peaked at 1.38C above that level.

According to Ben Sanderson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, cited by the Observer, "If the world puts all its resources into finding ways to generate power without burning fossil fuels, and if there were international agreements that action must happen instantly, and if carbon emissions were brought down to zero before 2050, then a rise of no more than 1.5C might just be achieved. This is a tall order, however." The difficulty with reducing emissions too quickly, before renewable alternatives are in place, is that there would be insufficient power for the planet, and people would suffer. According to Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC working group on adaptation to climate change, "There is an upper limit to the rate at which we can move to a carbon-free future."

Envisaging a scenario for remaining below 1.5C warming, John Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said, "It means that by 2025 we will have to have closed down all coal-fired power stations across the planet. And by 2030 you will have to get rid of the combustion engine entirely. That decarbonisation will not guarantee a rise of no more than 1.5C, but it will give us a chance. But even that is a tremendous task."

Commenting on the probable requirement for "negative emissions" measures, Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University said, "The trouble is that you would need to cover so much land with plants for combustion that you would not have enough space to grow food or provide homes for the Earth's wildlife."

The Climate Analytics website ( provides in-depth analysis of the importance of the 1.5C warming limit and the possibilities of remaining beneath it:

2. 2015 breaks climate change records, impacts are "playing out before us"

State of the Climate in 2015

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its annual State of the Climate report for 2015, with input from scientists from more than 62 countries, reports the Guardian.

The report found that 2015 was a record-breaking year in terms of climate parameters such as air and ocean temperatures and CO2 levels in the atmosphere as well as the observable effects of climate change, such as sea level rise and extreme weather events. According to Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, cited by the Guardian, "The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. They are playing out before us in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home."

The report shows that 2015 was the warmest year on record, and that the world is now 1C warmer than the pre-industrial era. (2016 is set to be warmer still). Oceans reached record temperatures, with the August 2015 temperature in the Arctic attaining as much as 8C above average. The sea level was found to be 70 mm higher than the 1993 average, when comprehensive measurement began. The sea level is rising at an average rate of 3.3 mm per year, fastest in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

CO2 passed the symbolic milestone of 400 ppm at the Mauna Loa research station in Hawaii in 2015, and the global level was only slightly lower, at 399.4 ppm. Other "remarkable" changes noted by the report include the lowest maximum sea ice extent in 37 years of satellite records, net annual glacial ice loss for the 36th consecutive year, and melting over 50% of the Greenland ice sheet, which would raise sea levels by around 7 m if it should disintegrate.

In terms of extreme weather in 2015, a severe heat wave in June killed 1,000 people in Karachi, Pakistan, while severe drought caused food shortages for millions in Ethiopia, and "intense and widespread" forest fires in Indonesia released greenhouse gases that further exacerbate global warming.

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, notes that despite the record-breaking climate crisis that "is already here", the media and political parties in countries such as the USA and the UK are not giving the crisis the urgent attention it requires.

The costs of climate change in human terms are already observable. Data from the Norwegian Refugee Council shows that one person every second is forced to flee disasters such as floods and storms each year, and that disasters displace between three and ten times more people than conflict and war worldwide.

A recent study published in the journal of the National Academy of Science, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, found that natural disasters linked to climate change enhance the risk for armed conflict. The study found that globally, 9% of armed conflict outbreaks occurred in the same months as heat waves or droughts, for the period 1980-2010. The link between climate change and armed conflict is discussed in depth in this Think Progress article.

3. Proposed gas pipelines will cause US to miss emission reduction targets if built

A Bridge Too Far
If 19 planned natural gas pipelines are built across eastern US states, the United States will miss its emission-reductions targets under the COP21 agreement. These are the findings of a new study published by twelve environmental organisations, reports Reuters. According to the research, the proposed infrastructure in the Appalachian region would spur future growth in US gas production, which would be incompatible with the emissions reduction goals to which the US committed under the Paris agreement. Highlighting the contribution to climate change from the methane emissions from natural gas, particularly fracked shale gas, the report found that even if recently proposed controls for reducing methane leakage by 45% are implemented, it will be impossible to reach US climate goals by 2040.

According to the report:
"Our calculations show that the rise in gas consumption projected by the EIA would alone lead to emissions that would surpass the current long-term U.S. climate target by 2040, even after accounting for methane leakage cuts. This ignores the emissions from the production (and consumption) of exported gas. In other words, even if gas were the only source of greenhouse gases in 2040, it would still blow the U.S. carbon budget. This makes it clear that the growing use of gas is out of sync with U.S. climate goals."

Noting that natural gas infrastructure is designed to last 40 years, the report concludes that this infrastructure will continue to operate, even at a loss, to the detriment of renewable sources of energy, thereby locking in carbon emissions that must be avoided: "It makes sense to avoid these investments now and instead allow clean energy technologies to fulfil their maximum potential."

If you would like to receive the Shale Gas Bulletin Ireland twice a month, subscribe here.