As if to punctuate the importance of the Climate Agreement in Paris, expected by Friday, the weather has conjured up unusual winter warmth for parts of Europe and the United States.
Canada, also unusually warm this week, surprised everyone by suggesting that the goal should be a 1.5º C rise in global temperature, not the conventional wisdom of 2.0º C.
Meanwhile the political bigwigs have taken over the negotiations, and are struggling to reach any agreement at all.
In other weather news, the California snow pack is twice what it was at this time last year, but only half of normal. Buffalo is still waiting for its first measurable snow of the season. Beijing has issued its first red smog alert. And the jet stream pattern over the Pacific Ocean looks very El Niño-ish.
Let’s go Around The World.
Climate Talks Enter Critical Stage
Acrimony has broken out in Paris from the usual source: Any climate agreement pits poor countries against rich ones. The former want financial help if they limit the fraction of their growth fueled by burning carbon fossils. Finessing this one will be a big hurdle to clear before an agreement that all nations can sign is reached.
In the middle of all this, Canada announced that the ultimate goal should be to limit global temperatures to a 1.5º C rise from pre-industrial times, rather than the 2.0º C rise that is conventionally thought of as the point of no return — the threshold above which catastrophic climate changes are inevitable. Considering that the temperature has already risen half of the 2º C goal, it seems unlikely that even that, let alone 1.5º C can be achieved.
But this suggestion by the new government in Canada highlights a couple of important issues:
- The position of any country towards climate change is critically dependent on that country’s internal politics. Canada just elected a liberal government that is committed to fighting climate change; the previous conservative government opposed virtually any binding constraints, and in fact bordered on denying climate change completely.
- Aggressive goals cannot be accomplished without the cooperation of the major emitters. China has turned the corner as it enters the realm of semi-developed countries and has taken steps to limit emissions. On the other hand, India, which is where China was ten years ago in development, is building coal-fired plants at a rapid pace and has a government that is at best grudging in its attitude towards limiting emissions.
Hope Is Tenuous For A Comprehensive Agreement
Decoded Science sticks to its prediction that the final document will be long on ‘shoulds’ and short on ‘musts.’ The final calculation will be that the 2º C goal can be reached if countries implement more voluntary restrictions.
Still, the attitudes are more constructive at this meeting, as the problem has now gone beyond a few waves lapping at a far-off island.
If the conferees are clever enough with their final language, they may leave the door open for significant emissions reductions as political leaders increasingly understand the risks of inaction.
Eastern US And Most Of Europe Are Very Warm For December
The El Niño pattern has taken hold in the United States, and the result is that polar air is locked in Canada.
Meanwhile, the jet stream over Europe has moved north and most of the continent is basking in unusually warm temperatures.
New York, London, Berlin, and Moscow are all forecast to have temperatures well above normal for the rest of December.
No Snow In Buffalo Yet This Year
Buffalo, NY has broken a record: It has not snowed in Buffalo this season, the latest into the winter season Buffalo has ever gone without snow.
Buffalo is normally a snowy place because of the Lake Effect: When cold air blows over the warm water of Lake Erie, it picks up moisture and deposits on the nearest shore. When the wind is west-southwest, Buffalo is on that shore.
This year, the jet stream has resided unusually far north, and the cold air is confined to central and northern Canada. Most Buffalonians would probably not protest if it stayed there the entire winter.
Beijing Issues Red Smog Alert
For the first time ever, Beijing is under the highest-level smog alert — red.
This is not the color of the smog; it is the highest level on the color code and indicates that forecasters expect heavy smog for at least three days.
This is a big deal.
Red shuts down industry, limits traffic, closes schools, and basically brings life to a standstill.
The Chinese appear to mean business when it comes to reducing smog.
El Niño Rain Kicks In On West Coast
The flow across the Pacific Ocean is typical for an El Niño year.
A strong jet stream is sending waves of precipitation towards the west coast. So far, the rain has been mainly in northern California, Oregon, and Washington.
Current forecasts call for over five inches of rain over the entire area in the next five days.
As winter deepens, the rain should move south to encompass all of California.
In the mountains, the precipitation has been snow. The snow pack in the Sierras is double what it was at this time last year. Nonetheless, it is still half of normal.
A Final Word On Climate Change
A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change says that CO2 emissions will decline worldwide in 2015 by a very modest 0.6%. Thereafter, they are expected remain steady as increases in emissions by developing nations match reductions by developed nations.
This may sound like progress, but it is not nearly enough. Stemming the increases in the rate of emissions means the CO2 will continue to increase. What is needed is a decrease in emissions, with the ultimate goal of zero emissions. Curbing the increase is a start, but not nearly enough.
It’s winter, but you wouldn’t know if you are in New York or Berlin. Has winter come yet where you are?