The climate this week – 18 Jan 2021

The climate this week – 18 Jan 2021

A weekly report on the politics, economics and science of climate action

By Jenny Goldie, CCL member from the electorate of Eden Monaro, NSW.

Featured image: On January 20th Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. His climate-friendly agenda is a source of hope for the entire world. Source: Gage Skidmore (cc).

New year, old problems

Welcome back and happy new year! Let’s hope this one will be better than 2020, which saw “horrific bushfires in Australia; a protracted heatwave in Siberia; the most tropical storms ever registered in the Atlantic; devastating blazes in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands; the highest flood levels recorded in east Africa; unusually devastating cyclones and typhoons in India, Indonesia and the Philippines; the hottest northern hemisphere summer in history; temperature records in the Antarctic and the Arctic, where winter ice formation was delayed for longer than in any season in the satellite era”. (Forgive the lack of attribution.)

Depending on whom you ask, 2020 was either the warmest year on record, or equal warmest, or second warmest (just). It is almost irrelevant because the last seven years have been the warmest on record. The writing is on the wall, we must act now, or at least in the nine years remaining of this decade.

The bottom line: act now

Any optimism I may have felt was largely smothered by a paper this week by Corey Bradshaw et al in Frontiers of Conservation Science called “Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future”. The 17 authors argue that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed.  As far as climate change is concerned, they say that the latest climate models show greater future warming than previously predicted, even if society tracks the needed lower emissions pathways over the coming decades.

On a more positive note, however, a report in the Guardian says that if we can stabilise emissions, we can return to normality fairly quickly. David Spratt of the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne, however, says that: “This area is a minefield, even within the scientific community!”  Spratt puts a dampener on the optimism by saying: “…at zero emissions we lose between 0.5C and 1C (or even more) of aerosols which have been masking much of the warming, so that warming would then have to be added in…And then there is the question as to whether long-term feedbacks which are already active now would continue.  For example, once permafrost carbon-cycle feedbacks kick in, it doesn’t take more human emissions and warming for them to continue. The biological breakdown of permafrost carbon creates enough heat for it to be self-sustaining.” The message is, let’s not get too excited about the result, even if we achieve zero net emissions.

Ready for US action?

The big news, of course, is that Joe Biden won the US Presidential election despite spurious claims of fraud by Trump and his supporters. The Democrats have won the Senate thanks to (albeit close) elections in Georgia that delivered two seats to the Democrats. The House of Representatives remained Democrat after the November elections. Now, with the casting vote of VP-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate, Biden will be able to get through anything that does not demand a two thirds majority. Biden will be able to re-join the Paris Agreement and put in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) people who actually care about the environment. However, the bigger picture items may have to be held over. Nevertheless, the Trump defeat/Biden win is good news for the climate.

Turn off the gas!

Here’s a petition to sign regarding green-led, not gas-led, economic recovery.

Further resources

The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.

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