The folks at the website Simple Climate have posted a really good set of exercises to guide those interested in learning more about climate change science. The exercises includes an excellent method to calculate one’s carbon footprint, an interactive map on the Keeling curve, and NASA’s Global Equilibrium Energy Balance Interactive Tinker Toy ((GEEBITT). There is also an excellent app for Apple platforms to guide users on how scientists construct and use global circulation models to predict climate change.
As part of my work with the Washington Geoengineering Consortium (WGC), I have established a timeline of key geoengineering events. The site facilitates viewing the timeline in several formats, including visual timetable, “Flipbook,” which focuses on each event on the timeline, and as a list. The timeline also includes pertinent links to many primary and secondary sources on climate geoengineering.
A report published last year by the European Capacity Building Institute on the record of fast start financing by developed countries under the UNFCCC is well worth consulting by instructors who include an adaptation component in their courses. The report, which builds on assessments by the authors in previous years of reports filed by parties to the UNFCCC, seeks to determine “whether wealthy nations transparently contributed a fair-share of the $30 billion dollar pledge, while balancing adaptation and mitigation funding, sourcing funds through UNFCCC channels, and without reverting to debt-inducing loans in the place of grants.”
The assessment sought to answer nine pertinent questions. The first question was whether the amount of fast-start financing provided by developed countries was adequate. While concluding that developed States had exceeded the fast-start finance pledge of $30 billion for the period of 2010-2012, the authors contend that a large percentage of this funding was either not new or additional (see below for further analysis of this issue). Moreover, they noted that some analyses had concluded that as much as $200 billion would be necessary for mitigation and adaptation initiatives by 2030. The second proffered question focused on transparency of financing, including indicia eg. project-level reporting and the division of funding between mitigation and adaptation. The study found more countries woefully inadequate in this context, with even the top country, Switzerland, only scoring 67%.
The third question focused on equitable considerations, i.e. what developed countries were deemed to have contributed their “fair share” based on criteria of responsibility for the problem of climate change (defined as historical carbon dioxide emissions between 1960-2008) and capability, based on national income. The authors found that Norway and Japan had contributed far above their fair share, with New Zealand and Canada close to meeting this criteria, while all other developed States had contributed below fair levels. The fourth question centered on the balance of funding between adaptation and mitigation initiatives, given the mandate in the Copenhagen Accord to approximate an even division of funding between these two prongs of responding to climate change. In this accord, the authors found fast-start funding clearly lacking, with only approximately 18-25% allocated to adaptation projects.
The fifth question assessed the percentage of fast-start funds provided as grants vs. loans, the latter of which were deemed by the authors to be particularly inappropriate for adaptation projects because this form of funding can exacerbate the economic impacts of climate change and because it’s usually a response to damage caused by the very countries that might now be offering only loans. Question 6 of the assessment focused on whether funds are being delivered, per the Copenhagen Accord, through effective, transparent, and representative institutions, e.g. the Green Climate Fund, the Special Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund. The study concluded that only 4% of funding was directed through these channels.
One of the most critical questions is whether mitigation and adaptation funding is “new and additional,” or rather reallocation of foreign assistance from other sectors, e.g. health and education. The study concludes that there are serious problems in this context. First, a recent Oxfam study found that only 33% of fast start funding can be considered “new.” Moreover, the study notes that if all fast-start contributions were truly new and additional, overseas development assistance should be increasing by $10 billion annually. However, given the fact that all forms of overseas development assistance only increased by $11.7 billion annually between 2008-2011, the authors concluded that it was highly unlikely that almost 90% was concentrated in the climate sector.
UNFCCC negotiations have called for the needs of particularly vulnerable populations to be prioritized. The study deemed fast-start funding to be disappointing in this context also. For example, while LDCs have estimated that they would need $5 billion to meet their most pressing adaptation needs, as identified in National Adaptation Plans of Action, to date only $603 million has been pledged for such purposes. The study also cites a lack of transparency in reporting by developed countries as to whether they are seeking to meet the objective of focusing funding on the needs of the most vulnerable States and sectors.
The final question was whether pledges of fast start funds was actually translated into disbursement of funds. While most developed countries fail in their reporting to disclose such figures, a recent study suggested that only approximately a third of pledged funds had actually been delivered, while another concluded that perhaps only 10% of originally pledged climate funds make it to recipients!
The final section of the report provides some helpful suggestions on how to improve the process moving forward (a critical consideration as we move toward 2020, at which point contributions should reach $100 billion annually). These include improving the efficiency of the GEF project cycle, proving direct access to developed countries instead of through intermediary multilateral development institutions, and improved transparency, including standardized reporting that includes project mapping and progress tracking.
This report is certainly not a good portent for long-term financing of adaptation and mitigation initiatives in developing countries. While some of the more process-oriented issues, e.g. reporting requirements and structuring of priorities seem relatively easily rectified, more fundamental issues, e.g. the level of funding commitments (especially given the much higher funding requirements that will be necessary in the future) and the division of funding between grants and loans may prove far more challenging.
Among the discussion questions that might be pertinent if this study is used as a student reading include the following:
- Are there certain potential funding sources that might help to facilitate adequate levels of finance for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries over the next few decades, i.e. that are more politically viable?;
- Should adaptation and mitigation funding be viewed, as some developing countries argue, as a form of “reparations,” justifying very few constraints on disbursement, or a form of assistance in which “donors” are entitled to ensure that funds are used wisely?;
- What other considerations, beyond funding of adaptation, should be studied, i.e. how do we prioritize adaptation and mitigation projects, and how do we measure “effectiveness?”
For instructors who cover climate geoengineering, Columbia University Professor Wally Broecker has recently published a thoughtful opinion piece (open access) on the judiciousness and potential of air capture geoengineering. The piece appears in the new journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.
At the outset, Broecker develops the theme that drives most of the support for geoengineering research in contemporary society, despair over feckless climate policymaking, or as Broecker characterizes it “nibbles by developed countries … swamped by increased energy demand in traditionally poor countries.” After portraying albedo modification geoengineering approaches as only a “band aid” that could help ameliorate climatic impacts until we found permanent solutions, Broecker focuses on air capture as such a potential permanent solution.
Broecker notes that while there are three private groups in the U.S. and one in Switzerland that have launched air capture projects, none have garnered sufficient funding to build and test a complete and automated prototype. This has left us with highly variable estimates of project costs, ranging from Klaus Lackner’s claim that air capture could be effectuated for less than $100 per ton of carbon dioxide to more than $1000 in a 2011 study, as well as the American Physical Society’s estimate of about $600 per ton.
Broecker nicely summarizes the approach of Lackner, who contemplates the development of mass production of modular air capture units that would be shipped to sites of deployment. If each such unit were to capture one ton of carbon dioxide per day, then Broecker estimates that 100 million units would be required to capture the 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide produced annually from fossil fuel combustion. As each unit is estimated to require the amount of materials required to produce an automobile, he argues that it is within the capacity of a society that currently produces 80 million automobiles annually. However, he also notes that 400 million additional units would be required if we wished to bring carbon dioxide down by 10pm annually. Given resource constraints, he concludes this might require the simultaneous use of albedo modification approaches in a time of climatic crisis.
Broecker also outlines several potential advantages of air capture over carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), including the potential to sequester carbon dioxide on-site rather than piping it over long distances, the need to only strip out a relatively small percentage of carbon dioxide from the air (30%), and the potential for mass production of units instead of custom design of CCS units for existing facilities. He also suggests that air capture could contribute to de-carbonizing the transportation sector by permitting us to combine hydrogen produced by water electrolysis with captured carbon dioxide to produce liquid fuels. Moreover, an air capture initiative could produce a substantial number of jobs since it would create an industry 10-20% of the size of the energy sector. Finally, it would raise the price of fossil fuels, helping to level the playing field for renewable energy options.
Broecker concludes by calling for a government-funded program, with “Manhattan Project”-like targets and time tables. This is necessary, he contends, given the fact that industry and venture capitalists view the prospects of air capture as too remote to justify substantial investment.
Broecker’s piece poses some interesting questions. In poo-poing concerns that a commitment to air capture research might create a “moral hazard” scenario in which pressure will be reduced to pursue a transition to renewable energy, he argues that air capture will take many decades to ultimately deploy. However, this sidesteps the question of whether there are substantial opportunity costs in pursuing a full-throated air capture R&D program. Thus, it would be important to assess costs of ramping up such a program over the next few decades, and the potential implications for crowding out renewable energy R&D and deployment. Also, as Broecker himself points out, if the ultimate cost of air capture is in the range of $600-1000, it will not prove viable. While he embraces Lackner’s much lower estimates, it would be interesting to know why he thinks such estimates are more reasonable. Finally, absent from Broecker’s analysis is a consideration of the implications of seeking to store up to 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually in terrestrial or ocean-based facilities, including the imposing environmental and health risks associated with potential leakage, and the huge “NIMBY” battles that may ensue in areas where such facilities might be sited.
However, at the end of the day, it’s hard to disagree with Broecker that air capture is an option that must be seriously considered given the continued dithering of the world community in addressing climate change.
The University of Oxford is delighted to announce that enrolment is open for the seven-week advanced online short-course Constructing and Applying High Resolution Climate Scenarios to commence Monday 17 February 2014.
This course draws upon the world-class climate science expertise at the University of Oxford and the UK MET Office, and is taught online by Dr Friederike Otto and Dr Pete Walton at the Oxford Environmental Change Institute. It is designed to enable policy-makers and other professionals to gain the skills and scientific understanding necessary to support organisations in climate change policy and practice.
The course provides a detailed investigation of regional climate modelling, examining how global climate change information can be ‘downscaled’ to regional levels, how this information can produce climate scenarios appropriate for input to impacts models, and how results from regional climate modelling systems can be interpreted and utilised. The course will also be of significant benefit to users of PRECIS.
As an online course, it can be taken from anywhere in the world and is attractive to an international community. Participants are able to interact with one another and the course tutor online via our dedicated Virtual Learning Environment. For more information and enrolment please visit:
Additionally, the University also offers a free online untutored course An Introduction to the Science of Climate and Climate Change. This course provides an introduction to climate science and current issues surrounding the use of model projections of climate change. It will be of great value to those wishing to learn about the basics of climate science and modelling, such as volunteers or students, and how to go about interpreting the results of modelling experiments. For further information and registration please visit:
Administrative Officer (Environment & Sustainability)
Continuing Professional Development Centre
Department for Continuing Education
University of Oxford
Tel: +44 (0)1865 286952
Fax: +44 (0)1865 286934
The Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI) is developing* a new series of online courses based on the 2006 IPCC guidelines for greenhouse gas inventories. The curriculum in these courses is the definitive “source code” for carbon accounting at all scales: from national inventory estimation down to corporate footprinting.
The first course in this series, “501 IPCC: Introduction and Cross-Cutting Issues,” is now open for enrollment. This course teaches the techniques fundamental to compiling an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and removals.
This spring, we will be launching a series of sectoral online courses also based on the 2006 IPCC Guidelines, including:
511 IPCC: Energy
521 IPCC: Industrial Processes and Other Product Use
531 IPCC: Agriculture
541 IPCC: Forestry and Other Land Uses
551 IPCC: Waste
For more information and registration details for the “501 IPCC: Introduction and Cross-Cutting Issues” course or other GHGMI curriculum please email email@example.com or visit:
The International Energy Agency has released its World Energy Outlook 2013. Because I cannot afford the heftily priced full version, I am going to discuss the Executive Summary below. This would be an excellent student reading to provide a snapshot of the current state of global energy consumption and production and projections over the next few decades.
Among the findings in the report:
- China is poised to become the world’s leading oil importer by the early 2020s and India, the leading importer of coal. The U.S. may meet all of its energy needs from domestic sources by 2035;
- Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are still slated to rise by 20% through 2035 even under the study’s “Central Scenario,” which includes policy interventions in the United States, China and Japan. As a consequence, the world is on a trajectory for long-term temperatures to increase 3.6C above pre-industrial levels;
- Two-thirds of potential economically viable energy efficiency gains remain on the table despite substantive changes in policy recently to facilitate efficiency improvements;
- By 2035, oil consumption will be concentrated in two sectors, transport and petrochemicals;
- Brazil is an extremely dynamic actor in the energy sector in 2035, with oil production tripling, natural gas production increasing five-fold, and biofule production tripling. At the same time, the country is projected to see an 80% increase in energy use during this period.
Please take a look at the website 100 Views of Climate Change (http://changingclimates.colostate.edu), a collection of annotated resources (videos, books, articles, websites) from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives (sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts), each characterized by college-level content and primer-level clarity, most of them lively and inviting to readers. These sources are for interested, non-specialist adults—for climate citizens—including (but by no means limited to) college students and their teachers (who will also find here a few resources such as syllabi).
This website is a project of Changing Climates @ Colorado State University, a multidisciplinary education and outreach initiative housed in the English Department and supported by the NSF-funded Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP). CC@CSU began with several series of talks by specialists for the campus and wider community (over 120 talks so far, to audiences totaling some 6,000). Current activities include this website and various efforts to help specialists communicate more clearly and effectively to the general public.
To suggest resources for the website, or for further information, please contact SueEllen Campbell, co-director of CC@CSU: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For instructors who find visual maps a useful teaching tool, WWF, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies have just released Mapping UNFCCC REDD+: a visual guide to the systems and structures supporting REDD+ within the UNFCCC. The maps include issues associated with REDD finance, national strategies/action plans, monitoring systems, and procedures for establishing emissions and forest reference levels.
While discussions of Chinese energy policy have often focused on its prodigious burning of coal for electricity production, there’s been very little coverage of its plans to massively expand its use of coal for production of synthetic natural gas (AKA substitute natural gas). China has already approved nine large-scale SNG plants this year, with total capacity of 37.1 billion m3 of natural gas per year, and 30 more are in the planning stages, with a combined capacity of 120 billion m3. To put the magnitude of this commitment in perspective, the pioneering Great Plains Synfuels Plant in the United States has a capacity of only 1.5 billion m3.
A recent article in Nature Climate Change makes a strong case that this path could prove environmentally disastrous. Authors Chi-Yen Yang and Robert B. Jackson outline the stark implications of a commitment to SNG. SNG produces life-cycle GHG emissions approximately seven times that of conventional natural gas, as well as 26-82% high than pulverized coal-fired power production for generation of electricity. Overall, the combined projected carbon dioxide production of all of the approved and projected plans could result in an “astonishing” ˜111 billion tons of carbon dioxide over 40 years, severely undercutting any prospects for reduction of GHG emissions over the next half century. The plants would also require tremendous water resources, dramatic exacerbating water shortages in several regions already facing substantial water stress. In analyzing the economics of such plants, the authors conclude that because such plants would continue to be operated for as long as revenues exceeded fuel and operation and maintenance costs (even without recovery of initial capital investments), there’s a very real danger of technological lock-in and slowing of market penetration of renewable energy sources.
Is China about to render its bottom-up commitments under the UNFCCC chimerical?