- About us
- Take Action
- Climate Change
- Site search
What if Bloomberg, Branson and Grantham came together to buyout the coal industry, close and clean up the mines, retrain workers and accelerate the expansion of renewable energy?
Would you make a one time $50 (£31) investment to save $100-500 each year? Sound good? Add nine zeros to each of those numbers. In other words, invest $50bn once over the next decade, and generate $100-$500bn in benefits every year.
That's the surprisingly low price to buy up and shut down all the private and public coal companies in the US, breaking the centuries-old grip of an obsolete, destructive technology that threatens our present and our future. It's a compelling high-return opportunity available now in the US if some farsighted investors merge purpose and private equity in a new way.
How would it work? The deal would phase out coal companies over 10 years, close and clean up the mines, write down the assets, retrain and re-employ some 87,000 workers, and create job opportunities and prosperity for coal-based communities. If at the same time the US accelerates expansion of renewable energy sources and transmission facilities, this could be accomplished with no interruption to electricity supplies, adding only about a penny or two to each kilowatt-hour on electricity bills.
This one-time transaction would generate multiple benefits. It would eliminate US's largest single source of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide from coal plants. What's it worth to cut out at least one quarter of US carbon emissions? To assign a dollar value, we'd need to put a price on carbon.
Even without that number, though, we can already tally the direct health and environmental benefits of ending coal: the sulphur dioxide that causes acid rain, the nitrogen oxide that becomes smog, the particulates that provoke asthma, and the toxins like mercury, lead and cadmium that harm human brains, animals and fish. Estimates range from $100bn a year in a 2010 National Academy of Sciences report to $345bn a year in a 2011 Harvard Medical School study.
This buyout could come at a deep discount, rescuing the beleaguered owners, shareholders, and workforce of a dead-end industry. Coal has a dark future, already foreshadowed in declining stock market prices and abandoned plans for new construction. It faces competition from natural gas and renewables. And public opposition has led to hundreds of coal plants closed or blocked by the Sierra Club and its allies.
The industry's market valuations could plunge further as it faces more taxation or regulation. As what's now being called a "carbon bubble" deflates, insurance companies, markets, and elected officials may all conclude that, of all fossil fuels, coal's deadly poisons put our world most at risk. Institutional investors that don't recognise these risks are already failing in their fiduciary duty to shareholders. And coal company directors and executives may come to see a buyout as the best way to protect shareholder value.
Who can make it happen? In normal times, we'd expect government to take the lead, since everyone, not just investors, would enjoy the savings by avoiding damaging coal emissions. But that's not on the cards right now, neither from Congress nor the White House. Can we figure out a way to inspire third parties to remove what economists call "negative externalities?"
What if a few shrewd and enlightened investors step up to "do the right thing" – through the marketplace? Leadership could come from the 114 billionaire families who, encouraged by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, have already committed through the Giving Pledge to donate half of their assets to charity. What better investment could they make to protect their families, future generations, and their assets? They would be recognised forever as pioneers in responding to climate change.
Savvy climate hawks like Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, John Doerr, Jeremy Grantham, and Tom Steyer know all about buyouts. These financial superstars could figure out the best way to structure a Coal Buyout Fund – maybe even at a profit. Private equity firms could get management fees for the deals. A crowdsourced component could become the biggest kickstarter ever.
A coal industry buyout could then become the inspiring foundation for a global financial strategy to get us off fossil fuels, head off the worst consequences of climate change, and rewrite our future.
Gil Friend is founder and former CEO of Natural Logic, Inc., author of The Truth About Green Business and is the chief sustainability officer of the City of Palo Alto, CA.
Join the community of sustainability professionals and experts. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inbox
Thirty senators wrapped up nearly 15 hours of speeches on climate change in a very public embrace of a cause many once fled as political poisonSuzanne Goldenberg
Setting ambitious targets will take business away from the ordinary and force it to search for new alternatives
There has been much discussion and debate since the EU Commission recently unveiled its proposed 2030 carbon targets. While the energy lobbies argue the targets are too ambitious, the green lobbies assert they're not ambitious enough.
I was recently among a delegation of business leaders from the Prince of Wales's EU Corporate Leaders Group in Brussels. The purpose of the meeting was to impress on the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, our support for the proposed 40% target to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, as a minimum.
Unlike other continents, Europe does not have the conventional energy resources needed to power our economy. We have traditionally relied on other regions for our supply and have been subject to their price policies. With massive shifts in the energy supply occurring around us, it is critical for Europe to take control of its future and unlock its low-carbon economic potential. What we need is for Europe to step up – to take radical action and drive the market changes we need to transform our economy towards a more sustainable path. We need to do this not just for the wellbeing of our markets, but for our people and the planet.
An ambitious low-carbon target is achievable and can dramatically increase profitability and productivity. Interface Europe has surpassed the proposed 40% reduction and is now operating at a 90% reduction rate. The ultimate target is for Interface to have zero impact on the environment by 2020.
When Mission Zero was conceived in 1994 by Interface's founder and CEO, the late Ray Anderson, the goal seemed outrageous and unattainable, but two important strategies have helped Interface forge ahead: increasing efficiencies and switching to alternative energy sources. Faster production lines, recycling products and developing innovative technologies have reduced emissions by 60%. The remaining 30% of reductions have come from converting to green electricity and, more recently, to biogas.
Other companies in other industries are also showing that meaningful change is within reach. Toyota Motor Europe has reduced its production energy and water use per vehicle by 70% since 1993. Japanese construction and mining equipment manufacturer Komatsu has reduced its transport and logistics GHG emissions (a proxy for transport energy use) by 35% in five years (PDF). These examples show significant progress can be made if organisations set themselves the challenge to make tangible differences swiftly.
These examples are to be applauded, but greater commitment and drive will be needed if industry as a whole is to move to a zero-carbon model. Setting modest percentage targets generates results, but it is unlikely to create the conditions and provide the impetus that will lead to a step change.
Objectives, environmental or otherwise, are often set on the basis of what is technically achievable, but that limits vision to what is feasible now. The only way to push the boundaries is to set seemingly impossible targets. It takes you away from the ordinary and challenges you to widen the scope and look for alternatives that you didn't know were possible. Increasing efficiency forced Interface to venture into the unknown and search for technologies it never dreamt could exist. By applying NASA technology it developed an ultrasonic cutting machine that doubled output and reduced waste by 80%. By becoming more energy efficient, continuously replacing raw materials with bio-based or recycled alternatives, and switching to renewable energy, Interface has reduced costs by €7.6m per annum since 1996.
Former UK prime minister David Lloyd George once said: "Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated; you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps." Now is the time for the EU Commission, parliament, industry and society at large to rise to the challenge of the sustainability targets laid out by the EU Commission. We must be able to unlock a low-carbon economy in Europe. It is just as essential for the environment as it is to stimulate innovation, jobs and growth; and for Europe to remain competitive.
Rob Boogaard is acting CEO and president EMEA of Interface and a member of the Prince of Wales's EU Corporate Leaders Group
Join the community of sustainability professionals and experts. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inbox
'Miracle' mineral traps ammonium to lessen odour of pig slurry and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Chabazite is a remarkable mineral. It saved Parma ham a few years ago and may provide a way to combat the proliferation of green algae along the coast of Brittany, France. A pilot scheme is due to start soon near Cap Fréhel, focusing on the drainage basin of the river Frémur.
Chabazite belongs to the zeolite group and is found in volcanic tuff. Traditionally it has been used for construction work in L'Aquila province, Abruzzo, in central Italy. But some years ago Elio Passaglia, a researcher at the University of Modena, discovered that it had unsuspected virtues. It can trap NH4+, or ammonium, which gives rise to the nitrates responsible for the proliferation of toxic algae along coastlines.
The rock, which exists in a very pure state in Italy, is also found in Arizona in the United States and has attracted the attention of Nasa scientists. Passaglia was, however, the first to demonstrate its powers publicly during the hot summer of 1998 when it was feared that the stench from pig farms in Tuscany might discourage tourism.
Yielding to local pressure the head of the town council at Pavullo nel Frignano, south-west of Bologna, demanded the closure of some farms. At a meeting called to resolve the crisis, Passaglia performed his "magic" trick. He got some particularly fragrant pig manure and poured powdered chabazite into it; the stench was gone. A pilot scheme was launched, in great secrecy, and the complaints stopped.
In 1999 Giovanni Battista Pasini, head of the Union of Emilia Romagna Mountain Communities, published a decree encouraging pig farmers to include chabazite in their feed. About half the members now add chabazite.
Verdi, a small company based between Modena and Parma, now mines the mineral, at Sorano, Tuscany. "It's the biggest concentration in the world," claims Pietro Azzolini, the head of the company. Potential reserves are estimated at 6.5m cubic metres. In 10 years, 300,000 cubic metres of this rock – which is the same yellow-ochre colour as nearby villages – has been quarried. The rock is crushed and dried to obtain a powder "with no trace of any water or organic substances", Azzolini adds. He maintains that reserves would be sufficient to meet the needs of Italian and even Breton farmers for a century.
Thanks to cavities in its structure, the rock traps ammonium. A kilo of chabazite can absorb 18g of it. On pig farms the powder is added to pig feed, at a 3% concentration. This reduces the amount of ammonium in the slurry by about a third and cuts atmospheric emissions by one-fifth.
Further research in France has confirmed the substance's ability to eliminate smells. "Up to 40% cuts in peak odour can be achieved," says Eric Poincelet, a green technology specialist and joint head of Nitracure, a company set up in Montpellier in 2012, with backing from Verdi. The phosphorus content of pig slurry can be cut by 40%, with a roughly 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. "In simpler terms," Poincelet explains, "the pigs produce less gas because they digest and assimilate nutrients more easily." Chabazite granules can also be sprinkled on the ground, at concentrations of six cubic metres a hectare. An EU funded pilot scheme to test this is taking place in Italy.
"It's not the philosopher's stone," says Nitracure head Jacques Bouyer. "But in 2011 these impressive results convinced Michel Cadot, then prefect of Brittany, and Claudy Lebreton, leader of the Côtes d'Armor regional council, to launch a series of studies and experiments." These confirmed the Italian findings.
Chabazite is being tested at Kerguéhennec Farm, Morbihan, an experimental unit operated by the regional chamber of agriculture. Monique Le Clézio, deputy-leader of the Côtes d'Armor council, who took part in a study visit to Italy, cautions: "It's too soon to get excited and several experiments will be needed to find solutions which will certainly have an effect but also come at a cost."
"The chabazite will cost €700 [$950] a tonne, delivered in Brittany," Poincelet says. "And half of that is for transport." "The business model is certainly viable," Bouyer adds. At a cost of €4 for each 100kg pig, with the average consumer buying 35kg of pork a year, it would represent an additional annual cost of €1.30 per person. "We're only just beginning to get the financial picture, but you can be sure of one thing: with the massive amounts central and local government are about to spend on cleaning up water and soil pollution in Brittany, it must be worth trying chabazite," Bouyer affirms.
Lebreton hopes it will have a positive impact in terms of jobs, but above all for public health and farming. It is an opportunity to be seized, he believes, in view of the criticism recently heaped on the area's intensive farming model.
But it is still not clear how the cost of importing the wonder mineral will be financed. The extra cost may seem insignificant but neither the pig-feed suppliers nor the farmers have any desire to foot the bill.
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le MondeRemi Barroux
A new paper by Drew Shindell of NASA provides more evidence to support relatively high climate sensitivity estimates
We hear a lot of talk these days about climate sensitivity. It is often considered the most important measure for predicting how much the Earth's temperature will increase as we emit heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.
But, the term sensitivity has to be used carefully because it can mean different things in different contexts. For instance, there is a long-term (equilibrium) sensitivity to doubling carbon dioxide which refers to the ultimate temperature reached by the planet if we were to double carbon dioxide. There are also shorter term (transient) sensitivities which relate to temperature changes as heat trapping gases increase at some specified rate.
Values for climate sensitivity in general can be obtained many ways. My favorite way is by looking at deep history. If we can measure how sensitive the climate was in the past, perhaps we can infer its sensitivity now. A second way is through the use of modern temperature records and recent greenhouse gas levels. A third way is through the use of climate models (computer programs that replicate the Earth climate system). Regardless of the method used, there is general agreement that if we were to double carbon dioxide, the Earth's surface temperature would eventually increase by 1.5–4.5°C (2.7–8.1°F). Obviously, if the Earth sensitivity is at the upper end of the range, we are in trouble.
Recently, there have been some studies which suggest that maybe the climate sensitivity is at the lower end of this range. Most of these studies have only used the second method to calculate sensitivity, a fact that will soon become important. In addition to real science studies, there have been policy organizations that have promoted these low-sensitivity results. But my question is, what does the science say? Fortunately, a paper just published in Nature Climate Change provides some guidance on this question. The study was completed by Dr. Drew Shindell from NASA, and what he found was exciting. It turns out, not all Watts are equal. Energy changes to the Earth system from changes of sun-reflecting particulates or from ozone have a different impact than energy changes from carbon dioxide.
The Earth has a greater sensitivity to particulates and ozone than to carbon. The reason for this seemingly strange behavior is that aerosols are largely located near industrialized areas in the Northern Hemisphere. This hemisphere also happens to contain much more land area than the south – and land regions are more sensitive to changes in energy, at least in the near term. In short, particulates and ozone impact more sensitive parts of the planet. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, spreads out uniformly across the globe – it doesn't accumulate in one hemisphere or another.
However, let's not get too excited about particulates saving us from global warming. Dr. Shindell also showed that while in the short run, the cooling effect from particulates matters a lot, in the long run, it doesn't make much of a difference. The impact can be seen in this figure which shows the prior expectations of the climate (dashed line) alongside the revised prediction (solid). By 2050, there really is little difference.
What does this have to do with climate sensitivity? Well, it means that studies based on observed warming (such as the recent low climate sensitivity studies) have underestimated the sensitivity because they did not account for the greater response to aerosol forcing. Multiple lines of evidence are now consistent showing that the climate sensitivity is very unlikely to be at the low end of the range. The consequences of climate change are thus likely to be towards the more damaging end of the estimates, unless we take action to quickly reduce our emissions.
As Dr. Shindell aptly states,
"I wish we could take some solace from the slowdown in the rate of warming, but all the evidence now agrees that future warming is likely to be towards the high end of our estimates so it's more clear than ever that we need large, rapid emissions reductions to avoid the worst damages from climate change."
Fortunately for us, the technologies are available for us to reduce emissions, we just need the will.John Abraham
Tom Delay: We must overcome short-termism, inconvenient truths and cuts to R&D and find the Brunels of low carbon technology
How melting ice sheets and increased winds could be behind Antarctica's apparent paradox of growing sea ice in a warming world
As every good climate science denialist knows, the fact that there's a bit more sea ice in Antarctica is proof enough that global warming is probably a load of old Adélie penguin poo.
So when a ship carrying climate scientists on an expedition got stuck in that sea ice over Christmas it was time to sharpen the blogging knives with those stones of irony.
"Warmists trapped by irony off Antarctica," wrote News Corporation's Andrew Bolt.
"Global Warming's Glorious Ship of Fools" said The Spectator magazine.
"This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop," Tweeted Donald Trump.
Bolt told his readers the expedition, led by Professor Chris Turney, "apparently hadn't realised sea ice there had grown over three decades to record levels" despite the fact that the expedition clearly did know about the conditions in the region they were about to explore.
On the expedition website, one of the nine stated scientific goals was to "explore changes in ocean circulation caused by the growth of extensive fast ice and its impact on life in Commonwealth Bay".
"How we laughed", wrote Bolt, who "apparently hadn't realised" that the exhibition in fact had "realised" that sea ice was expanding.
Often when it's pointed out that Arctic sea ice is rapidly melting, the climate change contrarianites (or if we'd like to take the short route to eliciting a Nazi analogy, we can use the term 'deniers') will step bravely forth with data from Antarctica.
Antarctica is a vast continent that's almost double the size of Australia, almost one and a half Canadas or 60 Great Britains.
So what's going on down there?Antarctic vs Arctic Sea Ice
The Tasmania-based Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre has just released a new "position analysis" of the brain-achingly complex issue of southern hemisphere sea ice.
It's got a lot of science in it.
Antarctica's sea ice goes through dramatic swings from year to year.
Between September and October, the amount of sea ice can reach as much as 19 million square kilometres – an area one and half times the size of the continent. By the end of the summer melt season, there's only about three million square kilometres left.
The annual change, the ACE CRC reports, is "one of the biggest natural changes" observed anywhere on Earth.
The ACE CRC's report says that since 1979, the amount of sea ice coverage around Antarctica has been rising by about 285,0000 square kilometres every decade.
By contrast, the Arctic has been losing 1.8 million square kilometres per decade.
But Antarctica appears to be a much more complex beast than the Arctic, where sea ice is on a downward trend pretty much everywhere as the region warms at roughly twice the global average.
For example, the ACE CRC report says that in one area of Antarctica – the Bellingshausen Sea – the rate of sea ice loss is actually greater than the fastest melting regions of the Arctic.
In the Ross Sea, the area of frozen ocean has been going up by five per cent per decade.Complex changes
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Dr Jan Lieser, lead author of the ACE CRC report, told me the increase in sea ice is consistent with the changes in a warming world.
The sea ice is sitting at the interface of the ocean and the atmosphere, and so it gets a double-whammy effect. We actually understand the physics of this quite well. It is because of the warming that we can see the sea ice increasing at the moment.
Speaking from Hobart and an international gathering of scientists to discuss polar sea ice, Dr Lieser said the picture of change in the Antarctic was complex.
But he said increased wind, wave and storm activity in the Antarctic helped to stir up the waters, creating ridges and rifts that helps sea ice to thicken.
Professor Ian Simmonds, of the University of Melbourne's School of Earth sciences, also told journalists that while it might seem paradoxical to have sea ice growing in a warming world, scientists understood the mechanisms behind it.
He said an increase in westerly winds across the continent which were linked to increasing greenhouse gas emissions were helping to create ideal conditions for ice to form, particularly in those areas where there have been marked rises in ocean ice.
But the paradoxes in the Antarctic don't stop there.
There's also a suggestion that a big contributor to the increasing sea ice could be the melting of the massive Antarctic ice sheet in the west of the continent.
According to the last IPCC report, between 2002 and 2011 the Antarctic ice sheet was likely losing ice at a rate of 147 billion tonnes a year – up from 30 billion tonnes a year over the previous decade.
A study published last year in the journal Nature Geoscience, concluded that all this added fresh water creates ideal conditions for Antarctic sea ice to form.
But the ACE CRC report notes that the current modest trend in rising Antarctic sea ice will likely be short lived.
The melting and break-up of glaciers, the changes in snowfall and changes in the air temperatures will all play a role in the future, says the report.
Overall, computer modeling suggests that Antarctic sea ice will decline in the future, but how it will effect different parts of the vast continent and the its rich ecosystems is very much an area of live science.
So while some commentators prefer to rely on their intuition to form a view, the scientists travel to the world's most challenging environment to get answers.Graham Readfearn
Abbott aims at Labor’s carbon tax stand and Shorten returns fire, demanding no cuts to health and educationDaniel Hurst
28 Democrats have signed on to an all-night speechathon to try to push Congress to take up climate changeSuzanne Goldenberg
Senators scheduled to speak through night seek to ‘make climate change an issue in 2014’Suzanne Goldenberg
GWPF has released a biased report on the subject of climate sensitivity, but it acknowledges the dangerous path we're on
The UK anti-climate policy advocacy group Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has published a report written by Nic Lewis and Marcel Crok claiming "the IPCC hid the good news" regarding climate sensitivity (how much the climate will warm in response to the increased greenhouse effect). Lewis is an amateur researcher and retired financier who has published a few papers estimating climate sensitivity, and Crok is a freelance science writer.
The report itself is essentially a commentary and includes no new information. It boils down to Lewis and Crok trying to make the case that climate sensitivity is on the lower end of the IPCC estimated range. The report represents a very selective and biased review of the scientific literature on the subject. Recent papers by Gavin Schmidt and Drew Shindell at NASA, not considered in the GWPF report, entirely contradict its conclusions, for example. As climate scientist Steven Sherwood described it,
"The report is standard cherry-picking. It offers no new evidence not already considered by the IPCC, relying very heavily on a few strands of evidence that seem to point toward lower sensitivity while ignoring all the evidence pointing to higher sensitivity."
However, the good news is that the report is consistent with the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming. It acknowledges that global warming will continue as long as humans continue increasing the greenhouse effect, and merely suggests that future warming will be toward the lower, slower end of the IPCC estimates. As climate scientist Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading also noted,
"Remarkably for a report published by the GWPF, the authors agree with mainstream climate scientists that significant further warming is expected ... It is great to see the GWPF accepting that business-as-usual means significant further warming is expected. Now we can move the debate to what to do about it."
That being said, the conclusions of the report are poorly justified. There are several approaches used to estimate the sensitivity of the global climate to the increased greenhouse effect. Lewis and Crok make their case for why only the methods that yield lower estimates are valid, but when considering the full body of available evidence, their arguments don't hold water.Paleoclimate Studies
Paleoclimate studies attempt to estimate climate sensitivity based on the global energy imbalances and associated temperature responses from climate change events in the geologic record. The most robust study of this type was done by the PALEOSENS team, published in Nature in 2012. This study evaluated past climate changes over the previous 65 million years, considering nearly two dozen investigations of many different geological time periods.
The study estimated that during past large climate events, global surface temperatures warmed between 2.2 and 4.8°C in response to an energy imbalance equivalent to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This range is consistent with IPCC estimates (1.5 to 4.5°C), and mostly inconsistent with the lower estimates preferred by GWPF (1.25 to 3°C).
The GWPF report has very little discussion of paleoclimate sensitivity estimates. They just say that these studies don't tightly constrain the possible climate sensitivity range, and past climate states are different than current and future climate states, so "little weight can be put on the palaeoclimate estimates." While there is some truth to these critiques, entirely disregarding the results of these studies is simply not justifiable.
In summary, paleoclimate studies provide one line of evidence that supports an equilibrium climate sensitivity between about 2 and 4.5°C, and the GWPF justification for dismissing these estimates is weak.General Circulation Models
Climate models (general circulation models or GCMs) provide another method by which to estimate climate sensitivity. The physics of the climate system are input into very detailed climate models, which can then estimate how the global temperature will respond to various influences. The results can give us projections of future global warming under a variety of scenarios, and also give us an estimate of the global climate sensitivity. Most GCM equilibrium climate sensitivities range between 2 and 4.5°C, consistent with paleoclimate estimates.
Lewis and Crok argue that the GCMs used in the 2014 IPCC report don't include the latest estimates of the cooling effects from aerosol pollution, which have been revised downwards, and argue this means the models are overly sensitive. However, according to climate modeler Gavin Schmidt of NASA, this is incorrect.
"Their logic is completely backwards. Climate model sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is intrinsic to the model itself and has nothing to do with what aerosol forcings are. In CMIP5 there is no correlation between aerosol forcing and sensitivity across the ensemble, so the implication that aerosol forcing affects the climate sensitivity in such 'forward' calculations is false ... The spread of model climate sensitivities is completely independent of historical simulations."
In fact, Schmidt recently published a study noting that about half of the models used in the latest IPCC report don't include indirect aerosol effects (for example via their influence on cloud formation), and those indirect effects accounted the main change in the IPCC aerosol influence estimates. Schmidt's paper also showed that when accounting for the most recent estimates of solar, aerosol pollution, and El Niño influences on the climate, models actually do a better job estimating temperature changes, contrary to the GWPF report argument.
In summary, GCMs provide another line of evidence that generally supports an equilibrium climate sensitivity between about 2 and 4.5°C, and the GWPF justification for dismissing these estimates is incorrect.'Instrumental' Estimates
The method preferred by the GWPF report, and that which Lewis has used in his own papers, involves estimating climate sensitivity using a combination of recent instrumental temperature data, less complex climate models, and statistics. A few studies using this approach since about 2012 have begun yielding climate sensitivity estimates toward the lower end of the IPCC range.
The challenge with this 'instrumental' method of estimating equilibrium sensitivity is that it's based on 'transient' measurements of an unbalanced climate. There is currently a global energy imbalance, and reaching a new equilibrium state will take over a century. Therefore, estimating equilibrium climate sensitivity based on measurements of a climate that's out of equilibrium requires making some significant assumptions. However, several recent studies have suggested that these assumptions may not be correct, and that the conclusions of these 'instrumental' studies therefore may not be reliable.
None of these papers or concerns with 'instrumental' climate sensitivity estimation methods are mentioned in the GWPF report. Instead, the report argues that this approach provides the only reliable method for estimating climate sensitivity, and that all other methods that produce higher estimates (e.g. paleoclimate and GCMs) are wrong.
However, an important new paper just published by Drew Shindell at NASA reconciles the difference between the climate sensitivity estimates in these varying approaches, but not in the direction advocated by the GWPF report. Shindell, who along with Nic Lewis was a co-author on one of the 'instrumental' method papers cited heavily in the GWPF report, notes that studies using this approach have assumed that the global mean temperature response to all influences is equal. His study investigates this assumption by comparing GCM temperature responses to greenhouse gases with their responses to aerosols and ozone.
As it turns out, the climate is most sensitive to influences in the northern hemisphere at high latitudes, in large part because these are amplified by changes in Arctic sea ice. The forcing from aerosols and ozone isn't globally uniform, but instead focused more in the northern hemisphere high latitudes. Hence it results in a relatively larger temperature response than an equally strong influence from greenhouse gases, which are well mixed throughout the atmosphere.
When assuming equal sensitivity to all forcings, Shindell estimates a climate sensitivity almost identical to the GWPF estimates. However, when Shindell accounts for the more sensitive temperature response to aerosols and ozone, the new results are consistent with the higher end of the IPCC climate sensitivity range, and inconsistent with the lower GWPF estimates.Accounting for Cloud and Water Vapor Observations
The GWPF report also notes that changes in cloud cover in a warming world are a key to determining climate sensitivity. On this topic the report merely claims, "Observational evidence for a positive cloud feedback is weak, at best." However, there have been several studies comparing observed changes in cloud cover to cloud simulations in climate models. These have shown that GCMs with lower climate sensitivity tend to inaccurately represent observed cloud changes, which are more accurately captured by higher sensitivity models.
These studies were also omitted from the GWPF report, but they provide yet another line of evidence for high and against low climate sensitivity.Climate Policies are Insufficient in Any Case
The GWPF report concludes by complaining that by not emphasizing the lower climate sensitivity estimates, the IPCC has "inadequately informed" policymakers about the state of the science. However, from a policy standpoint, we're not doing nearly enough to reduce emissions even in the best case scenario advocated by the GWPF report.
Moreover, as detailed above, the full body of scientific evidence suggests that climate sensitivity is relatively high. Even if you believe the GWPF report is right, there's a good chance it's not. Proper risk management therefore mandates that we must take action to mitigate the threat of dangerous climate change.
In any case, the full body of evidence is firmly against the conclusions of the report. The authors merely dismiss or ignore the research that doesn't support their desired conclusion, and overlook the shortcomings of the research that does.
Virgin chief writes on his blog that businesses should follow Apple's example and take a stand against climate scepticism
Virgin Group chairman and founder, Sir Richard Branson, has said businesses should "stand up" to climate change deniers and they should "get out of our way".
Branson said he was "enormously impressed" with Apple's chief executive for telling climate change sceptics to ditch shares in the technology company.
At Apple's annual meeting last month, Tim Cook responded angrily to questions from a rightwing thinktank, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), about the profitability of investing in renewable energy, saying: "If you want me to do things only for ROI [return on investment] reasons, you should get out of this stock."
Writing on his blog, Branson said he "wholeheartedly" supported Cook's comments and that every business in the world should emulate Cook's goal of wanting "to leave the world better than we found it", an aim Branson said Virgin shared too.
"The NCPPR stated there is an 'absence of compelling data' on climate change. If 97% of climate scientists agreeing that climate-warming trends over the past century are due to human activities isn't compelling data, I don't know what is," Branson said, referring to a survey last year of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals that found 97.1% agreed climate change is man-made.
Branson said that businesses should take a stand against climate scepticism. "More businesses should be following Apple's stance in encouraging more investment in sustainability. While Tim [Cook] told sustainability sceptics to 'get out of our stock', I would urge climate change deniers to get out of our way," he said.
The entrepreneur hosted a summit of Caribbean leaders last month at his home in the British Virgin Islands, brokering a deal to help finance renewable energy projects in the region to reduce the islands' dependence on expensive oil imports.Adam Vaughan
More than two dozen Democratic senators will take to the floor to show their commitment to tackling climate change
More than two dozen Democratic senators will take to the Senate floor on Monday for an all-night session of speeches on climate change.
The marathon session will get underway after the last vote on Monday night and could last until 9am on Tuesday, Senate staff said.
The Senators said they would be tweeting throughout the night, using the hashtag #Up4Climate.
"Climate change is real, it is caused by humans, and it is solvable," Brian Schatz, Democratic senator from Hawaii, said in a statement. "Congress must act. On Monday night we are going to show the growing number of senators who are committed to working together to confront climate change."
There is no prospect of getting climate change legislation through this Congress – and a majority of Republicans in the House and Senate deny the existence of a human role in climate change or oppose action on climate change.
The leading Republican in the Senate, minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said at the weekend he doubted the existence of climate change.
"For everybody who think it's warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn't," McConnell told the Cincinnati Enquirer. He then said he opposed US action on climate change. "Even if you conceded the point, which I don't concede, but if you conceded the point, it isn't going to be addressed by one country. So the idea is, we tie our own hands behind our back and others don't. I think it's beyond foolish and real people are being hurt by this."
But there is a perceptible change in the Obama administration's willingness to public embrace climate change as an important political issue.
Administration officials – led by Obama himself – have been much more vocal about climate change in his second term, and the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing on with regulations to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the single largest source of climate pollution.
John Kerry, the secretary of state, reaffirmed on Friday he wants to make climate change his signature issue.
The Pentagon also reaffirmed last week that it saw climate change as a threat to military installations.
Some of the 28 senators taking to the floor on Monday night have been working for years to try to get climate change legislation through the Senate, including the Masschusetts Democrat Ed Markey, who was co-author of a 2009 bill.
The Rhode Island Democrat, Sheldon Whitehouse, has delivered 60 speeches about climate change over the last two years.
But there will also be some newcomers on Monday night, as well as a number of senior Democratic senators, such as Nevada's Harry Reid and New York's Charles Schumer, who have been reluctant to take up climate change.
Two Independents who caucus with the Democrats, Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Maine's Angus King, will also take part.
As might be expected, no Republican senators signed on to the new initiative. A number of energy-state Democrats are also staying away, such as Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska. Mark Warner of Virginia who is up for election in 2014 was also not on the list of participating senators.
The full list of participating senators includes: Harry Reid of Nevada, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York, Patty Murray of Washington, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Barbara Boxer of California, Dianne Feinstein of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Bill Nelson of Florida, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Al Franken of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Angus King of Maine, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ed Markey of Masachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.Suzanne Goldenberg
UN envoy says Bangladesh needs billions of dollars to adapt to climate change as donors fail to match pledges with money
Bangladesh needs $5bn (£3bn) over the next five years to adapt to current climate changes, and the cost is rising each year, according to a lead negotiator for developing countries in the UN climate talks, which resume in Bonn on Monday.
It, and other developing countries, may have been promised $30bn as "fast-start finance" before $100bn a year is theoretically mobilised for developing countries in 2020, but the global recession and reluctance by rich countries to match their pledges with money have meant that most of them receive far less than they expected and has led to a loss of trust in the talks.
"So far Bangladesh has received $200m from the fast-start finance, half of which has come from Britain. We had hoped for much more," said Quamrul Choudhury, who is also Bangladesh's climate envoy to the UN.
"Britain, like us, has not been immune to extreme floods and storms," he said. "You have built defences costing billions of pounds. If we could only build the 700km of coastal defences that we need, it would protect at least 50 million people. It would cost us not much more than $15bn. Our costs are much lower than yours."
The injustice of the poorest countries having to spend heavily to adapt to climate change, which they historically barely contributed towards, is a deep wound in the long-running talks, the next stage of which will finish in Peru with a head-of-state-level meeting with the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in September. It has led to a breakdown of trust between countries.
But Choudhury is hopeful that countries will negotiate a legally binding global treaty in Paris next year. "I am optimistic. China is in a positive mood. The UK, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden are pushing the EU to raise their ambition. Obama is more positive; I think he will take a leadership role. There is much more awareness now in the talks."
There have been other changes over the years, he says. "Everyone thought in 2008-09 that it would be expensive to reduce emissions. Now we know for certain it doesn't cost much. It's not a herculean task. Countries like the UK know it is possible to go for a 65% cut without losing jobs or hurting growth.
"We know now that [cutting emissions] can create jobs. But to get an agreement means rich countries, especially, must try to rebuild confidence and that means committing money and being prepared to compromise and make sacrifices. The more rich countries give now, the more likely the least developed countries are likely to sign up in Paris."
But he warns that the cost of adaptation is high – and mounting. "The $100bn a year will not be enough. On top of that we will want a legal mechanism to compensate for 'loss and damage', [compensation for extreme climate change events]. There should definitely be some space in the [final] treaty for that," Choudhury said.
The shame, he says, is that delays are costing countries dear. "Five years will have been lost following the diplomatic debacle in Copenhagen, when developing countries refused to be railroaded into an unsatisfactory agreement.
"If we had succeeded then, we could be implementing a treaty now. Instead we have moved the target to beyond 2020 at the cost of the teeming millions in the least developed countries."
Guardian Australia: Researchers say greenhouse gases will reduce the number of storms that generate big swells by 40%Oliver Milman
Climate Council says the summer was ‘another example of climate change tearing through the record books’Oliver Milman
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, is about to make what may be the biggest decision on global climate policy of his term. The verdict on whether to approve or reject the Keystone XL pipeline, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, could, at one stroke, confirm or condemn US prospects for climate leadership. This is a policy decision that will have truly global significance. Keystone has been called the "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet". According to experts, it would end any hope of the US meeting existing international commitments to cutting emissions by 17% by 2020, let alone forge new action.
We call on Mr Kerry to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and open up a pathway to a clean and sustainable energy future. We are not alone. As of today, more than 1.5 million people from the US and across the world have submitted formal comments and are standing with us, responding to Kerry's call made in Jakarta for individuals and governments to turn up and fight climate change. Keystone XL is his chance to set a correction course on US energy policy and open up a new clean energy future. We hope he does.
Desmond Tutu Archbishop emeritus
Dr James Hansen Former head, Nasa
Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Yeb Saño Climate leader, Philippines
Daryl Hannah Actress
Fernando Meirelles Director
Teresa Ribera Former secretary of state for climate, Spain (current MP)
Rebecca Harms Co-chair, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
Christine Milne Leader, Australian Greens
Caroline Lucas MP Green party, UK
Kristin Bauer Actress
Peter Robinson CEO, David Suzuki Foundation
Mysterious compounds undermining recovery of giant ozone hole over Antarctica, scientists warn
Dozens of mysterious ozone-destroying chemicals may be undermining the recovery of the giant ozone hole over Antarctica, researchers have revealed.
The chemicals, which are also extremely potent greenhouse gases, may be leaking from industrial plants or being used illegally, contravening the Montreal protocol which began banning the ozone destroyers in 1987. Scientists said the finding of the chemicals circulating in the atmosphere showed "ozone depletion is not yesterday's story."
Until now, a total of 13 CFCs and HCFCs were known to destroy ozone and are controlled by the Montreal protocol, widely regarded as the world's most successful environmental law. But scientists have now identified and measured four previously unknown compounds and warned of the existence of many more.
"There are definitely more out there," said Dr Johannes Laube, at the University of East Anglia. "We have already picked up dozens more. They might well add up to dangerous levels, especially if we keep finding more." Laube and his colleagues are in the process of fully analysing the dozens of new compounds, but the work completed on the four new chemicals shows them to be very powerful destroyers of ozone.
Laube is particularly concerned that the atmospheric concentrations of two of the new compounds, while low now, are actually accelerating. "They are completely unimpressed by the Montreal protocol," Laube told the Guardian. "There are quite a few loopholes in the protocol and we hope some of these are tightened. But the good news is that we have picked up these [four] early." The chemicals take decades to break down in the atmosphere, meaning their impact on ozone and climate change is long-lived.
"This research highlights that ozone depletion is not yesterday's story," said Prof Piers Forster, at the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the study. "The Montreal protocol – the most successful international environmental legislation in history – phased out ozone-depleting substances from 1987 and the ozone layer should recover by 2050. Nevertheless this paper reminds us we need to be vigilant and continually monitor the atmosphere for even small amounts of these gases creeping up."
The new research, published the journal Nature Geoscience, analysed air samples captured since the mid-1970s in several ways. Air bubbles trapped in snowpack in Greenland, samples taken by scientists in Tasmania and others collected by aircraft flying 13 miles above Europe were all analysed. The team found three new CFCs and one HCFC, none of which had been identified before. "I was surprised no-one had picked these up before," said Laube. At least 74,000 tonnes of the four newly discovered chemicals have been emitted, the scientists estimate, although in the 1980s one million tonnes of other CFCs were pumped into the atmosphere every year.
Despite the production of all CFCs having been banned since 2010, the concentration of one – CFC113a – is rising at an accelerating rate. The source of the chemicals is a mystery but Laube suggests that CFC113a may be being used as a feedstock chemical in the production of agricultural pesticides. "But we can't rule out illegal sources," he said.
CFCs and HCFCs were used mainly in refrigeration and aerosol sprays but, in 1985, scientists discovered the Antarctic ozone hole. It grew in size from almost nothing in 1979 to a peak of 26.6m sqkm in 2006. As the Montreal protocol has taken effect, it has recovered slowly, shrinking to 21.0m sqkm in 2013. Ozone screens out harmful ultraviolet rays from sunlight that can cause cancer in humans, as well as damaging marine life, crops and animals.
"Although these new emissions [of the four chemicals] are small, for the Montreal protocol to continue to be successful it is necessary to understand whether it is being strictly complied with," said Prof William Collins, at the University of Reading, and not part of the research team. "This study provides useful new information on policing the protocol, tracing sources of new CFCs that are possibly arising as the by-products of manufacturing other chemicals."
In December, Nasa researchers revealed the discovery of a new greenhouse gas that is 7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth and which has been in use by the electrical industry since the mid-20th century. The four newly identified compounds are also expected to trap heat thousands of times more powerfully than CO2.Damian Carrington