Climate news in general captured press attention on Friday and Saturday alongside the goings-on at the Lima COP20 meeting. Here’s a roundup, including several research reports, carbon capture and storage schemes, commitments and funding developments, a recent retirement, and weather in the Philippines.
More bad news about the environment broke. Researchers at the University of California–Irvine and NASA made the first collation of two decades of observations of the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment and found that ice loss in the west Antarctic has tripled over only the past 10 years.
A separate study in the journal Science studied trends in the properties of Antarctic seawater and found that warming and saltier ocean waters are not only melting ice on the surface in that area; they have also begun to corrupt Antarctic glaciers from below. A complete collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels by a catastrophic 11 feet around the world.
Meanwhile, the Philippines braces for Typhoon Hagupit, another mega-storm like the one that caused hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes in threatened coastal areas last year. You may recall that last year’s storm elicited an impassioned and sorrowful speech from Yeb Saño, the Philippine delegate to the Warsaw COP19 conference. Saño is not part of this year’s team, which has aroused curiosity and concern.
Su Wei, China’s lead climate negotiator, said that his country will “markedly reduce carbon intensity” by 2020. The Chinese announced a plan to declare their national contribution to the global agreement within the first half of 2015—another indication of the nation’s serious attitude toward worldwide climate change.
Mr. Su also attracted notice when he criticized Australia for refusing to donate to the Green Climate Fund, another development this week. Tony Abbott, the nation’s climate-confused Prime Minister, has declared a policy of funding climate measures in his part of the Pacific through a national source instead. This could mean one of several things, all unappealing: he’s making a somewhat more breakable promise this way, especially having just lowered his budget spending; he’s grandstanding for regional support; he’s simply clueless; or perhaps something else.
Meanwhile, Norway has just promised to increase its own donation massively, bringing the suggested $10 billion GCF number for this year only a whisker below its stated goal. Still, the fund’s capital remains only a third of the amount invested in oil and gas exploration by the fossil fuel industry, according to a recent report.
The role of carbon capture and storage was another topic discussed, notably in a discussion group late Friday afternoon that drew a standing-room crowd. Presentations from Mexico, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia on initial steps toward CCS drew interest, although it dimmed a bit when the Saudi speaker came up with slides of rooms full of all-male national decisionmakers, replete with noticeable English misspellings. The gargantuan financial commitments needed for CCS implementation always merited repetition, and the implementation dates mentioned were far off, in the range of 2025–2035.
Skeptics like Al Gore have questioned the massive effort, time, and funding required for CCS to become useful on a significant scale—along with a pile of unknowns on the path from theory to reliability. In an unofficial comment, one of the European Union representatives mentioned that the EU is expecting CCS to be involved in 10–30% of European power by 2050.
In other news, the fiery and outspoken environmental activist Bill McKibben, progenitor of a new wave of environmental activism with a keen focus on the Keystone XL pipeline and divestment, stepped down from the chair of 350.org, the environmental organization he founded 10 years ago. He has put a huge part of his life into fighting for the environment and vows to continue doing so, although not in daily engagements like budget reviews. The Guardian offers this endearing quote:
I’m ready for a bit more order in my life. Don’t worry—I’ll still be there when the time comes to go to jail, or to march in the streets, or to celebrate the next big win on divestment. But I’d like to see more of my wife.