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How does a changing climate affect global institutions?

Posted By Johanna Hoffman, Thursday, May 7, 2020

Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the effect of climate change on global institutions. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Climate change increases stress on governmental structures, intensifying vulnerabilities present within. The more taxing a situation turns, the more difficult collaboration and communication often become, creating a vicious cycle that brings cultural and political tensions to the fore. It’s the rare event when one country is effectively able to coordinate with another during times of crisis. Take the current coronavirus pandemic and its wide reaching economic impacts. The international economy is reeling as a result of the virus’ spread, yet there remains little consultation between governments, with plans for stimulus cropping up incrementally and separately across the globe.

 

As climate change progresses, the scale, scope and speed of difficulty will deepen around the world, testing the strength of international institutions to greater degrees. Indeed, climate issues are already showing both how difficult negotiation between countries is, and how insufficient our existing international institutions are to addressing issues of serious concern. When it comes to climate change, the authoritative limits of organizations like the United Nations or the World Bank are progressively highlighted and undermined. All international agreements made since the first COP (Conference of Parties) Climate Change Convention in 1995 have been non-binding, with participating countries left to follow its recommendations via voluntary interpretation. Many global leaders, such as the United States, have pulled out of agreements entirely.

 

Our international institutions, from the World Health Organization to the International Monetary Fund, retain only the power to recommend, pressure or sanction. They do not enforce. In times of strife, following recommendations that have less directly calculable benefit, such as recommendations from the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement that participating countries support sustainable development and enhance adaptive capacity, can become political liabilities. Making moves towards measures that require longer periods of time to show results is all to often a harder move to sell.

 

Again, the coronavirus crisis currently gripping the planet is a useful reference to assess where our international systems might be heading. While not directly caused by climate issues, coronavirus and its devastations are imprints of what is likely to come. As climate change brings warmer temperatures and glacial melt, researchers anticipate that new infectious diseases will arise, to which modern humans have little to no immunity. Coronavirus has shown that sequestering such diseases can be near impossible. In our modern world of global supply chains and constant travel, what affects one part of the globe affects us all.

 

Sadly, our existing international bodies are not up to the task of managing such outbreaks. In the early days of coronavirus’ reach, the World Health Organization sent out warnings, letting governments know that the virus required serious preventative measures. Some countries, like Singapore and South Korea, places where more recent outbreaks of SARS and MERS have left lasting impacts, took the recommendations to heart. Others, like the United States, Brazil and Italy, did not. The WHO has no authority to manage how international governments follow its recommendations, creating conditions where diseases and infections that might have been effectively regulated with cross governmental coordination go on rampant, causing widespread loss of life, economic fallout and social decay.

 

Researchers are certain that climate change will bring more and stranger viruses than we have experienced in living memory. With the conditions of scarcity, uncertainty and fear that come with such pandemics, many leaders may well work to strengthen their respective states and reinforce feelings of nationalism. Governments across the board could enact emergency restrictions and policies to navigate the mounting crises, restrictions that, when those crises abate, leaders may not readily relinquish. Such concentration of power often leads to diminished reliance on international governance and a weakened belief in the power of multilateral cooperation.

 

As the diseases, conflicts and extreme weather events that come with climate change increase, the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of current global institutions will continue to show. The amount and frequency of refugee movements will only spike, bringing more conflict and spurring greater demands on existing resources, challenging the ability of global institutions to manage and guide the flows. Only direct support, coordinated reimagining and international investment, can prevent the already present cracks in our institutions from breaking.

 

© Johanna Hoffman

Tags:  climate change  government  institution 

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What technologies could become potential climate solutions?

Posted By Johanna Hoffman, Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects technologies that could be likely helpful to climate change challenge. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Some people call them a shot in the dark. Others insist they’re escapist fantasy. For others, they’re the saviors we can’t ignore. Regardless of what words you use, negative emissions technologies demand our attention. An emerging area of research and development, they continue to dangle real potential to change the climate adaptation game.

 

In case you’ve yet to hear of them, here’s a brief definition. Also known as ‘carbon dioxide removal systems,’ negative emissions technologies are tools to extract CO2, one of the biggest contributors to global warming, from the atmosphere.

 

Their allure has multiple dimensions. Many acknowledge that as we move towards a net-zero or even net-negative world, halting all carbon emissions both immediately and in the long term is a daunting task. The primary avenues for achieving those goals lie in widespread adoption of more renewable energy and green technology systems. Due to widespread political, economic and cultural issues, however, many carbon drawdown plans recommend continuing certain sources of carbon use for certain periods of time, in the hopes of enabling smoother transitions. That carbon emitted now could be extracted from the atmosphere later presents a comforting prospect, that we could live in a world where the process of addressing climate change could be achieved through less disruptive means.

 

While they sound too good to be true, negative emissions technologies are no fantasy. They currently exist. From bioenergy generation to direct air capture to biochar, these tools have been proven to extract atmosphere CO2. At present, however, the processes are very energy intensive, making the tools prohibitively expensive as blanket go-to strategies for effective sequestration at actionable scales.

 

New research could change that. For example, Wil Srubar, and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has recently developed techniques to replace cement in concrete with cyanobacteria. As construction is one of the most heavily polluting industries, and cement in particular emits huge amounts of of CO2 every year, this innovation presents opportunities for real positive change. Because cyanobacteria is a common class of microbe that captures energy through photosynthesis, this new type of concrete passively absorbs carbon from its surroundings. If the technology is scaled - and it is receiving considerable attention from large scale funders already - it could create buildings and cities capable of becoming not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. Imagine a city where all substrates and surfaces function like a forest, with carbon sinks cropping up wherever human development exists.

 

Despite its many potential benefits, the technology would be no silver bullet. Indeed, it could feasibly enact even more complex and dangerous repercussions. Introducing living organisms into uncontrolled urban environments stands the very real chance of creating lethal externalities, from the emergence of previously unseen diseases to new vulnerabilities in essential support systems. Were bio-hacked cyanobacteria to become the building blocks of our cities, it stands to reason that new, uncontrollable mutations might well cause unanticipated and widespread havoc, both domestically and across the globe.

 

Yet perhaps the most compelling risk that negative emissions present is one of human complacency. If we find ways to extract carbon from our atmosphere, what’s to prevent us from continuing to produce more carbon, methane and other problematic substances, failing to curb the practices that result in greater climatic uncertainty in the first place?

 

To provide more help than harm, negative emissions must be implemented in conjunction with more cohesive energy efficient and net carbon neutral efforts across our borders. Technology alone is not enough to save us. With restraint, international coordination and thoughtful implementation, we stand a far better chance.

 

© Johanna Hoffman

Tags:  climate change  co2  technology 

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Can Africa prepare for disruptive climate change?

Posted By Sarah Skidmore, Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the preparedness of Africa for disruptive climate change in her third blog post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Disruptive climate change is not a mere interruption coming in the distant future. Disruptive climate change is already alive in Africa. It brings devastation to the geography and deadly impacts on African people and wildlife. The coming decades will undoubtedly usher in unprecedented shifts and unthinkable outcomes dramatically affecting the African land, people, and wildlife. Climate destruction encircled (and continues to encircle) Africa in recent history. The cyclones of 2018 impacted individuals living in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe; and, the threat of cyclones continues. The Indian Ocean is warming, and the warming is associated with more significant rainfall in East Africa. Because of the rain, Central Africa experiences unparalleled moisture leading to issues of flooding. Tens of thousands of people living in the regions where the massive flooding occurs resettle to other areas; and resettlement brings its own set of challenges. All-encompassing dust storms overtake regions of the continent. And, think of the global impacts of losing the Congo Rainforest.

 

Africa is estimated to have only contributed 3-5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, but Africa is feeling the brunt of the climate consequences. The disruptive climate change consequences that Africa experiences are primarily spurred on by variables outside the scope of African decisions – including both state and non-state actors. Variables include global policy adherence, state policy development, multinational corporation (MNC) decisions, behaviors of consumers, just to name a few. Within this context, can Africa prepare for further disruptive climate change by 2050? A primary distinction between Africa and other global players is the sheer level of poverty that exists. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, finds itself in extreme poverty without the resources of foreign actors to take precautions and make preparations for climate disruption. In 2050, sub-Saharan Africa will need $50 billion each year to handle the estimated climate disruption. Yet, present poverty serves as a limiting force that impacts the options available to African leaders.

 

Impacts of disruptive climate change in Africa include millions of individuals starving from drought in some regions and other areas people are displaced due to flooding. People who are displaced experience life-altering situations. Displacement welcomes the spread infections due to a lack of sanitation infrastructure, causes a reliance on camp-style temporary shelters, and obstructs access to healthcare. Displacement reduces the grazing and water offered to animals and forces farmers in disaster areas to make tough decisions such as slaughtering their source of income and nutrition. Displacement is merely one rabbit hole to travel down. Think of the carbon considerations that accompany losing the Congo Rainforest. As the second largest global rainforest system, the Congo Rainforest represents 18% of the earth’s rainforests. Or, think of economic impacts that accompany the flooding due to rising sea levels of urban centers situated along the African coast.

 

Africa in 2050 does not have to be earmarked as a climate change dystopia. The decisions that leaders, both in Africa and globally, make now will dramatically shape the African experience in 2050. Within the continent, African leaders and governments may opt to co-create effective local solutions and teach adaptability to communities. African leaders may innovate around renewable energy production, agricultural developments, agroforestry work, and smart city urbanization. Consider the benefits that may arise from intra-continental cooperation and local entrepreneurship. As leaders seek to unlock the potential of Africa by 2050, safeguarding the continent relies heavily on the decisions and actions of current leaders.

 

© Sarah Skidmore 2020

Tags:  Africa  climate change  development 

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How changed might our climate become in 2050?

Posted By Johanna Hoffman, Friday, March 13, 2020

Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program assumes that global climate will be warmer and its consequences increasingly extreme in 2050. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Over the last quarter century, climate change impacts have grown in scope and scale. Global temperatures rose by two degrees Celsius since the 19th century, a tremendous change given the amount of energy it takes to raise earth’s average surface temperature even a small amount. The seemingly small increase has resulted in drastic effects, from more horrific hurricanes to hotter temperatures to wildfires more destructive than anything recorded history has seen. How these shifts will play out over time is something beyond predictive capability - there are too many influencing events and inputs beyond our control. Even with the best research and foresight techniques, conditions will change in ways we can’t fully anticipate.

 

Despite that uncertainty, there are a few emergent trends on which scientists increasingly agree. For starters, global temperatures will continue to rise. Cities like New York will soon have dramatically longer and hotter summers, with the number of days above 32 degrees Celsius slated to more than double by 2050. In a region like metropolitan New York, where hot weather comes with significant humidity, such high temperatures over prolonged periods will result not just in serious impacts to human health and well being, but also damage to the essential myriad systems that rely on ambient air cooling, like HVAC systems and electrical grids. CO2 levels associated with those kinds of temperature increases could easily range from 550 to 600pm, up from the roughly 420ppm levels of today. Those amounts of CO2 would directly result in decreased nutrient levels in agricultural production, spikes in pollution related deaths, and widespread slowing of human cognitive function.

 

Hotter temperatures will also lead to rising seas. Sea levels are likely to rise at least 38cm within the next thirty years, with those numbers quite possibly reaching 100cm in certain areas. Under those conditions, coastal centers like South Beach in Miami would lie underwater. Entire regions, such as greater Bangkok and the low-lying areas of southern Bangladesh, would sit below annual flood levels, placing millions of people at risk and sparking mass migration across the globe. Wealthier areas like the Netherlands and coastal England will likewise face mounting pressure, with growing swaths of land lying fully inundated for greater periods of time.

 

But rising seas mean more than higher oceans. The climatic changes that bring sea level rise also result in stronger storms, more intense rainfall, and bigger storm surge. Areas shaped by major rivers, like development along the Mississippi River Valley, will experience increasingly frequent flooding. Without intense intervention or adoption of new approaches to living with water, these regions will see higher levels of deluge, with daily life interrupted on more regular bases for hundreds of thousands of people.

 

In more arid areas, rising temperatures are slated to bring both more intense rainfall as well as drought. When drought arrives, it will last longer. When rain comes, it will fall harder over shorter periods. The droughts will leave ground more compacted, making it harder for rain to absorb into soils and increasing the likeliness of mudslide. They will also make areas more vulnerable to wildfire. By 2050, the events that have recently wracked Australia with previously unseen levels of devastation will become much more common. From California to the front range of Colorado to Spain and beyond, longer and more dangerous fire seasons will become the norm.

 

While the precise dates and degrees of change remain a mystery, the general trends are clear – global climate in 2050 will be warmer and its consequences increasingly more extreme.

 

© Johanna Hoffman 2020

Tags:  climate change  co2  global warming 

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What is causing a changing climate?

Posted By Johanna Hoffman, Friday, February 7, 2020

Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the causes of climate change in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Climate change comes in two forms. There is the kind caused by natural processes, and there is the kind created by humans. The former has been happening for millennia, produced by a range of factors from the sun’s energy output to shifts in the earth’s orbit. Since the late 18th century, however, that type of climate change has been supplanted. The industrial revolution and its innovations in manufacturing, production, transportation, power use, and more has led to rapid increases of pollutants, carbon dioxide and other emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere, known as greenhouse gases. For millennia, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never been above 325 parts per million. By 1950, levels had blown far past. Since then, massive changes in land use, such as the proliferation of parking lots and other paved surfaces, have made land absorb more sunlight, which our increasingly greenhouse gas filled atmosphere cannot adequately release. As a result, global temperatures continue to rise.

 

Most of this warming has occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record all taking place since 2010. Much of this increased heat and greenhouse gas has been absorbed by our oceans. Since 1969, the top 700 meters of ocean water have warmed more than 0.22 degrees Centigrade and taken in 25% of emitted carbon dioxide. While these numbers may not seem drastic, the impacts are significant. The great ice sheets of the Artic, Antarctic and Greenland are melting at unprecedented rates, with some scientists predicting that the Arctic will be completely free of summer ice within fifteen years. This melting is not restricted to the poles. All across the globe, from the Alps to the Himalayas to the Andes and the Rockies, glaciers are retreating. Satellites show that spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has declined over the last half century, with snow melts starting earlier, putting fresh water access for hundreds of millions at risk.

 

As glaciers have melted and ocean waters have warmed, seas have continued to rise. Today, seas are roughly 8 inches higher than they were in 1900, making many low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives increasingly uninhabitable. A deadly side effect of this rising and warming is ocean acidification. As the ocean absorbs atmospheric CO2, it becomes more acidic in its chemistry. Over the last 150 years, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent, creating harsher environments for wide swaths of animal life. Cetaceans, fish species, crustaceans and more are all adversely affected by acidic conditions, threatening the lives and livelihoods of all those who rely on our oceans for sustenance and support.

 

The climatic changes spurring these shifts mean more than melting glaciers and rising seas. They mean that the current fires devastating the entire continent of Australia will become the norm in regions around the world. They mean that heat waves and severe storms will grow in intensity. They mean that floods will grow more frequent and more powerful, leaving more people inundated for longer periods of time. They mean that more drought will threaten more of our food supplies. They mean that the world that we knew is changing into some more unpredictable and more unwelcome to human habitation that we have ever seen before.

 

© Johanna Hoffman 2020

Tags:  climate change  CO2  nature 

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Why is climate change important?

Posted By Johanna Hoffman, Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program starts to publish a series of blog posts aimed at knowing how a changing climate will reshape the world order. This is her first post in our EF blog devoted to the importance of climate change. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Climate change is arguably both the hardest issue to grasp today and the most important to understand. Depending on location, it can manifest in everything from more violent forest fires to more intense storm seasons, to greater periods of drought. With sea levels slated to rise at least 4 ft. 7 in. (1.4m) meters by the end of the 21st century, coastal urban centers will suffer more flooding, groundwater infiltration, and storm surge. The climatic changes spurring sea level rise - a two-fold process of melting polar ice caps and expansion of warmer ocean waters - will result in greater climatological uncertainty across the board. Our cities will become hotter in summer and colder in winter, storms will wreak more damage in wetter parts of the world, and wildfires will regularly savage drier climates. Previously arable land will become unsuitable for growing crops and formerly perma-frosted regions will transition to breadbaskets. Spikes in particulate matter will make air harder to breathe. The scale of these changes will alter modern life as we know it.

 

As these events become more severe and more common, governments will face mounting pressures. Those with underdeveloped institutional capacity or thin layers of social capital will have growing difficulty supporting their populations, increasingly the likelihood for political strife and conflict. Numbers of environmental refugees are slated to rise significantly in coming decades, which will place more pressures on other parts of the world.

 

That climate change is predicted to create such degrees of damage and discord is a result of the fact that the systems supporting our current ways of life have become increasingly interconnected. Economic vitality is dependent on intricate patterns of international trade. Political instability in the Middle East has serious ramifications for policy in countries from the United States to Russia. More and more, access to fresh water, power and digital communications is dependent on cooperation and coordination between diverse and disparate parts of the world.

 

As such, climate change impacts in one region affect the systems, management and daily life in those of another. If another hurricane takes out power in a global financial center like New York City, as Hurricane Sandy did in 2012, global economies will feel the effect. Researchers have found that the violent civil war in Syria was brought on in part from an extreme drought between 2006 and 2009 that was most likely due to climate change. That war and the associated rise of groups like ISIS has affected life both in neighboring countries as well as those farther afield.

 

Judging by current strife around Syria, climate change is beginning to reshape our world order. In coming decades, it will likely continue to do so in deepening degrees, from public health to global trade and beyond. Many believe it stands to upend human existence as we know it. When we look towards our future on this planet, we can no longer expect what has been to be a model for what is to come. Understanding more about its potential reach and impact is critical to understanding how we want to respond.

 

© Johanna Hoffman 2020

Tags:  climate change  environment  policy making 

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What is climate change?

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 18, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ariana Lutterman is one of our Emerging Fellows. She and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. Her first article seeks to clarify what climate change is and its implications for the present and the future.

Climate change is often cited as the most pressing problem facing humanity today. To truly understand its implications, it’s important to first understand its language. Here I hope to present a framework for how climate change has been defined through a process of international scientific consensus as well as how human actions are implicated in what we are currently observing as climate change.

Climate is weather over time, the earth’s climate is a combination of climates across the planet, and planetary climate change is a change in the earth’s climate over an extended period of time.

Phrased slightly differently, planetary climate change is a change in the combined climates made up of combined weather around the planet over a long period of time. Everyone anywhere experiences weather on a daily basis, and while everyone on the planet is affected by planetary climate change, its effects are infinitesimally small and often more intangible.

Global warming, a rise in the average global temperature, is one measure of planetary climate change. Often used interchangeably, global warming is just one measure of climate change. As the name suggests, it is an overall rise in planetary climate change, but this is only one aspect of what climate change means. The daily lived experience of climate change may, in many areas, look like cooler seasonal temperatures or more frequent cold weather events. So climate change as a term indicates that not only warming is occurring but also a host of other fluctuations to the usual planetary weather patterns.

The earth’s climate is constantly changing. Historically there have been periods both warmer and cooler than now. These fluctuations have resulted from natural processes like variations in Earth’s distance and energy received from the sun, volcanic eruptions, plate tectonics, and changes in earth’s oceans. There is a distinction between this natural climate change variability and what we are now observing. Current observable climate change is occurring much more rapidly than any historic climate event. It is this speed of change we are currently observing with which scientists are concerned. It is this that is attributed primarily to human activities.

The primary anthropogenic, or human-induced, contribution has been a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) since industrial times largely through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas). Though a misnomer (not actually the mechanism through which a greenhouse functions), the greenhouse effect describes how solar radiation trapped by a planet’s atmosphere warms the surface. Human actions since the industrial era have dramatically increased the number of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This anthropogenic greenhouse effect is caused primarily by actions like burning fossil fuels, agriculture, and deforestation which significantly increase atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide and cause higher than normal rates of solar radiation to become trapped by the atmosphere.

I plan to follow the international scientific community’s consensus in recognizing climate change as referring to planetary and anthropogenic changes to climatic patterns. Climate change is a part of a complex system of Earth processes, and its consequences manifest in similarly systemic ways. It represents not only an environmental crisis, but a social, economic, and cultural crisis as well.

© Ariana Lutterman 2017

Tags:  climate change  environment  global warming 

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