Must-Knows for UN COP24 Climate Negotiators: 10 New Insights in Climate Science 2018

Read the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research introduction here and see a summary of the 10 new insights in climate science for negotiators below.

Weblink to the 10 New Insights in Climate Science:

Weblink to the full press release of Future Earth:

DEC 10, KATOWICE – Many impacts of human-induced climate change, from drought and heat waves to Antarctic ice melting, are coming earlier than expected. Extreme events, such as recent fires in North America and floods across Asia, can with increased certainty be linked to global warming. Halving global emissions over the next decade is technically achievable and would save the world billions of dollars, say scientists in a new statement to coincide with the UN annual climate talks in Katowice, Poland.

Their warning comes as global emissions are projected to rise for a second consecutive year to a new historical high after three stable years.

Professor Johan Rockström, Designated Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Co-Chair of Future Earth and Chair of the Earth League, the organisations that produced the statement says: “Emissions must peak by 2020. The world cannot allow climate extremes to unfold and increase the risks of violating the planetary boundaries when all the solutions to solve this challenge are here in front of us.”

“Our analysis of the most recent research shows that a global transition to clean energy is affordable, achievable, and already underway,” says Future Earth Executive Director Amy Luers. “But to avoid catastrophe, we must ratchet up the pace and move beyond energy. The research shows clearly that we must cut emissions by half across all economic sectors in the next decade, to have a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”

The statement, “10 New Insights in Climate Science,” will be presented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 24th Conference of the Parties, 10 December, and distributed to negotiators in Katowice. It is published by Future Earth and the Earth League, two major international organizations representing networks of global sustainability scientists, and summarizes recent Earth-system science, policy, public health and economic research.

Summary of the 10 new Insights in Climate Science:

1. Extreme weather events are now clearly attributable to climate change

The frequency and intensity of extreme events, including flooding, heat waves, and drought conditions have been increasing. Until recently, it was difficult to clearly attribute these events to climate change. Now, more accurate observations and progress in modelling has made the link clear.

2. Growing climate impacts show risks of critical tipping points

Changes have been observed in major Earth systems – like a weakening of the Atlantic overturning circulation, mass mortality of the world’s coral reefs, and the tripling of ice loss from the West Antarctic ice sheet. These and other systems could reach points where they rapidly collapse or a major, largely unstoppable transformation is initiated. The risks are growing.

3. Every half degree matters: Large difference in impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C degrees of warming

This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5oC has shown that the magnitude and risk of a range of climate change impacts increase significantly between 1.5°C and 2°C.

4. New understanding of the acceleration of sea level rise and its future

The rate of ice loss from Antarctica is increasing. It is now almost twice as high as projected by the latest IPCC assessment (2014). Limiting warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C can avoid the inundation of lands currently home to about 5 million people.

5. Managing plants and soil: a prerequisite for meeting the Paris Agreement

Between 2007 and 2016, land use change was responsible for annual global emissions of, on average, 4.7 billion tons of CO2, which is around 12 percent of CO2 emissions. Natural climate solutions could potentially provide over one-third of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilize warming to below 2°C.

6. Options to remove CO2 from the atmosphere are limited

Scenarios that have recently been assessed by the IPCC show that the world will need to draw down between 100 and 1000 billion tons of CO2 out of the air, so-called Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), during this century to achieve the 1.5oC target. But research shows that CDR at the upper end of this scale is in conflict with other sustainable development goals.  [NOTE: see a presentation on the current state of Carbon Capture and Removal at a UNFCCC COP24 press conference at Katowice, Poland with Sir Nicholas Stern here.]

7. Major socio-technical transformations needed to meet the 1.5°C target

Globally, approximately halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is consistent with meeting the Paris Agreement goal to stay “well below 2°C.” This is technically feasible but this scale of emissions reductions requires transformations of full socio-technical systems, across all sectors and scales. There is already considerable momentum in the energy sector that it could see major shifts towards very low emissions, with the right support. However, there is worryingly little progress in reducing emissions from buildings, transport, food systems and industry.

8. Stronger policy measures would reduce climate risks

Global fossil fuel subsidies remain massive. Phasing out these would reduce global carbon emissions and strengthen public budgets, but reforms should consider acceptance, effects on poverty, and possible adverse effects such as shifts from gas to coal. A portfolio of policies including standards, regulations, incentives, and carbon pricing would effectively support and accelerate a low-carbon transition.

9. Transformation of food systems needed for global health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions

Decarbonizing and building resilience in the world food system is a prerequisite to succeed with the Paris Agreement. Dietary shifts away from unhealthy “Western diets” towards reduced meat and dairy consumption are a significant way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health.

10. Benefits for global health by addressing climate change

Climate change is increasing the numbers of injuries, illnesses, and deaths from, for example, extreme weather and climate events, infectious diseases, and undernutrition. Efforts to combat climate change would have significant co-benefits for health, chiefly, saving millions of lives through lower air pollution.


10 New Insights in Climate Science


Climate Change Performance Index 2019: Not enough countries prove political will to prevent dangerous climate change

  • Global CO2 emissions are rising again / Sweden and Morocco leading countries, Morocco with significant expansion of renewable energy / eight of the G20-countries perform very low – USA and Saudi Arabia at the bottom of the index

Katowice (December 10th, 2018)  Read full report here

  • The Climate Change Performance Index by Germanwatch and the NewClimate Institute published together with the Climate Action Network (CAN) is a ranking of the 56 countries and the EU, together responsible for about 90% of global GHG emissions.

After three consecutive years of stable CO2 emissions, emissions are rising again. The Climate Change Performance Index 2019 (CCPI), published today at COP24 in Katowice, shows only few countries have started to implement strategies to limit global warming below 2 or even 1.5°C. While there is a continued growth and competitiveness of renewable energy, especially in countries that had low shares before, the CCPI shows a lack of political will of most governments to phase out fossil fuels with the necessary speed. Because of that, in most countries the climate policy evaluation by national experts is significantly lower than in the last years. Jan Burck, co-author of the CCPI at Germanwatch, comments: “Based on techno-economic developments in the last years, delay in implementation of low-carbon solutions can hardly be justified. While the G20 summit has shown strong support of 19 countries to support the Paris Agreement, the political will of those Governments to set the right frameworks and incentives for its national implementation is not yet reflected in these words.”…

From Katowice to Auschwitz — Ellie’s COP24 #2 blog post

by Ellie Cohen (see my COP24 #1 post here and #3 post here)

I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex (Oświęcim in Polish) today while here in Poland for the annual UN climate meeting. My visit was sobering, to say the least. It was only a 35 minute drive from the COP24* in Katowice. As my “premium Auschwitz tour” passed under the infamous “arbeit macht frei”** gate, I was transported back in time and deeply moved.

Over 1.1 million people were exterminated there, the vast majority Jews. Brought by cattle cars from all over Europe in horrific conditions, families were forcibly separated, then individuals selected by Nazi doctors for their ability to “work” or not (providing labor for the Nazi regime under horrendous conditions that most people ultimately did not survive). Most women, children and older men were not selected to “work” but were told to take the long walk paralleling the train tracks to the gas chambers where they were, unbeknowst to them, about to be murdered then cremated.

Visiting Aushwitz-Birkenau– walking the long “ramp” from the entrance (behind in the distance) to the gas chambers where hundreds of thousands were murdered.

The night before at the UN climate proceedings in Katowice, Big Oil, in the form of the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, prevented the initial acceptance of the recent IPCC 1.5°C report, a conservative assessment of the latest science on how dire things are becoming due to climate change (read more here).

While the events of the holocaust occurred more than 70 years ago, I began to realize how the lessons of Auschwitz relate all too tangibly to our world today. Some studies predict that society will move toward more authoritarianism and fascism as climate change worsens and threats grow. One definition of fascism is “a form of radical authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by ‘dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.'” We are seeing increasing shifts in this direction across the world, including in the United States. [Note that Brazil had committed to host the UNFCCC’s COP25 next year but with its new authoritarian-leaning leader, they have withdrawn from that commitment. The UNFCCC has yet to determine where next year’s COP will be held.]

At COP24, renowned climate policy expert and economist, Ottmar Edenhoffer, of the Potsdam Institute, said, “In the end, the climate problem is not our biggest market failure, it is the biggest government failure.  Other players are important, but governments assess and enact the policy implements for change.”

And a small sign posted at one of the Auschwitz prisoner blocks read, “Those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”

Are we forgetting the past and moving from one authoritarian, horrific outcome to another?  Not if we remember history and take action to protect the fundamental democratic values most us in the West now take for granted. We must keep hope alive, working to ensure that democratic processes thrive despite the challenges our changing climate is already imposing on humanity.

That also necessarily means we must continue to support and engage in science with its inherent evidence-based, transparent frameworks, to guide the best possible decision making during this time of rapid change.

*This COP24 is the 2018 “Conference of the Parties” to the United Nation Framework Convention on the Climate Change–the 24th meeting of the 195 countries of the world now signed on to the Rio environmental treaty of 1992 to prevent dangerous climate change.

**Translated as “work will set you free”– a terrible perversion of meaning as most prisoners walking through this gate never returned due to hard labor in subhuman conditions.


Microplastics found in guts of every species of sea turtle across world


Despite concerns regarding the environmental impacts of microplastics, knowledge of the incidence and levels of synthetic particles in large marine vertebrates is lacking. Here, we utilize an optimized enzymatic digestion methodology, previously developed for zooplankton, to explore whether synthetic particles could be isolated from marine turtle ingesta. We report the presence of synthetic particles in every turtle subjected to investigation (n = 102) which included individuals from all seven species of marine turtle, sampled from three ocean basins (Atlantic [ATL]: n = 30, four species; Mediterranean (MED): n = 56, two species; Pacific (PAC): n = 16, five species). Most particles (n = 811) were fibres (ATL: 77.1% MED: 85.3% PAC: 64.8%) with blue and black being the dominant colours. In lesser quantities were fragments (ATL: 22.9%: MED: 14.7% PAC: 20.2%) and microbeads (4.8%; PAC only; to our knowledge the first isolation of microbeads from marine megavertebrates). Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT‐IR) of a subsample of particles (n = 169) showed a range of synthetic materials such as elastomers (MED: 61.2%; PAC: 3.4%), thermoplastics (ATL: 36.8%: MED: 20.7% PAC: 27.7%) and synthetic regenerated cellulosic fibres (SRCF; ATL: 63.2%: MED: 5.8% PAC: 68.9%). Synthetic particles being isolated from species occupying different trophic levels suggest the possibility of multiple ingestion pathways. These include exposure from polluted seawater and sediments and/or additional trophic transfer from contaminated prey/forage items. We assess the likelihood that microplastic ingestion presents a significant conservation problem at current levels compared to other anthropogenic threats.

Why greens are turning away from a carbon tax

  • Putting an economic price on greenhouse gases is proving a hard sell with the public, even as time to head off climate change shrinks.

Zach Colman, Eric Wolf  Read full Politico article here

Taxing carbon to tackle climate change is one of those big ideas that have long held a kind of bipartisan sway in Washington — endorsed by Al Gore and former members of Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet, economists from both parties and even Exxon Mobil.

But environmentalists are increasingly ready to look elsewhere.

This month’s fuel-tax riots in Paris and the defeat of a carbon-fee ballot measure in Washington state show the difficulty of getting people to support a levy on the energy sources that heat their homes and power their cars. Meanwhile, even the most liberal Democratic candidates this year gave carbon taxes scant if any mention in their climate platforms, focusing instead on proposals like a phaseout of fossil fuels and massive investments in wind and solar power.

The story of the carbon tax’s fading appeal, even among groups that like it in principle, shows the difficulties of crafting a politically palatable solution to one of the world’s most urgent problems — including greenhouse gas levels that are on track to reach a record high this year……

….Some plans would direct the money to investments in clean energy investments, or — in the case of Washington state’s proposal — toward helping communities suffering from the effects of climate change or the closure of fossil fuel industries. Others, such as a plan backed by former Republican Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker, would also phase out existing carbon regulations.

But the Washington state proposal won the support of just 43 percent of voters last month, after a barrage of oil and gas industry lobbying opposing the carbon fee. The reaction was violent in Paris, where days of riots forced French President Emmanuel Macron to scrap a 6.5-cent fuel tax that had been aimed partly at weaning motorists off diesel and gasoline….



Industrial fisheries are starving seabirds all around the world

  • Researchers found that annual seabird food consumption decreased from 70 to 57 million tonnes between 1970 and 2010.
  • Meanwhile, fisheries increased their catches of potential seabird prey from an average of 59 million tonnes in the 1970s and 80s to 65 million tonnes per year in recent years.

University of British Columbia

Industrial fisheries are starving seabirds like penguins and terns by competing for the same prey sources. Seabirds are now the most threatened bird group…

…This diminished food supply is putting seabirds at risk – making them the most threatened bird group – with a 70 per cent community-level population decline in the past seven decades.

“Since the 1970s and 80s, we’ve lost a quarter of all penguins and nearly half of the terns and frigatebirds,” said Grémillet. “Meanwhile, seabird-fishery competition continues to increase in areas such as the Asian shelves, Mediterranean Sea, Norwegian Sea and the Californian coast.”….

David Grémillet, Aurore Ponchon, Michelle Paleczny, Maria-Lourdes D. Palomares, Vasiliki Karpouzi, Daniel Pauly. Persisting Worldwide Seabird-Fishery Competition Despite Seabird Community Decline. Current Biology, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.10.051

2018 UNFCCC Global Climate Meeting– Ellie’s COP24 blog #1 from Katowice, Poland (video and news links)

by Ellie Cohen

Just arrived!

I’m honored to be representing Point Blue again this year at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 24th Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC’s COP24).  The “parties” are representatives of the 195 countries of the world that have signed on to the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

You can watch various COP24 events live and recorded here (see for example some of the inspiring opening plenary).  Read daily summaries and listen to daily podcasts prepared by Climate Home News here (and sign up for their informative e-newsletter here and see for example Katowice brief: Final push for Paris).  Also sign up for updates and find excellent information at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s COP24 website pages here.

Point Blue became an officially recognized Observer NGO in 2017 as one of about 2000 globally.  This year’s meeting is being held in Katowice, Poland.  COP24 kicked off Sunday, December 2 (you can read more here) and goes through Friday, December 14th at least (could be extended depending on where negotiations are at).

This year’s COP is considered very urgent as it is time (past time!) to nail down specific “teeth” to the Paris agreement of 2015 and ensure that the countries of the world reach their greenhouse gas reduction goals for 2020.  Those goals as currently committed- while ambitious- are not enough to keep us below 2C warming above pre-industrial times; we are already over 1C warmer now with severe consequences.

An exciting trend is that nature-based solutions including the oceans and agriculture are increasingly being considered as part  of the solution.

It is also exciting just to be “in the room where it happens” with dedicated and bright climate leaders from around the world.  Per a recent Eco-business article, “according to the provisional list (pdf) published by the UNFCCC, there is a grand total of 22,771 registered participants at COP24. This includes 13,898 people representing specific parties, 7,331 from observer organisations – such as scientists, business groups and various non-governmental organisations – and 1,541 journalists.”  Inspiring!

Check my blog over the next week for more updates.

The Global Soil Health Challenge– to achieve 25% of negative emissions needed by 2030

  • A global network to increase the pace and scale of multi-benefit soil management to achieve 25% of the needed carbon removal by 2030 for food and human security.
  • Improving soil health is a powerful climate solution.  Healthy soils hold more water, store more carbon from the atmosphere, increase food security, support biodiversity and enhance resilience to climate extremes such as droughts and floods. Join us in a soil health revolution to fight climate change.” –Karen Ross, Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture

For more information, please contact: Jenny Lester-Moffitt, Undersecretary, CA Dept. of Food & Agriculture,; or Deborah Bossio, PhD, Lead Soil Scientist, The Nature Conservancy, Deborah.Bossio@TNC.ORG

WHAT: The Global Soil Health Challenge works to secure national and subnational (e.g., states, cities, businesses) commitments that prioritize and support healthy agricultural soils to help achieve each country’s Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and for regional and local climate action plans.

WHO: Announced by California and France at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco (September 2018), signatories to the Global Soil Health Challenge agree to promote the development of healthy soils within their respective geographies and report back on their progress at upcoming climate meetings of the UN. Founding members also include the “4 per 1000” Initiative, The Nature Conservancy, Under2 Coalition, and Point Blue Conservation Science.

WHY: To keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and to return to a safe climate, the UN IPCC recently issued an urgent call for dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing CO2 from the atmosphere or “negative emissions.” To do that, they reported that soil carbon sequestration is among the cheapest methods with the greatest potential.[1]

Healthy soils are foundational to human well-being, climate stabilization and vibrant ecosystems. The sustainable management and restoration of soils enhance agricultural productivity, fresh water availability, biodiversity, and climate change preparedness with enormous potential to slow and reverse negative impacts.[2]

Almost all IPCC scenarios that keep us below 2°C of warming include CO2 removal – typically about 10 billion tons CO2 yr-1. Based on the latest estimates from the IPCC, soils management could pull as much as 5 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually on croplands and rangelands by 2050, offering 50% of the needed carbon removal, with zero additional land and water use.[3]

Currently, only 8 governments include programs on soil health in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).[4] Yet boosting soil health at scale should be relatively easy to achieve through low-tech sustainable agricultural practices with policy, funding and technical suppor

HOW: The Global Soil Health Challenge will provide the needed platform to set macro level targets, report on progress, network with associated initiatives and engage in high level advocacy. Activities in 2019 will include developing an inventory of existing policy and market initiatives, mapping and engaging with the network of relevant actors, and convening a group of states and regions to 1) share specific actions they can take to improve soil health and carbon sequestration within their jurisdictions, 2) encourage them to formally adopt soil health strategies as part of their broader climate action plans, and 3) replicate specific soil health actions.

The Global Soil Health Challenge will unlock the potential of soil climate solutions building on the networks already activated through the “4 per 1000” Initiative, FAO’s Global Soil Partnership, the Under2Coallition and Nature4Climate.  It will provide the needed support for policy and strategy development. Together we will demonstrate the role healthy soils can play in achieving the ambitious but urgently needed goals of the Paris climate agreement as well as other global sustainability and environmental targets.


[2] von Unger, M. & Emmer, I. (2018). Carbon Market Incentives to Conserve, Restore and Enhance Soil Carbon. Silvestrum & TNC, Arlington, VA, USA.

[3] Equally important is avoiding future emissions from soil by protecting existing soil carbon stocks in grasslands and wetlands, which are part of many land use strategies.

[4] CCAFS, 2016 Agriculture’s prominence in the INDCs: data and maps. Wageningen, Netherlands: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. Accessed Dec 2018.

Scientists call for eight steps to increase soil carbon for climate action and food security as UN climate meeting begins

  • International coordination and financing are essential

University of Vermont  Read Science Daily coverage here

Leading scientists call for action to increase global soil carbon, in advance of the annual climate summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Katowice, Poland (COP24) and World Soil Day (5 Dec).

The amount of carbon in soil is over twice the amount of carbon found in trees and other biomass. But one-third of the world’s soils are already degraded, limiting agricultural production and adding almost 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, an amount equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 216 billion hectares of U.S. forest.

Modalities for climate action in agriculture will be addressed 3 December at the first workshop of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), a breakthrough initiative of the 2017 UNFCCC climate negotiations.

In a commentary piece, Put More Carbon in Soils to Meet Paris Climate Pledges, published today by the journal Nature, climate change and agricultural scientists who serve on the science and technical committee of the organization 4 per 1000 describe a path for recuperating soil carbon stocks to mitigate climate change and boost soil fertility. The scientists suggest that the KJWA formally commit to increasing global soil organic carbon stocks through coordination and activities related to eight steps.

….The eight steps are:

1. Stop carbon loss — Protect peatlands through enforcement of regulations against burning and drainage.

2. Promote carbon uptake — Identify and promote best practices for storing carbon in ways suitable to local conditions, including through incorporating crop residues, cover crops, agroforestry, contour farming, terracing, nitrogen-fixing plants, and irrigation.

3. Monitor, report and verify impacts — Track and evaluate interventions with science-based harmonized protocols and standards.

4. Deploy technology — Use high-tech opportunities for faster, cheaper and more accurate monitoring of soil carbon changes.

5. Test strategies — Determine what works in local conditions by using models and a network of field sites.

6. Involve communities — Employ citizen science to collect data and create an open online platform for sharing. 7. Coordinate policies — Integrate soil carbon with national climate commitments to the Paris Agreement and other policies on soil and climate.

8. Provide support — Ensure technical assistance, incentives to farmers, monitoring systems, and carbon taxes to promote widespread implementation.

…”We are amassing a rich body of knowledge on how to increase soil carbon stocks,” said Claire Chenu, a Professor of Soil Sciences at AgroParisTech. “But further research is needed. For example, we know root systems make an important contribution to soil carbon stocks, but we are still researching how specific crops with deep roots, vs. cover crops, vs. agroforestry systems differentially contribute to increasing soil carbon. We need more data on the effects of agricultural practices in different ecosystems.”

“Challenges to achieving large-scale carbon sequestration include nutrient limits, inadequate farmer incentives and lack of organic matter in some places, but even impacts at lesser scales will benefit the climate and food security,” said co-author Lini Wollenberg, Low Emissions Development Leader for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Research Professor at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment.

“The potential benefits are too large to ignore,” Wollenberg said.


Cornelia Rumpel, Farshad Amiraslani, Lydie-Stella Koutika, Pete Smith, David Whitehead, Eva Wollenberg. Put more carbon in soils to meet Paris climate pledges. Nature, 2018; 564 (7734): 32 DOI: 10.1038/d41586-018-07587-4

Greenland ice sheet melt ‘off the charts’ compared with past four centuries

  • Researchers found a 50% increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era, and a 30% increase since the 20th century alone

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution  Read ScienceDaily article here

Surface melting across Greenland’s mile-thick ice sheet began increasing in the mid-19th century and then ramped up dramatically during the 20th and early 21st centuries, showing no signs of abating, according to new research.

…Ice loss from Greenland is one of the key drivers of global sea level rise. Icebergs calving into the ocean from the edge of glaciers represent one component of water re-entering the ocean and raising sea levels. But more than half of the ice-sheet water entering the ocean comes from runoff from melted snow and glacial ice atop the ice sheet. The study suggests that if Greenland ice sheet melting continues at “unprecedented rates” — which the researchers attribute to warmer summers — it could accelerate the already fast pace of sea level rise…

Luke D. Trusel, Sarah B. Das, Matthew B. Osman, Matthew J. Evans, Ben E. Smith, Xavier Fettweis, Joseph R. McConnell, Brice P. Y. Noël, Michiel R. van den Broeke. Nonlinear rise in Greenland runoff in response to post-industrial Arctic warming. Nature, 2018; 564 (7734): 104 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0752-4