Climate change risks dramatically increase the more Earth warms, but reducing greenhouse gas emissions lowers the risk of the most unwelcome consequences, according to the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
"We have assessed impacts as they are happening on the natural and human systems on all continents," said IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri. "In view of these impacts, and those that we have projected for the future, nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."
Unless greenhouse gas emissions are brought under control, the sweeping effects of climate change--touching every continent--will grow significantly worse. Among the IPCC report's conclusions:
- There will be changes in crop yields.
- Economic growth will slow, further eroding food security as well as prolonging existing and creating new poverty traps.
- Changes in the global water cycle will not be uniform. In many dry subtropical regions precipitation will likely decrease.
- Global mean sea level rise will continue to rise during the 21st century and very likely exceed that observed during 1971 to 2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.
The news isn't all dire.
"Although it focuses on a cold, analytical and sometimes depressing view of the challenges we face, it also maps the opportunities that intrinsic in the solution space," said Christopher Fields, IPCC report co-chair. "And it looks at ways we can combine adaptation, mitigation, transformation of a society in an effort that can help us build a world that's not only better prepared to deal with climate change but is fundamentally a better world."
Recommendations that include increasing energy efficiency, switching to cleaner energy sources, making cities greener and reducing water consumption, the report suggests, could help reduce mankind's effect on climate change. Still, the effects of global warming vary considerably, reports the Economist. Damage, and the possibility of reducing it, depends as much on other factors such as health systems or rural development as it does on global warming alone.
Wind Installation Hurdles, Potential Records
Last year wind turbine installation in the United States fell 93 percent--1.1 GW compared with 13.1 GW in 2012-- according to Navigant Research's annual World Market Update. The report points to the foundering U.S. market and the expiration of a tax credit for U.S. wind projects as the main driver behind a 20 percent drop in global wind power development, the first decline in eight years.
"The U.S. market decline, triggered by lack of policy consistency and the delay in renewing the tax credits, which have traditionally stimulated investment, was also a major contributing factor for the wind market depression last year," said Feng Zhao, research director with Navigant.
In Alaska, a start-up is preparing to launch the first commercial pilot test of an airborne wind turbine know as Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT). Floating at 1,000 feet, the turbine would supply power to a remote community in the state for about $0.18 per kilowatt hour--half the price of off-grid electricity in Alaska.
"It's known that wind speed increases with altitude above ground level, and power density increases with a cubic factor of wind speed," said Adam Rein, Altaeros co-founder. "Roughly speaking, a doubling of wind speed equates to an eight-fold increase in wind power density. Conventional turbine manufacturers are also trying to reach higher heights because of this fact--though not as high as our turbine."
"Ultimately, the goal is to deploy BAT at off-grid village sites that have high (energy) costs," he added. When deployed, the device is expected to break the world's record for the highest wind turbine.
Obama Issues Plan to Cut Methane Emissions
On Friday, the Obama administration announced one more piece of its Climate Action Plan--a strategy to reduce methane emissions--a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It targets methane emissions from coal mining, landfills, agriculture and oil and gas production through a combination of standards programs beginning this month. No hard deadline for a proposed rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been set, but studies to explore significant sources of methane emissions will begin this spring.
"This is a rapidly evolving space," said Dan Utech, President Barack Obama's top climate advisor, noting that tamping down methane emissions would help meet Obama's goal of cutting emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. By the fall, the administration plans to determine the best reduction path, according to The Guardian. If imposed, methane emissions regulations would be completed by the end of 2016, just before Obama leaves office.
The announcement follows on the heels of several scholarly papers that found federal estimates significantly undercount the amount of methane emitted in the country and that methane emissions during well preparation for natural gas drilling were much lower than projected. The natural gas boom--driven by hydraulic fracturing--could mean two things for climate change over the next decade.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.