Tag Archives: methane

A Question For Next Debate: How Will the US Catch Up With the Clean Power Plan?

The US is already behind in its agreed to commitment to clean power

A study just out in Nature climate Change suggests that the US is already behind in its commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuel as an energy source, and the concomitant release of climate-warming greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

The paper, by Jeffery Greenblatt and Max Wei, says:

Current intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)are insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature change to between 1.5 and 2.0?C above pre-industrial levels, so the effectiveness of existing INDCs will be crucial to further progress. Here we assess the likely range of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2025 and whether the US’s INDC can be met, on the basis of updated historical and projected estimates. We group US INDC policies into three categories reflecting potential future policies, and model 17 policies across these categories. With all modelled policies included, the upper end of the uncertainty range overlaps with the 2025 INDC target, but the required reductions are not achieved using reference values. Even if all modelled policies are implemented, additional GHG reduction is probably required; we discuss several potential policies.

The authors note that we can reach the targets, if we do something about it soon. There is time. The main problem seems to be methane, emissions of which will be higher than previously estimated. Chris Mooney talked to the authors, reports that here, and notes:

Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA increased its estimate for how much methane is being emitted by the oil and gas sector, and by the U.S. overall, in recent years. The new study has more or less done something similar.

“We made some corrections to the 2005 and 2025 estimates for methane,” says Greenblatt. In particular, he said, in 2005 these changes added 400 million additional tons of carbon dioxide equivalents emitted as methane.

Greenblatt emphasized that assumptions of higher methane emissions aren’t the only reason that the U.S. could miss its goals, but that it’s a significant one. “An increasing amount of methane emissions is part of the story,” he said.

Another problem, of course, is the yahoos who live in conservative states, the self-interested fossil fuel industry, and presidential candidate Donald Trump. These nefarious actors are trying to force the US EPA Clean Power Plan out of existence because, well, I guess they want to see all of our children grow up in a post apocalyptic world.

John Upton at Climate Central notes:

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has embraced the fight against global warming started by President Obama. Republican nominee Donald Trump has vowed to end it, such as by disbanding the EPA and abandoning international commitments.

Polluting industries and conservative states are suing the EPA in an attempt to overturn its new power plant rules, arguing that the agency overstepped its legal boundaries. The rules haven’t taken effect yet, but they’re the linchpin of American climate policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear opening arguments in the case Tuesday, with an eventual ruling likely from the Supreme Court. A judicial appointment by the next president could tip the Supreme Court against or in favor of environmental regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan.

So, the question I’d love to see asked in the next Presidential Debate is this: “A recent peer reviewed study indicates that the US is not on target to meet the promised reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This is mainly due to methane release being greater than previously thought, but other factors matter as well. What will you do as President to get us back on track?”

More about the Clean Power Plan:

Global warming’s effects are coming on faster than previously thought.

Arctic sea ice decline happened faster than expected. This has the effect of accelerating global warming because less of the Sun’s energy is reflected back into space by ice.

SeaIceDecline_591

Northern Hemisphere snow also sends some of that energy back into space. The amount of snow cover we have is also declining.

Difference from average annual snow extent since 1971, compared to the 1966-2010 average (dashed line). Snow extents have largely been below-average since the late1980s. Graph adapted from Figure 1.1 (h) in the 2012 BAMS State of the Climate report.
Difference from average annual snow extent since 1971, compared to the 1966-2010 average (dashed line). Snow extents have largely been below-average since the late1980s. Graph adapted from Figure 1.1 (h) in the 2012 BAMS State of the Climate report.

The warming of the Arctic region is also probably causing an increase in the amount of CO2 and Methane, previously frozen in permafrost or offshore, that is going into the atmosphere. For this and other reasons, Methane, along with other greenhouse gases, are increasing. I quickly add that stories you’ve heard of a civilization “methane bomb” in the Arctic are not supported by the best available science. But these additional greenhouse gases still count.

Global average abundances of the major, well-mixed, long-lived greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFC-12 and CFC-11 - from the NOAA global air sampling network are plotted since the beginning of 1979. These gases account for about 96% of the direct radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases since 1750. The remaining 4% is contributed by an assortment of 15 minor halogenated gases including HCFC-22 and HFC-134a (see text). Methane data before 1983 are annual averages from D. Etheridge [Etheridge et al., 1998], adjusted to the NOAA calibration scale [Dlugokencky et al., 2005].
Global average abundances of the major, well-mixed, long-lived greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFC-12 and CFC-11 – from the NOAA global air sampling network are plotted since the beginning of 1979. These gases account for about 96% of the direct radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases since 1750. The remaining 4% is contributed by an assortment of 15 minor halogenated gases including HCFC-22 and HFC-134a (see text). Methane data before 1983 are annual averages from D. Etheridge [Etheridge et al., 1998], adjusted to the NOAA calibration scale [Dlugokencky et al., 2005].

Now we are learning that glacial ice, in particular in Antarctica, is melting faster than expected.

That video is from a recent post by Peter Sinclair, who has more on glacial melting.

We knew a lot of the additional heat (from global warming) was going into the oceans, but now we have learned that a LOT of this heat is going into the ocean. This heat goes in and out, so what has been going in will likely be going out (into the atmosphere).

90% of the Earth's energy balance involves the ocean's heat, shown here. Note that there is no current pause, and that surface temperature estimates (see graph above) tend to underestimate the total amount of anthropogenic global warming because much of this heat, routinely, goes into the ocean. We can expect some of this heat to return to the atmosphere in coming years.
90% of the Earth’s energy balance involves the ocean’s heat, shown here. Note that there is no current pause, and that surface temperature estimates (see graph above) tend to underestimate the total amount of anthropogenic global warming because much of this heat, routinely, goes into the ocean. We can expect some of this heat to return to the atmosphere in coming years.

(See also this post by Joe Romm.)

This causes me to look at a graph like this

Figure SPM.5. Solid lines are multi-model global averages of surface warming (relative to 1980–1999) for the scenarios A2, A1B and B1, shown as continuations of the 20th century simulations. Shading denotes the ±1 standard deviation range of individual model annual averages. The orange line is for the experiment where concentrations were held constant at year 2000 values. The grey bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line within each bar) and the likely range assessed for the six SRES marker scenarios. The assessment of the best estimate and likely ranges in the grey bars includes the AOGCMs in the left part of the figure, as well as results from a hierarchy of independent models and observational constraints. {Figures 10.4 and 10.29}
Figure SPM.5. Solid lines are multi-model global averages of surface warming (relative to 1980–1999) for the scenarios A2, A1B and B1, shown as continuations of the 20th century simulations. Shading denotes the ±1 standard deviation range of individual model annual averages. The orange line is for the experiment where concentrations were held constant at year 2000 values. The grey bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line within each bar) and the likely range assessed for the six SRES marker scenarios. The assessment of the best estimate and likely ranges in the grey bars includes the AOGCMs in the left part of the figure, as well as results from a hierarchy of independent models and observational constraints. {Figures 10.4 and 10.29}

… and figure that warming over coming decades will be at, near, or even above, the range previously estimated.

Greenhouse Gas Levels Reach New Record High

You may have heard that the release of greenhouse gases has recently gone down, to match levels of several years ago. Why, then, do we have someone saying that greenhouse gasses have reached a new record high?

There are two, maybe three, reasons.

First, even though CO2 release from the US may be lower now than it has been in a few years, it is still high (it was high a few years ago, so we’ve reduced to a level that is high!). More importantly, the US has reduced its release of CO2 primarily for incidental economic reasons. With a recession/depression going on, there is less money being spent on things that burn fuel. But, we are also producing more fossil carbon-containing products that we send to other countries, where that fuel is burned, thus releasing the CO2. So, globally, CO2 release is probably as high as it has ever been, more or less.

Second, the greenhouse gasses stay in the atmosphere for a long time. Releasing less does not make what is there go away, really. So if we add less for a couple of years, we still increase the amount.

Third, and less understood, and perhaps not even part of the current calculation of greenhouse gas release, is the extra methane that is being released at large but as yet understudied quantities from drilling operations including those that involve fracking.

So, with those caveats, we have this report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization:

Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record: WMO Bulletin highlights pivotal role of carbon sinks

Geneva, 20 November (WMO) – The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

At this point I would like to pause and note something important. Here we learn that there has been a 30% increase in warming effects from 1990 onward. This does not mean, however, that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) started in 1990. You will often see Climate Science Denialists refer to events earlier in the last 100 years as evidence that global warming is not real. If global warming supposedly causes large storms, and there was a large storm in the 1930s, or if global warming supposedly causes droughts, and there was the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, then global warming is not real, the story goes. However, global warming is largely the result of the release of Carbon from the burning of coal and petroleum, and that (especially the coal) started way back in the 18th century and really took off in the mid 19th century. Global warming and its effects have certainly been much more significant over the last several decades, but the effects are much older than that. To return to the UN report…

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, about 375 billion tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere as CO2, primarily from fossil fuel combustion, according to WMO’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which had a special focus on the carbon cycle. About half of this carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial biosphere.

“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

“Until now, carbon sinks have absorbed nearly half of the carbon dioxide humans emitted in the atmosphere, but this will not necessarily continue in the future. We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs. There are many additional interactions between greenhouse gases, Earth’s biosphere and oceans, and we need to boost our monitoring capability and scientific knowledge in order to better understand these,” said Mr Jarraud.
“WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network, spanning more than 50 countries, provides accurate measurements which form the basis of our understanding of greenhouse gas concentrations, including their many sources, sinks and chemical transformations in the atmosphere,” said Mr Jarraud.

The role of carbon sinks is pivotal in the overall carbon equation. If the extra CO2 emitted is stored in reservoirs such as the deep oceans, it could be trapped for hundreds or even thousands of years. By contrast, new forests retain carbon for a much shorter time span.
The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – and not emissions – of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans.

CO2 is the most important of the long-lived greenhouse gases – so named because they trap radiation within the Earth’s atmosphere causing it to warm. Human activities, such as fossil fuel burning and land use change (for instance, tropical deforestation), are the main sources of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The other main long-lived greenhouse gases are methane and nitrous oxide. Increasing concentrations of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are drivers of climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, quoted in the bulletin, shows that from 1990 to 2011, radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 30%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase. Total radiative forcing of all long-lived greenhouse gases was the CO2 equivalent of 473 parts per million in 2011.

The report goes on to state that CO2 is the single most important human generated greenhouse gas, but also discusses methane, which I mentioned above, and discusses Nitrous oxide as well.

(Thanks to Brad Johnson for the info on hydrocarbon exports.)