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Once-in-50-year heat waves now happening every decade - UN climate report

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A home is seen fully engulfed in flames during the Glass Fire in St. Helena, California, U.S. September 27, 2020. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Extreme heat waves that previously only struck once every 50 years are now expected to happen once per decade because of global warming, while downpours and droughts have also become more frequent, a UN climate science report said on Monday (9 August), write Jake Spring, Nina Chestney in London and Andrea Januta in Guerneville, California.

The report found that we are already experiencing those effects of climate change, as the planet has surpassed more than 1 degree Celsius in average warming. Heat waves, droughts and torrential rains are only set to become more frequent and extreme as the earth warms further. Read more.

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It is the first time that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has quantified the likelihood of these extreme events in a wide variety of scenarios. Read more.

The report found that once-in-a-decade heavy rain events are now 1.3 times more likely and 6.7% wetter, compared with the 50 years up to 1900 when major human-driven warming started to occur.

Previously once-in-a-decade droughts could happen every five or six years.

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Scientists emphasized that these effects of climate change are already here, with events like the heat wave in the US Pacific Northwest killing hundreds in June and Brazil currently experiencing its worst drought in 91 years. Read more.

"The heat wave in Canada, fires in California, floods in Germany, floods in China, droughts in central Brazil make it very, very clear that climate extremes are having a very heavy toll," said Paulo Artaxo, a lead author of the report and an environmental physicist and the University of Sao Paulo. (Graphic on warming planet)

The future looks even grimmer, with more warming meaning more frequent extreme events.

Heat waves show stronger increases in frequency with warming than all other extreme events. Twice in a century heat waves could happen roughly every six years with 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, a level which the report says could be surpassed within two decades.

Should the world become 4 degrees Celsius hotter, as could happen in a high-emissions scenario, those heat waves would happen every one to two years.

Carolina Vera, another report author and a physical climate scientist at University of Buenos Aires and Argentina's main agency for science research (CONICET), said there is also an increasing likelihood that multiple extreme weather events could happen at the same time.

For example, extreme heat, drought and high winds - conditions that could feed wildfires - are more likely to happen at the same time.

The IPCC has a medium or high-level confidence that many important agricultural regions around the world will see more droughts or extreme rain. That includes parts of Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil that are major growers of soybeans and other global commodities.

"It is scary, sure, with the risk that fires, heat waves, droughts will affect humans in the form of weather and food insecurity, energy insecurity, water quality and health - mainly in poor regions," said Jose Marengo, a climatologist at the Brazilian Science Ministry's disaster monitoring center.

Marengo was not involved in the IPCC report.

For example, regions that are already prone to drought are likely to experience them more frequently, including in the Mediterranean, southern Australia, and western North America, said Friederike Otto, IPCC author and climatologist at University of Oxford.

Increased frequency of drought and heavy rain also are not mutually exclusive and are predicted in places like Southern Africa, she said.

The projections on extreme weather events laid out in the report reinforce the importance of curbing climate change to the levels laid out in the Paris Agreement, scientists said.

"If we stabilize at 1.5 degrees, we can stop them from getting much worse," Otto said.Reporting by Jake Spring in Brasilia.

Climate change

Climate change: Raise global ambitions to achieve strong outcome at COP26

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The Environment Committee calls on all countries to implement a green recovery and increase their 2030 climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

Ahead of the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021, on Tuesday the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee has adopted its input to the COP26, with 60 votes for, 15 votes against and three abstentions.

In their resolution, MEPs express concern that the targets announced in Paris in 2015 would result in warming well above three degrees by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. They say that the EU must remain a world leader in the fight against climate change and that MEPs will work to ensure that the EU’s “Fit for 55 in 2030” climate package is fully in line with the Paris Agreement.

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To accelerate the pace of climate action, MEPs wants the EU to support a five-year timeframe for all countries instead of the current ten-year plan. They also say that all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out in the EU by 2025 and call on all other countries to take similar measures.

MEPs recall that biodiversity plays a crucial role in enabling humans to combat and adapt to global warming and stress that nature-based solutions are win-win solutions, ones which involve protecting, restoring and sustainably managing ecosystems.

G20 must lead the way

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MEPs say that all G20 nations should show global leadership and commit to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest. They also call on the Commission to create an international climate club with other major greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters with the aim of setting common standards and raising ambition across the globe through a common carbon border adjustment mechanism.

They welcome the return of the US to the Paris Agreement and President Biden’s commitment to cut US GHG emissions in half by 2030 compared to 2005. MEPs expect concrete policy measures and financing to meet this goal.

While MEPs acknowledge China’s willingness to be a constructive partner in global climate negotiations, it is concerned with the country’s dependency on coal and underlines that China’s climate targets should cover all GHG emissions and not only carbon dioxide emissions.

More financial support to fight climate change

MEPs say that developed countries must deliver on their promise to raise at least $100bn in climate finance per year for developing countries, increasing that amount from 2025, when emerging economies should also start to contribute. A roadmap outlining each developed country’s fair contribution to this financing plan should be agreed. They also want to ensure that all developing countries can participate in COP26 in spite of COVID-19.

Next steps

The resolution will be voted by all MEPs during the plenary session 18-21 October.

A delegation from Parliament led by Pascal Canfin (Renew, FR) will be in Glasgow from 8-13 November.

Background

Parliament has been pushing for more ambitious EU climate and biodiversity legislation and declared a climate emergency on 28 November 2019. In June 2021, the European Climate Law was adopted by Parliament. It transforms the European Green Deal’s political commitment to EU climate neutrality by 2050 into a binding obligation for the EU and member states. It also increases the EU’s target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 40% to at least 55%, compared to 1990 level. In July 2021, the Commission presented the “Fit for 55 in 2030” package in order to enable the EU to reach the more ambitious 2030-target.

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Climate Action: EU-China joint press communiqué on the fight against climate change ahead of COP26

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Following their second high-level environment and climate dialogue on 27 September 2021, Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans and Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China Han Zheng reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement and a successful outcome of the COP26 in Glasgow. In a joint press release, they stressed the urgency to act immediately, notably in the light of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They also confirmed that that the high-level environment and climate dialogue will continue to be a key platform between the EU and China to enhance actions and bilateral cooperation on environment and in the fight against climate change. During their last meeting, they discussed various aspects of the global climate and biodiversity crises, with a focus on the forthcoming UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow and on COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming. More details on the discussion are available here

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Major climate conference comes to Glasgow in November

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Leaders from 196 countries are meeting in Glasgow in November for a major climate conference. They are being asked to agree action to limit climate change and its effects, like rising sea levels and extreme weather. More than 120 politicians and heads of state are expected for the three-day world leaders' summit at the start of the conference. The event, known as COP26, has four main objections, or “goals”, including one that goes under the heading, 'work together to deliver' writes journalist and former MEP Nikolay Barekov.

The idea behind the fourth COP26 goals is that the world can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.

So, at COP26 leaders are encouraged to finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational) and also accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.

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Businesses are also keen to see action taken in Glasgow. They want clarity that governments are moving strongly towards achieving net-zero emissions globally across their economies.

Before looking at what four EU countries are doing to meet the fourth COP26 goal, it  is perhaps worth rewinding briefly to December 2015 when world leaders gathered in Paris to map out a vision for a zero-carbon future. The result was the Paris Agreement, an historic breakthrough in the collective response to climate change. The Agreement set long-term goals to guide all nations: limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and make efforts to hold warming to 1.5 degrees C; strengthen resilience and enhance abilities to adapt to climate impacts and direct financial investment into low emissions and climate-resilient development.

To meet these long-term goals, negotiators set out a timetable in which each country is expected to submit updated national plans every five years for limiting emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. These plans are known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs.

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Countries gave themselves three years to agree on the implementation guidelines — colloquially called the Paris Rulebook — to execute the Agreement.

This website has looked closely at what four EU member states – Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey – have, and are, doing to tackle climate change and, specifically, on meeting the objectives of Goal No 4.

According to a spokesman for the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water, Bulgaria is “over-achieved” when it comes to some climate targets at national level for 2016:

Take, for example, the share of biofuels which, according to latest estimates, accounts for some 7.3% of total energy consumption in the country’s transport sector. Bulgaria has, it is claimed, also exceeded national targets for the share of renewable energy sources in its gross final energy consumption.

Like most countries, it is being impacted by global warming and forecasts suggest that monthly temperatures are expected to increase by 2.2°C in the 2050s, and 4.4°C by the 2090s.

While some progress has been made in certain areas, much more still has to be done, according to a major 2021 study on  Bulgaria by the World Bank.

Among a long list of recommendations by the  Bank to Bulgaria is one that specifically targets Goal No 4. It urges Sophia to “increase participation of the public, scientific institutions, women and local communities in planning and management, accounting for approaches and methods of gender equity, and increase urban resilience.”

In nearby Romania, there is also a firm commitment to fighting climate change and pursuing low carbon development.

The EU's binding climate and energy legislation for 2030 requires Romania and the other 26 member states to adopt national energy and climate plans (NECPs) for the 2021-2030 period. Last October 2020, the European Commission published an assessment for each NECP.

Romania's final NECP said that more than half (51%) of Romanians expect national governments to tackle climate change.

Romania generates 3% of the EU-27's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reduced emissions faster than the EU average between 2005 and 2019, says the commission.

With several energy-intensive industries present in Romania, the country's carbon intensity is much higher than the EU average, but also “decreasing rapidly.”

Energy industry emissions in the country fell by 46% between 2005 and 2019, reducing the sector's share of total emissions by eight percentage points. But emissions from the transport sector increased by 40% over the same period, doubling that sector's share of total emissions.

Romania still relies to a great extent on fossil fuels but renewables, along with nuclear energy and gas are seen as essential to the transition process. Under EU effort-sharing legislation, Romania was allowed to increase emissions until 2020 and must reduce these emissions by 2% relative to 2005 by 2030. Romania achieved a 24.3% share of renewable energy sources in 2019 and the country's 2030 target of a 30.7% share is focused mainly on wind, hydro, solar and fuels from biomass.

A source at Romania’s embassy to the EU said that energy efficiency measures centre on heating supply and building envelopes along with industrial modernisation.

One of the EU nations most directly impacted by climate change is Greece which has this summer seen several devastating forest fires which have ruined lives and hit its vital tourist trade.

 Like most EU countries, Greece supports a carbon neutrality objective for 2050. Greece's climate mitigation targets are largely shaped by EU targets and legislation. Under EU effort sharing, Greece is expected to reduce non-EU ETS (emission trading system) emissions by 4% by 2020 and by 16% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

Partly in response to wildfires that burned more than 1,000 square kilometers (385 square miles) of forest on the island of  Evia and in southern Greece fires, the Greek government has recently created a new ministry to address the impact of climate change and named former European Union commissioner Christos Stylianides as minister.

Stylianides, 63, served as commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management between 2014 and 2019 and will head firefighting, disaster relief and policies to adapt to rising temperatures resulting from climate change. He said: “Disaster prevention and preparedness is the most effective weapon we have.”

Greece and Romania are the most active among European Union member states in Southeast Europe on climate change issues, while Bulgaria is still trying to catch up with much of the EU, according to a report on the implementation of the European Green Deal published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). In its recommendations on how countries can add value to the impact of the European Green Deal, the ECFR says that Greece, if it wants to establish itself as a green champion, should team up with the “less ambitious” Romania and Bulgaria, which share some of its climate-related challenges. This, the report says, could push Romania and Bulgaria to adopt best green transition practices and join Greece in climate initiatives.

Another of the four countries we’ve put under the spotlight –Turkey – has also been badly hit by the consequences of global warming, with a series of devastating floods and fires this summer. Extreme weather incidents have been on the rise since 1990, according to the Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS). In 2019,Turkey had 935 extreme weather incidents, the highest in recent memory,” she noted.

Partly as a direct response, the Turkish government has now introduced new measures to curb the impact of climate change, including the Fight Against Climate Change Declaration.

Again, this directly targets Goal No. 4 of the upcoming COP26 conference in  Scotland as the declaration is the result of discussions with - and contributions from - scientists and nongovernmental organizations to Turkish government efforts to address the issue.

The declaration involves an action plan for an adaptation strategy to global phenomenon, support for environmentally friendly production practices and investments, and the recycling of waste, among other steps.

On renewable energy Ankara also plans to increase electricity generation from those sources in the coming years and to set up a Climate Change Research Centre. This is designed to shape policies on the issue and conduct studies, along with a climate change platform where studies and data on climate change will be shared – again all in line with COP26’s Goal No 4.

Conversely, Turkey is yet to sign the 2016 Paris Agreement but First lady Emine Erdoğan has been a champion of environmental causes.

Erdoğan said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to the fight against climate change and that several key steps now need to be taken on the issue, from switching to renewable energy sources to cutting dependency on fossil fuels and redesigning cities.

In a nod to COP26’s fourth goal, she has also underlined that the role of individuals is more important.

Looking ahead to COP26, European commission president Ursula von der Leyen says that “when it comes to climate change and the nature crisis, Europe can do a lot”.

Speaking on 15 September in a state of the union address to MEPs, she said: “And it will support others. I am proud to announce today that the EU will double its external funding for biodiversity, in particular for the most vulnerable countries. But Europe cannot do it alone. 

“The COP26 in Glasgow will be a moment of truth for the global community. Major economies – from the US to Japan – have set ambitions for climate neutrality in 2050 or shortly after. These need now to be backed up by concrete plans in time for Glasgow. Because current commitments for 2030 will not keep global warming to 1.5°C within reach.Every country has a responsibility. The goals that President Xi has set for China are encouraging. But we call for that same leadership on setting out how China will get there. The world would be relieved if they showed they could peak emissions by mid-decade - and move away from coal at home and abroad.”

She added: “But while every country has a responsibility, major economies do have a special duty to the least developed and most vulnerable countries. Climate finance is essential for them - both for mitigation and adaptation.In Mexico and in Paris, the world committed to provide $100 billion dollars a year until 2025. We deliver on our commitment. Team Europe contributes $25bn dollars per year. But others still leave a gaping hole towards reaching the global target.”

The president went on, “Closing that gap will increase the chance of success at Glasgow. My message today is that Europe is ready to do more. We will now propose an additional €4bn for climate finance until 2027. But we expect the United States and our partners to step up too. Closing the climate finance gap together – the US and the EU – would be a strong signal for global climate leadership. It is time to deliver.”

So, with all eyes firmly fixed on Glasgow, the question for some is whether Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey will help trail a blaze for the rest of Europe in tackling what many still regard as the biggest threat to mankind.

Nikolay Barekov is a political journalist and TV presenter, former CEO of TV7 Bulgaria and a former MEP for Bulgaria and former deputy chairman of the ECR group in the European Parliament.

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