I think we could all agree that 2016 has not been the best of years. It has been, to say the least, a never ending cycle of shock, anger, and sadness. From the Brexit to Trump’s win in the US elections to the devastation in Syria, 2016 has challenged all of us. Climate change news is no different — some shocked and angered us, but some also made us more hopeful. Here we compile the ten biggest climate news stories of 2016:
1. The Paris Agreement Enters Into Force
One of the biggest and more hopeful news of 2016 was having the Paris Agreement enter into force. “Enter into force” means that it is already in effect. This was a welcome news last November, after at least 55 parties of the UNFCCC that accounts at least 55% of total Greenhouse Gas emissions have ratified the agreement.
This is a big news since the Paris Agreement was expected to enter into force by 2020. Also, remember that the Kyoto Protocol only entered into force in 2005, 8 long years after it was adopted.
The early entry into force of the Paris Agreement signals the seriousness of countries to finally deal with climate change, something that should have been done decades ago. However, we welcome this news and we are hopeful that we are heading towards the right direction.
Read more about it here:
2. Standing with Standing Rock or How Native Americans fought for their right to clean water — and won
This year, we got to see the power of people coming together when the Army Corps of Engineers did not give permission for the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River after massive protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their supporters. The tribe has been fighting for their right to clean water for months, arguing that the pipeline will contaminate drinking water. Sacred burial grounds will also be damaged.
It is crucial to understand the history of this plan, which was originally meant to go through Bismarck, but was rejected for potential threats to water supply. While protests have been going on since March, more recent protests in November became violent with the rise in tension between police and protesters. There were reports of arrest, water cannons, and injury at the height of it. The protests have also become a big thing in social media, and at least a million people checked in at Standing Rock on Facebook with reports from protesters saying that the Morton County sheriff’s department was using Facebook check-ins to target people at the protest camp.
Victory is now with Standing Rock thanks to the water protectors who fought for their rights. But with Donald Trump as the new president, people fear the victory will be short lived as Trump has publicly supported the pipeline and has said that he will review the ruling.
If we all learned a lesson from this, we take it from Naomi Klein, from her article “The Lesson from Standing Rock: Organizing and Resistance can Win“: The line between resistance and results is bright and undeniable. That kind of victory is rare precisely because it’s contagious, because it shows people everywhere that organizing and resistance are not futile.
If you want to read more about Standing Rock, here are some articles:
3. Solar Impulse makes a successful world trip
Shipping and aviation are industries with one of the largest carbon footprint. According to Fred Pearce, these two kinds of transport emit the same volume of carbon dioxide annually as the United Kingdom or Germany. In the same article for Yale 360, he mentions that, “According to a study by University College London’s Energy Institute, aviation and shipping are on target to increase their contributions to overall CO2 emissions from today’s 6 percent to 40 percent by 2050, even as emissions from other sectors are slashed.” Now that’s a lot of emissions!
Both industries have also been excluded from the Paris Agreement, with difficulties on allocating carbon emissions to any particular country. However it is also said that both countries are reluctant to submit international monitoring that climate change regulation requires. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) was criticized last October after their meeting for not having concrete plans on how to reduce their emissions. While they have agreed to reduce sulphur emissions, they have delayed measures to cut greenhouse gases. The aviation industry, meanwhile, has agreed to curb aviation emissions last October at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meeting in Montreal.
Meanwhile, Solar Impulse, an experimental solar plane, has successfully completed its world round-trip last July. Bertrand Piccard, the “mastermind” of the journey, with co-pilot Andre Borschberg, flew over 26,000 miles, 510 hours with 11,000kwh of solar energy produced over two years. As the world transitions itself to clean energy, new technologies like the Solar Impulse show us that it is possible to live in a world fuelled by clean energy instead of fossil fuel.
4. Diseases are coming back from the dead, AKA zombie diseases
That’s right. We’re not joking. It sounds like what nightmares and horror movies are made of but it is true. Dead bacteria are coming back to life, with temperatures rising causing ice to thaw. “A heatwave in Siberia is believed to have melted permafrost, exposing the carcass of a reindeer infected with anthrax, resulting in the first outbreak of the deadly bacterial disease in the Russian tundra since 1941. The result: A 12-year-old boy is dead and eight others are sick,” according to an article by The Atlantic.
According to reports, the outbreak has killed 2,300 reindeers and hospitalized 70 people. With the rising temperatures, more diseases from the past might come back and haunt us.
Read more about this:
Anthrax outbreak triggered by climate change kills boy in Arctic Circle by The Guardian
‘Zombie’ Anthrax in Siberia, How Does it Kill? by Live Science
Unpredictable weather raises ‘zombie’ diseases from the ground by The National
5. 2016 is likely to be the hottest year on record
Are we still even surprised? You know what they say: to know what the hottest year on record is, just check what year it is today.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2016 will “most likely” be the hottest year on record. In July, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) already said in a report that “Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880” and that “The six-month period from January to June was also the planet’s warmest half-year on record.”
According to an article by The New York Times, “Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.” This poses a very big problem, given that countries have agreed to hold global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. The WMO has also stated that climate change has caused the number of extreme weather events to rise.
2016 locked into being hottest year on record, NASA says by The Guardian
2016 will be hottest year, UN climate meeting told by Climate Central
2016 set to become hottest year on record by Live Science
6. We only have 5 years left before 1.5 degrees carbon budget is blown
Speaking of continuously heating planet, a depressing analysis by Carbon Brief shows that we only have 5 years before our 1.5 degrees carbon budget is blown. According to the report, “As of the beginning of 2011, the carbon budget for a 66% chance of staying below 1.5C was 400bn tonnes. Emissions between 2011 and 2015 mean this has almost halved to 205bn tonnes. The result is that, as of the beginning of 2016, five years and two months of current CO2 emissions would use up the 1.5C budget.”
But for more depressing news, Ed Hawkins, Climate scientist in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading, came up with a GIF that shows a graph on how close we are to reaching 1.5 and 2 degrees celsius:
Here’s an FAQ from Ed Hawkin which he published at Climate Lab Book:
1. Features you can see:
1877-78: strong El Nino event warms global temperatures
1880s-1910: small cooling, partially due to volcanic eruptions
1910-1940s: warming, partially due to recovery from volcanic eruptions, small increase in solar output and natural variability
1950s-1970s: fairly flat temperatures as cooling sulphate aerosols mask the greenhouse gas warming
1980-now: strong warming, with temperatures pushed higher in 1998 and 2016 due to strong El Nino events
2. Why start in 1850? Because that is when the HadCRUT4 dataset starts, as we don’t have enough temperature data before then to reliably construct global average temperature
3. Are temperatures ‘spiralling out of control’? No. Humans are largely responsible for past warming so we have control over what happens next.
4. What do the colours mean? The colours represent time. Purple for early years, through blue, green to yellow for most recent years. The colour scale used is called ‘viridis’ and the graphics were made in MATLAB.
This viral climate GIF offers an incredibly clear view of rising temperatures by Vox
See Earth’s temperature spiral towards 2C by Climate Central
This scientists just changed how we think about climate change in one GIF by The Washington Post
7. The Great Barrier Reef has seen worst bleaching in years
Earlier this year, news became viral that the Great Barrier Reef is dead after an obituary published by Outside Online along with an article written by Rowan Jacobsen said that “The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.” However, scientists have said that the Great Barrier Reef is actually not dead (we can sigh a bit of relief)…yet.
However, it has seen the worst mass bleaching in years and worst coral die-off on record. According to an article by Al Jazeera, The Great Barrier Reef, which stretches 2,000km along Australia’s northeast coast and is the world’s largest living ecosystem, warming oceans and El Nino have both contributed to this bleaching. While many are hopeful this can be reversed, a new report says that the Great Barrier reef is also not likely to survive if warming continues, according to a research by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report, published at Scientific Reports journal, says that by 2050, more than 98% of coral reefs around the world will be afflicted by “bleaching-level thermal stress” each year.
The Great Barrier Reef is Under Severe Stress — but not dead yet by The Guardian
Most of the Great Barrier Reef above this line is now dead by Science Alert
The unprecedented coral bleaching disaster at the Great Barrier Reef, explain by Vox
8. Arctic Sea Ice at Record Low
We have known for a while that sea ice have been melting at unprecedented rates because of global warming. But this year, more than any other year, the Arctic sea ice is at a record low. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its annual arctic report card which says that “At close to 8,000 cubic kilometres (cubic km), total sea ice volume in November stood at just 48% of the long-term average and the smallest of any November in the satellite record stretching back to 1979.”
Reports also say that ice isn’t just melting, it is also thinning. Thin ice moves faster, breaks easily, and are more vulnerable to storms and winds. Scientists have said that the arctic is now “shouting change”
Incredibly thin ice shocks researchers by Nature.com
Hottest Arctic on record triggers massive ice melt by Telegraph UK
2016 ‘Arctic Report Card’ gives grim evaluation by Live Science
Record low volume highlights exceptional year for Arctic sea ice
9. Donald Trump wins US elections and gets climate deniers in his team
The world was in shock after Donald Trump was elected as the next US president. The election results came at the same time as the COP 22 meeting was being held in Marrakech in Morocco. And quite understandably, everyone was abuzz, and everyone had to ask themselves, what happens now?
Climate Tracker has published an article about what happens after election day and what do we do with a problem like Trump, knowing that the newly elected president of one of the biggest country carbon emitters is a climate change skeptic and has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Since the elections, Trump has picked climate denier Rick Perry as Energy Secretary, and Scott Pruitt, a lawyer for top oil and gas companies, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt also has a legal case against the EPA “suing to block federal measures to reduce smog and curb toxic emissions from power plants.” So we guess he’s not going to go ahead with that lawsuit now against his own agency?
One silver lining? Ivanka Trump reportedly wants to fight climate change.
10. Global actions towards clean energy
Despite the grim news of the Trump presidency, the rest of the world has vowed to continue on with their plans of transitioning towards clean energy. During COP 22, countries have launched their plans in line with their commitment to a better planet. Here are some of them:
- Climate Vulnerable Forum’s Marrakech vision – The Climate Vulnerable Forum, composed of 48 vulnerable countries to climate change, announced their vision to strive for 100% renewable energy and a long term strategy to have low carbon economies.
- High Level Climate Champion’s 2050 pathway – Countries such as United States, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico also presented their 2050 Pathways Platforms. The platform “will support countries seeking to develop long-term deep decarbonization strategies, including through the sharing of resources (including finance, capacity building), knowledge and experiences.” Currently, there are 22 countries, 15 cities, 17 states and regions preparing their 2050 pathway.
- Least Developed Countries Renewable Energy Initiative – 48 of the poorest countries have launched their Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative for Sustainable Development. This will scale up provisions of renewable energy while promoting energy efficiency.
“The LDC REEEI demonstrates the continued commitment of the LDC Group to real solutions that benefit real people on the ground. The initiative will enable LDCs to leapfrog fossil fuel based energy and light up the lives of millions of energy-starved people through modern, clean and resilient energy systems,” said Tonu Mpanu-Mpanu, Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group and Head of Delegation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
There have been both good and bad news on climate change this year, but what is certain is that while we are doing our best to have a cleaner and better future, there have been many setbacks due to political choices made by governments. However, if we also learned an important thing this year, it is that we can do so much more than we think we can, if we act together.