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5 Takeaways from NOAA’s New Study on Climate Change and Extreme Events

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

Many people are understandably perplexed at the U.S.’s recent extreme weather events like record heat waves, torrential downpours, droughts, and wildfires. A new report published by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other institutions may finally offer some insight into climate change’s connection to the damaging and costly extreme events that are on the rise.

Numerous studies have shown that the Earth is warming rapidly, due in large part to human activities. While existing research focuses on climate change’s implications for the intensity and frequency of extreme events like storms and heat waves, due to scientific complexities, most scientists to date have tip-toed around attributing any single event to climate change.

Until now, that is. Last week, scientists from NOAA, the UK’s Met Office, and other institutions published a special report in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) that attributed a number of recent extreme events to human-induced climate change.

More Extreme Weather: Say Hello to Our Changing Climate

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

This post originally appeared on the National Journal's Energy Expert Blog. It was a response to the question "Is global warming causing wild weather?"

It’s the question on everyone’s minds these days: What’s up with the weather?

The answer is increasingly clear: It’s our changing climate.

The trends we are currently experiencing– a warmer world with more intense, extreme weather events– could not be clearer. It’s exactly what climate scientists and their models have, for many years now, forecast global warming will bring.

Evidence of a Changing Climate

July 2011 to June 2012 was the warmest 12-month period on record for the contiguous U.S. Globally, June 2011 was the 316th month in a row that posted a higher temperature than the 20th-century average. Spring 2012, not to be outdone, was the hottest on record in the U.S. And record drought in the Southwest has helped fuel the wildfires that have already consumed about two million acres this year. (See our recent post on forest fires and climate change.)

Colorado Forest Fires and the Climate Connection

This post is part of WRI's "Extreme Weather Watch" series, which explores the link between climate change and extreme events. Read our other posts in this series.

While many Americans set up camp to watch fireworks on July 4th, those in the Western U.S. were not as lucky. Firefighters didn’t get a holiday reprieve as they battled ongoing forest fires in Colorado. Plus, at least 40 cities in the state as well as many in neighboring states cancelled their fireworks shows due to the high risk of sparking new fires.

Disappointed fireworks fans were the least of the region’s worries, though. Colorado is experiencing its worst wildfire season in a decade, with half a dozen lives lost, more than 600 homes consumed, and more than 270 square miles (more than 10 times the size of Manhattan) burned so far. And the state isn’t alone: Wildfires have already struck across 137 square miles of Wyoming and 380 square miles of Montana as well.

Several news accounts have blamed the Colorado fires on lightning. While that may have been the trigger, much research suggests that this summer’s widespread destruction is not an anomaly, but rather part of an ominous, ongoing trend.

400 PPM: Carbon Dioxide Levels Cross a Sobering New Threshold

Last week we passed an unfortunate marker when it comes to climate change: concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have hit 400 parts per million (ppm) near the Arctic.

What Does it Mean and Why Should We Care?

This level was discovered by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who have long measured CO2 concentrations at stations around the world through two ways: (1) volunteers collect air samples and send them to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado for analysis; and (2) half a dozen baseline observatories continuously monitor CO2 levels. One of these observatories is located in Barrow, Alaska. The observatory in Barrow, as well as air samples from several other northern locations including Canada, Finland, and Norway, show that 400 ppm was surpassed sometime this spring.

You Spoke, We Listened: WRI’s Climate Science Video Survey Wraps Up

In early May, we invited participants to vote for their favorite video method for communicating recent climate science findings. The survey is now complete. More than 1,500 votes were cast, and we are in the midst of analyzing the results.

We are grateful for the time so many of you took to help – it really shows the high degree of interest there is in communicating climate science. We want to thank Google.org, which provided financial support for the project, and to the many groups that helped raise awareness, including Real Climate and Climate-L.

National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Can Help Countries Curb Climate Change

At WRI, we like to say that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” For managing and mitigating climate change, one of the most fundamental measurements is a periodic inventory of the problem’s root cause: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities.

GHG emissions inventories are carried out at several levels, including corporate, city, and state. Measuring emissions for entire nations has its unique challenges, but it’s a critical first step for any country that wants to effectively manage its contribution to global climate change. National GHG inventories provide a baseline of data and, if regularly updated, a tracking mechanism for assessing how domestic policies impact emissions.

Four Key Issues to Watch During Bonn Climate Talks

Since the conclusion of the UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa (COP 17) last year, there has been robust debate on the merits of its outcomes.

Some argue that the deal – including a new Durban Platform to negotiate the climate regime’s long-term future, a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, and an array of decisions to implement the Cancun Agreements – is an inadequate answer to a world facing rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Others point to encouraging elements of the Durban package, such as a renewed commitment to international collaboration, a vision of an ambitious post-2020 settlement, and a series of steps designed to facilitate creative thinking on closing the emissions gap.

A Positive Vision for the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee

This post was written with Heleen de Coninck, Programme Manager at the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands. It was originally published on the Climate & Development Knowledge Network.

On February 15-17, the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee (TEC) held its second meeting. On May 28-29, it will meet again. The TEC is informally called the “policy arm” of the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism, which aims to enhance climate technology development and transfer for mitigation and adaptation. Despite its importance, the TEC has not been much discussed or studied. In this blog, two followers of the UNFCCC technology negotiations give their views on how the TEC can make a difference for addressing climate change.

Managing GHG Emissions from Agriculture: A Unique but Solvable Challenge

This post also appears on GreenBiz.com.

Thousands of companies have developed greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories in recent years as a crucial first step towards measuring and ultimately reducing their emissions. Agricultural emissions are a large part of many of those inventories: farming is currently responsible for between 10 and 12 percent of global GHG emissions. Globally, agricultural emissions are expected to increase by more than 50 percent by 2030, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

There is much uncertainty about how agricultural emissions should be reported in GHG inventories, a situation that hinders measurement and reduction efforts in the sector. To address this issue, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol is developing industry-wide best practices for reporting agricultural GHG emissions.

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