The blistering heat wave that broke a number of temperature records in Europe recently may be somewhat expected for August but a growing amount of evidence suggests human activity associated with climate change also likely contributed to the extreme weather.
Nobel Laureate Mario Molina said on Monday in Philadelphia that new scientific analysis strengthens the view that record-breaking summer heat, crop-withering drought and other extreme weather events in recent years do result from global warming.
“People may not be aware that important changes have occurred in the scientific understanding of the extreme weather events that are in the headlines,” Molina was quoted as saying in an American Chemical Society (ACS) press release.
“They are now more clearly connected to human activities, such as the release of carbon dioxide ― the main greenhouse gas ― from burning coal and other fossil fuels.”
Molina, who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for helping save the world from the consequences of ozone depletion, presented the keynote address at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the ACS, the world’s largest scientific society.
According to the press release, Molina emphasised that there is no “absolute certainty” that global warming is causing extreme weather events. He added, however, that recent scientific insights strengthen the link and make it more important that people understand climate change and the need for mitigation.
In his address, Molina noted that unlike the ozone depletion problem, climate change has become highly politicised and polarising. Only a small set of substances were involved in ozone depletion, he said, and it was relatively easy to get the small number of stakeholders on the same page.
“Climate change is a much more pervasive issue,” he was quoted as saying. “Fossil fuels, which are at the center of the problem, are so important for the economy, and it affects so many other activities. That makes climate change much more difficult to deal with than the ozone issue.”
The press release added Molina — who favours putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions — also said that it’s not certain what will happen to the Earth if nothing is done to slow down or halt climate change.
“But there is no doubt that the risk is very large, and we could have some consequences that are very damaging, certainly for portions of society,” he said.
Molina’s comments came one week after Maria van der Hoeven, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said attaining the international goal of limiting the long-term increase of global temperature to 2° Celsius is still possible despite the world not being on track.
In a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade, Van der Hoeven noted that energy use and carbon dioxide emissions are set to increase by a third by 2020 and almost double by 2050.
According to an IEA press release, she said some energy technologies are on track, notably mature renewable technologies like hydro, biomass, onshore wind and solar photovoltaic. Some require more effort, such as electric vehicles and industrial energy efficiency, she said, but the majority are currently off track, including nuclear power and carbon capture and storage.
“Let’s not be discouraged,” Van der Hoeven said. “While ambitious, a clean energy transition is still possible. But action in all sectors is necessary to reach our climate targets.”
The press release added she also stressed that energy prices need to reflect the true cost of energy. “That means pricing carbon and abolishing fossil fuel subsidies – subsidies which in 2011 were almost seven times higher than support for renewables,” she was quoted as saying.
In related news, it was reported this week that Arctic sea ice levels were confirmed by scientists to have reached the lowest levels ever recorded, signaling that man-made global warming is having a major impact on the region.
EWEA research notes that emissions-free wind energy is already helping to fight climate change: each wind-produced kWh avoids a kWh created by the energy mix of coal, oil and gas — on average 696 gCO₂/kWh.
The research says that in 2010, the 84 GW of wind power in the EU avoided the emission of 126 million tonnes (Mt) of CO₂, equivalent to taking 30% of EU cars — 64 million vehicles — off the road.
It also says that in 2020, a predicted 230 GW of installed wind power could avoid the emission of 342 Mt of CO₂. These are domestic emissions reductions equivalent to 31% of the EU’s 20% greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020.