Sea Levels Will Rise Faster Than Ever


 

sea-level-rise

Scientific research indicates sea levels worldwide have been rising at a rate of 0.14 inches (3.5 millimeters) per year since the early 1990s. The trend, linked to global warming, puts thousands of coastal cities, like Venice, Italy, (seen here during a historic flood in 2008), and even whole islands at risk of being claimed by the ocean. Photograph by Andrea Pattero/AFP/Getty Images (National Geographic)

By Scott Waldman, ClimateWire on November 8, 2016

Source: Scientific American The Atlantic coast will be one of the hardest hit regions

Sea levels across the globe will rise faster than at any time throughout human history if the Earth’s warming continues beyond 2 degrees Celsius.

The Atlantic coast of North America will be one of the worst-hit areas as melting glaciers cause the sea level to rise over the next century, a new study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds.

However, that rise is not expected to be uniform, as gravity and the movement of the ocean will play a role in how the water is distributed, and some areas will be hit worse than others. New York and other cities along the East Coast could see seas rise by more than 3 feet by the end of the century if the Earth warms by 4 or 5 degrees beyond pre-industrial levels.

If the rate of carbon emissions continues unabated, the authors said, the globe would warm by 2 degrees and cause significant sea-level rise by 2040. It would be worse along the East Coast of North America and Norway, which are expected to experience a sea-level rise of about a foot. The relative speed of the sea’s rise means many areas won’t have time to adapt, researchers found. And from there, warming would accelerate even faster.

“The coastal communities of rapidly expanding cities in the developing world and vulnerable tropical coastal ecosystems will have a very limited time to adapt to sea-level rises after the ‘2 degrees Celsius’ threshold is likely to be reached,” said Svetlana Jevrejeva, a researcher at the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool, England, and lead author of the study.

The sea-level rise comes as the Earth’s record-breaking warmth is expected to become the “new normal,” according to another study published this week in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. While 2015 was the hottest year on record, it could be the average within the next decade if carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, it found. And even if countries take action to limit carbon dioxide, humanity may have already locked in the increased warmth by 2040.

But limiting emissions now will mean some of the regions of the globe are not locked in for the new levels of warmth, and that they can still have significant variability.

“It gives us hope to know that if we act quickly to reduce greenhouse gases, seasonal extremes might never enter a new normal state in the 21st century at regional levels for the Southern Hemisphere summer and Northern Hemisphere winter,” said Sophie Lewis, a researcher at the Australian National University.

Millions of urban dwellers at risk

Nations that signed the Paris Agreement limiting warming to a maximum of 2 degrees are meeting this week in Morocco to put the accord into motion. Meanwhile, the United Nations has already cautioned that the emission targets countries voluntarily set may not be strict enough to meet the 2-degree goal.

Two degrees of warming is expected to cause an average global sea-level rise of 8 inches, but virtually all coastal areas will see more of a rise, Jevrejeva found. If warming exceeds 2 degrees by 2100, as some climate scientists worry it might, about 80 percent of the global coastline could experience a rise in sea levels of 6 feet. Such a rapid rise in sea levels is unprecedented since the dawn of the Bronze Age about 5,000 years ago, according to the study.

The research takes further the potential for sea-level rise posed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which argued that sea-level rise of 11 to 38 inches is possible by 2100. Many climate scientists have since claimed that estimate is too conservative.

Absent a concerted effort to limit warming, cities and island nations across the globe are at risk, researchers found.

“Coastal communities, notably rapidly expanding cities in the developing world; small island states; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Cultural World Heritage sites; and vulnerable tropical coastal ecosystems will have a very limited time after mid-century to adapt to these rises,” they wrote.

The rise for New York is predicated on a warming of 5 degrees by 2100, which some researchers have contested may be too high. But at the upper scale of that level of warming, tens of millions of people around the world would be displaced. That includes “2.5 million living in low-lying areas of Miami; 2.1 million in Guangzhou [in China]; 1.8 million in Mumbai; and more than 1 million each in Osaka [in Japan], Tokyo, New Orleans, New York, and [Vietnam’s] Ho Chi Minh City,” researchers contended.

The study is part of a growing body of research that looks for possible scenarios that involve the potential for catastrophic sea-level rise, but more attention should be paid to the loss of land ice, as well, said Tad Pfeffer, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. While researchers typically focus on the loss of glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland, the loss of land ice in other spots across the globe is now contributing to sea-level rise at almost the same rate as the Arctic’s melting ice, he said. It’s the full scope of the current glacial loss that concerns political leaders and policymakers because it has already presented a pressing need to be addressed, he said.

“This near-term time scale is the time of greatest concern to decision makers,” he said. “Research that reaches out to 2100 and beyond is scientifically exciting, but really of secondary importance to the people who are trying to make sense of the science for decision-making.”

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

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More States Are Investigating Whether Exxon Misled the Public About Climate Change


coal-fired_power_station_at_dusk

By Reuters and Fortune – 31 March 16
Source: Reader Supported News

 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an inquiry in November.

 

The top attorneys from Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands said on Tuesday they will investigate whether Exxon Mobil Corp misled investors and the public about the risks of climate change.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker announced their probes at a news conference in New York, flanked by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and top attorneys from other states.

They said their probes into Exxon will be similar to ones launched by New York and California.

Healey said fossil fuel companies that have deceived investors about the risks climate change poses to the planet and to their bottom lines “must be held accountable.”

Walker said he wants to ensure there is transparency so consumers can make informed choices about what they purchase.

“If Exxon Mobil has tried to cloud their judgment, we are determined to hold the company accountable,” he said.

Exxon believes the probes by state attorneys general are “politically motivated,” said Suzanne McCarron, the company’s vice president for public and government affairs.

“We are actively assessing all legal options,” she said.

A total of 17 U.S. attorneys general are cooperating on probes into whether fossil fuel companies have misled investors on climate change risks. The officials will also collaborate on other climate-related initiatives.

In November, Schneiderman subpoenaed Exxon to demand extensive financial records and emails in connection with its climate change disclosures. California Attorney General Kamala Harris followed suit in January.

A coalition of more than 20 states has filed an amicus brief in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, a rule to crack down on carbon emissions that has been challenged by industry and 25 states in a federal appeals court.

The probes of Exxon were triggered by investigative reports last year by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that showed the company’s in-house scientists had flagged concerns about climate change decades ago, which the company ignored or contradicted.

Investors also have started to target Exxon over the climate issue. Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that Exxon must include a climate change resolution on its annual shareholder proxy.

The Rockefeller Family Fund said last week it will divest from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and “eliminate holdings” of Exxon.

Shares of Exxon closed up 31 cents, or 0.37 percent, at $84.53 on Tuesday.

Gore, an active climate policy advocate, joined the attorneys general at the announcement, calling it a “turning point” in a broader effort to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. He said efforts by fossil fuel companies to downplay climate change were akin to the way the tobacco industry promoted smoking for years in spite of health warnings.

The Massachusetts and Virgin Islands attorneys general did not elaborate on what legal tools will guide their investigations. Legal experts have said options include consumer protection laws and “blue sky” securities laws.

The New York probe hinges on the state’s Martin Act, an anti-fraud law, as well as consumer protection statutes.

Some experts have said the issues involved could potentially trigger federal racketeering and organized crime (RICO) laws the Justice Department used in its landmark case against Big Tobacco.

But there’s skepticism as to whether Exxon’s actions and statements can be construed as criminal and beyond the protections of the First Amendment. Schneiderman said Tuesday, “The First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, does not give you the right to commit fraud.”

Exxon‘s unusually long and pointed statement criticizing the probes said the company recognized the risks posed by climate change. It said any assumption it withheld information on the topic is “preposterous” and based on a “false premise that Exxon Mobil reached definitive conclusions about anthropogenic climate change before the world’s experts and before the science itself had matured, and then withheld it from the broader scientific community.”

In her emailed statement to Reuters, McCarron noted that Exxon scientists had participated with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

She also said the probes by the state attorneys general would “have a chilling effect on private sector research.”

Carbon Emissions Highest They Have Been in 66 Million Years


Environmentalists burn a symbol of carbon dioxide during a 2008 demonstration in front of the Klingenberg power plant in Berlin. (photo: Theo Heimann/AFP/Getty Images) (And they create more CO2....)

Environmentalists burn a symbol of carbon dioxide during a 2008 demonstration in front of the Klingenberg power plant in Berlin. (photo: Theo Heimann/AFP/Getty Images)
(And they create more CO2….)

By Alister Doyle, Scientific American – 27 March 16
Source: Reader Supported News

 

Outpouring of CO2 is 10 times higher than it was when the dinosaurs lived

 

The rate of carbon emissions is higher than at any time in fossil records stretching back 66 million years to the age of the dinosaurs, according to a study on Monday that sounds an alarm about risks to nature from man-made global warming.

Scientists wrote that the pace of emissions even eclipses the onset of the biggest-known natural surge in fossil records, 56 million years ago, that was perhaps driven by a release of frozen stores of greenhouse gases beneath the seabed.

That ancient release, which drove temperatures up by an estimated 5 degrees Celsius (9 Fahrenheit) and damaged marine life by making the oceans acidic, is often seen as a parallel to the risks from the current build-up of carbon in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

“Given currently available records, the present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented during the past 66 million years,” the scientists wrote in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, perhaps after a giant asteroid struck the Earth.

Lead author Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii said geological records were vague and “it’s not well known if/how much carbon was released” in that cataclysm.

Current carbon emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are about 10 billion tonnes a year, against 1.1 billion a year spread over 4,000 years at the onset of the fast warming 56 million years ago, the study found.

The scientists examined the chemical makeup of fossils of tiny marine organisms in the seabed off the New Jersey in the United States to gauge that ancient warming, known as the Paleoeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

U.N. studies project that temperatures could rise by up to 4.8C this century, causing floods, droughts and more powerful storms, if emissions rise unchecked. Carbon dioxide forms a weak acid in seawater, threatening the ability of creatures such as lobsters or oysters to build protective shells.

“Our results suggest that future ocean acidification and possible effects on marine calcifying organisms will be more severe than during the PETM,” Zeebe said.

“Future ecosystem disruptions are likely to exceed the relatively limited extinctions observed at the PETM,” he said. During the PETM, fish and other creatures may have had longer time to adapt to warming waters through evolution.

Peter Stassen, of the University of Leuven who was not involved in the study, said the study was a step to unravel what happened in the PETM.

The PETM “is a crucial part of our understanding of how the climate system can react to carbon dioxide increases,” he told Reuters.

The Scientist Who First Warned of Climate Change Says It’s Much Worse Than We Thought


 

Oceans are warming. (photo: Shutterstock)

Oceans are warming. (photo: Shutterstock)

By Amelia Urey, Grist – 23 March 16

The rewards of being right about climate change are bittersweet. James Hansen should know this better than most — he warned of this whole thing before Congress in 1988, when he was director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies. At the time, the world was experiencing its warmest five-month run since we started recording temperatures 130 years earlier. Hansen said, “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

Fast forward 28 years and, while we’re hardly out of the Waffle House yet, we know much more about climate change science. Hansen is still worried that the rest of us aren’t worried enough.

Last summer, prior to countries’ United Nations negotiations in Paris, Hansen and 16 collaborators authored a draft paper that suggested we could see at least 10 feet of sea-level rise in as few as 50 years. If that sounds alarming to you, it is — 10 feet of sea-level rise is more than enough to effectively kick us out of even the most well-endowed coastal cities. Stitching together archaeological evidence of past climate change, current observations, and future-telling climate models, the authors suggested that even a small amount of global warming can rack up enormous consequences — and quickly.

However the paper, publicized before it had been through peer review, elicited a mix of shock and skepticism, with some journalists calling the news a bombshell but a number of scientists urging deeper consideration.

Now, the final version of the paper has been published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. It’s been reviewed and lightly edited, but its conclusions are still shocking — and still contentious.

So what’s the deal? The authors highlight several of threats they believe we’ll face this century, including many feet of sea-level rise, a halting of major ocean circulatory currents, and an outbreak of super storms. These are the big threats we’ve been afraid of — and Hansen et al. say they could be here before we know it — well before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sanctioned climate models predict.

Here we help you understand their new paper:

Sea-level rise

The scientists estimate that existing climate models aren’t accounting well enough for current ice loss off of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Right now, Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets both contribute under or near 1 millimeter to sea-level rise every year; they each contain enough stored ice to drive up ocean levels by 20 and 200 feet, respectively.

This study suggests that, since the rate of ice loss is increasing, we should think of it not as a straight line but as an exponential curve, doubling every few years. But how much time it takes to double makes a big difference. Right now, measurements of ice loss aren’t clear enough to even make a strong estimate about how long that period might be. Is it 10 years or is it 40? It’s hard to say based on the limited data we have now, which would make a big difference either way.

But then again, we don’t even know that ice loss is exponential. Ian Joughin — a University of Washington researcher unaffiliated with the paper and who has studied the tipping points of Antarctic glaciers — put it this way: Think about the stock market in the ’80s. If you observed a couple years of accelerating growth, and decided that rate would double every 4 years — you’d have something like 56,000 points in the Dow Jones Industrial by now.

Or if stocks aren’t your thing, think about that other exponentially expanding force of nature: bacteria. Certain colonies of bacteria can double their population in a matter of hours. Can they do this forever? No, or else we’d be nothing but bacteria right now (and while we’re certainly a high percentage of bacteria, there’s still room for a couple other things).

Nature tends to put limits on exponential growth, Joughin points out — and the same probably goes for ice loss: “There’s only so fast you can move ice out of an ice sheet,” Joughin explained. While some ice masses may be collapsing at an accelerating rate, others won’t be as volatile.

This means, while some parts of ice sheet collapse may very well proceed exponentially, we can’t expect such simple mathematics to model anything in the real world except the terror spike of the Kingda Ka.

Ocean turnover

Mmm mm, ocean turnover: Is it another word for a sushi roll or a fundamental process that keeps the climate relatively stable and moderate?

That’s right — we’re talking the Atlantic Meridonal Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, and other currents like it.

As cold meltwater flows off of glaciers and ice sheets at enormous rates, it pools at the ocean’s surface, trapping the denser but warmer saltwater beneath it. This can seriously mess with the moving parts of the ocean, the so-called “conveyor belts” that cycle deep nutrient-rich water to the surface. These slow currents are driven by large-scale climate processes, like wind, and drive others, like the carbon cycle. But they also rely on gradients in temperature and density to run; if too much cold water from the glaciers pools at the surface, the whole conveyor belt could stutter to a stop.

In the North Atlantic, this would mean waters get colder, while the tropics, denied their influx of colder water, would heat up precipitously. Hansen says we’re already seeing the beginnings of AMOC’s slowdown: There’s a spot of unusually cool water hanging out off of Greenland, while the U.S. East Coast continues to see warmer and warmer temperatures. Hansen said it plainly in a call with reporters: “I think this is the beginning of substantial slowdown of the AMOC.”

Superstorms

Pointing to giant hunks of rock that litter the shore of the Bahamas, among other evidence of ancient climates, the study’s authors suggest that past versions of Earth may have featured superstorms capable of casually tossing boulders like bored Olympians.

And as the temperature gradient between the tropic and the polar oceans gets steeper, thanks to that slowing of ocean-mixing currents, we could see stronger storms, too.

This is surprisingly intuitive: Picture a temperature gradient like a hill, with the high temperatures up at the top and the low temperatures down at the bottom. As the highs get higher and the lows get lower, that hill gets a lot steeper — and the storms are the bowling balls you chuck down the hill. A bowling ball will pick up a lot more speed on a steep hill, and hurt a lot more when it finally runs into something. Likewise, by the time these supercharged storms are slamming into coasts in the middle latitudes, they will be carrying a whole lot of deadly force with them.

So what does it all mean?

Whether other scientists quibble over these results or not — and they probably will — the overall message is hardly new. It’s bad, you guys. It might be really, truly, deeply bad, or it might be slightly less bad. Either way, says Hansen, what we know for sure is that it’s time to do something about it. “Among the top experts, there’s a pretty strong agreement that we’ve reached a point where this is truly urgent,” he said.

So Hansen is frustrated once more with the failure of humanity to respond adequately. The result he’d hoped for when he released an early version of the paper online last summer was to get world leaders to come together in Paris to agree on a global price on carbon. As he told Grist’s Ben Adler at the time, “It’s going to happen.” (It didn’t happen, but some other stuff did.)

Still, true urgency would require more of us than just slowing the growth of emissions — it requires stopping them altogether. In a paper published in 2013, Hansen found that we have to cut 6 percent of our use of carbon-based fuels every year, if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.

Carbon prices and emissions cuts are more the purview of politicians and diplomats, but if anything, Hansen has shown he is unafraid to stray beyond the established protocol of academic science.

“I think scientists, who are trained to be objective, have something to offer by analyzing the problem all the way to the changes that are needed in order to address it,” he said on a press call. “That 6 percent reduction — that’s not advocacy, that’s science. And then I would advocate that we do that!”

And to pre-empt the haters, Hansen wants you to remember one thing. “Skepticism is the life blood of science. You can be sure that some scientists will find some aspects in our long paper that they will think of differently,” he said. “And that’s normal.”

So while scientists continue their debate over whether the ice sheets are poised to collapse in the next 50 years or the next 500, the prognosis is the same: The future is wetter, stranger, stormier unless we make serious moves to alternative energy sources now. Will we? Maybe. We’ve started but we still have a long, long way to go. If it’s a race between us and the ice sheets, neither I nor James Hansen nor anyone else can tell you for sure who will win.

Hey, no one said telling the future was easy.

At Least 100 Dead Sea Lions Found in Chile


A pup lies with older sea lions at the Coast Guard Pier in Monterey, California. | Photo: Reuters

A pup lies with older sea lions at the Coast Guard Pier in Monterey, California. | Photo: Reuters

Source: teleSUR Published 29 February 2016 

Although the cause of deaths has not been yet determined, experts suggest they can be linked to climate change related to a “super” El Niño.

At least 100 sea lions, most of them newborns, were found dead on Chile’s northern coast over the weekend by Chilean authorities.
Researchers said this phenomenon has been happening in this region and that there are reports that is also happening in neighbouring Peru.
They’ve warned that there could be hundreds of deaths. Although the cause of deaths has not been yet determined, experts suggest they can be linked to climate change related to the “super” El Niño phenomenon that disrupts normal weather patterns.

IN DEPTH: Latin America’s Fight for a Just Climate Solution

South American sea lions have been particularly affected because the warm water does not have the same nutrients of phytoplankton that colder water has.
Phytoplankton is important because it feeds sardines and anchovies that sea lions thrive on. Scientists have said that the warming trend between 2011 and 2015 is the hottest period ever, and that it is caused due to greenhouse gases that humans have put into the atmosphere.

IN DEPTH: Climate-Induced Human Change

During the last COP21 climate talks held in Paris last year, representatives from the 196 United Nations members reached an agreement to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

VIDEO available in the original article (see source)

 

Chilling Warning on Warming’s Future Effect


The sea sweeps across a road after Hurricane Sandy hit Assateague Island off the east coast of the US in 2012. Image: NPS Climate Change Response via Wikimedia Commons

The sea sweeps across a road after Hurricane Sandy hit Assateague Island off the east coast of the US in 2012. Image: NPS Climate Change Response via Wikimedia Commons

Posted on Feb 11, 2016 By Alex Kirby / Climate News Network

Source: Truthdig

LONDON—Humanity is taking a huge risk of causing irreversible damage for untold millions of people in future generations by treating climate change as simply a short-term problem, according to an international team of scientists..

They warn that the window of opportunity for reducing emissions is now small, and that the speed at which we are currently emitting carbon into the atmosphere could result in the Earth suffering damage lasting for tens of thousands of years.

Writing in Nature Climate Change journal, they say too much of the climate policy debate has focused on the past 150 years and their impact on global warming and sea level rise by the end of this century.

Peter Clark, professor of geology and geophysics at Oregon State University in the US, and the study’s lead author, says: “Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years—and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years.”

Long-term view

Co-author Thomas Stocker, professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Berne, Switzerland, and former co-chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warns of “the essential irreversibility” of greenhouse gas emissions.

He writes: “The long-term view sends the chilling message of what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era. It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that, for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.”

The authors say sea level rise is one of the most graphic impacts of global warming, yet its effects are only just starting to be felt. The latest IPCC report, for example, expects that likely sea level rise by the year 2100 will be no more than one metre.

They examined four scenarios based on different rates of warming, from a low end attainable only with massive effort to eliminate fossil fuel use over the next few decades, to a higher rate based on consumption of half the remaining fossil fuels over the next few centuries.

“We are making choices
that will affect our
grandchildren’s grandchildren – and beyond”

The Paris Agreement reached at the UN climate change summit in December last year aims to keep temperatures “well below” the 2°C previously accepted internationally as the safe level of increase

But with just 2°C of warming in the low scenario examined in the study, sea levels are predicted eventually to rise by about 25 metres. And with 7°C expected in the high scenario, the rise is estimated at 50 metres, over several centuries to millennia.

“It takes sea level rise a very long time to react—on the order of centuries,” Professor Clark says. “It’s like heating a pot of water on the stove; it doesn’t boil for quite a while after the heat is turned on—but then it will continue to boil as long as the heat persists. Once carbon is in the atmosphere, it will stay there for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

An estimated 122 countries have at least 10% of their population in areas that will be directly affected by rising sea levels in the low scenario. About 1.3 billion people—20% of the Earth’s population—may be directly affected.

“We can’t keep building seawalls that are 25 metres high,” Clark says. “Entire populations of cities will eventually have to move.”

Moral questions

Another of the study’s co-authors, Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard University’s Centre for the Environment, is concerned about the moral questions involved in the kind of environment this generation is handing on.

“Sea level rise may not seem like such a big deal today, but we are making choices that will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren—and beyond,” he says.

The analysis says the long timescales involved mean that reducing emissions slightly or even significantly is not sufficient. Clark says: “To spare future generations from the worst impacts of climate change, the target must be zero or even negative carbon emissions—as soon as possible.”

Geologists say that in the last 50 years humans have changed the climate and introduced the Anthropocene, a new geological era with fundamentally altered living conditions for thousands of years ahead.

“Because we do not know to what extent adaptation will be possible for humans and ecosystems, all our efforts must focus on a rapid and complete decarbonisation—the only option to limit climate change,” Stocker concludes.

What is needed from the Paris climate change conference / Ban Ki-moon


TourEiffelCOP21

Secretary-General of the United Nations
Nov 30, 2015
Source: LinkedIn

Today I am joining world leaders in Paris, along with 45,000 others — from civil society, businesses, media and more — to urge Heads of State and Government to forge a new global agreement on climate change.

People in towns and cities across the world joined together yesterday for a Global Climate March — biggest climate mobilization ever. While security precautions prevented the climate march that had been planned for Paris, this did not deter thousands of concerned citizens in many countries from showing their support for urgent climate action and making their voices heard.

I hope that leaders and negotiators will heed those voices — because the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) happening here over the next two weeks offers an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the defining issue of our time.

In one way or another, we are all experiencing the effects of climate change, and these impacts will only increase. Yet climate change does not affect us all equally. Those who suffer first and worst are those who did least to cause it: the poor and most vulnerable members of society who are the least equipped to mitigate and adapt to this changing situation.

The price of inaction is huge.

Around the world, I have seen how floods, droughts, rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms are causing terrible harm, and prompting families to migrate, often at great peril.

Aside from the devastating human toll, the cost of disasters is huge: since 1995 – including earthquakes and tsunamis – disaster losses amount to between $250 billion and $300 billion annually. 

If left unchecked, the current course of climate change will alter life on Earth as we know it.

We must take urgent action now.

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So what exactly needs to happen at COP21? 

First and foremost, we need the 195 governments that will attend along with the European to reach a new climate agreement that to reach a new climate change agreement that puts us on the road to keeping global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – beyond which there will be an increase in the risk of severe, pervasive, and in some cases, irreversible impacts. 

Paris must be a turning point, sending a loud and clear signal to citizens, markets and the private sector that the transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial, and already underway.

In recent years we have seen a groundswell of momentum for action on climate change across all sectors of society — from individuals to governments to businesses. It is heartening to see a growing number of governments and companies taking steps to carve out a low-carbon future. They know the very real impacts of climate change, but they also embrace the effective, affordable solutions at our fingertips.

What’s more, companies that are taking action to reduce emissions and become more sustainable are finding it helps their bottom line. It makes business sense.

Ahead of COP21, almost all countries, as well as states, cities, business and investors, have come forward with comprehensive pledges and plans to reduce carbon emissions and bolster resilience. More than 180 countries have submitted national climate commitments. Developed countries have pledged to support the efforts of developing countries to move toward low-emission economies.

These are encouraging steps and I urge all countries to follow suit. 

No one, in any nation can avoid the impacts of climate change and we all have a responsibility – and an opportunity – to do something about it. So while leaders gather in Paris to chart the course ahead, let’s all help address climate change, starting today and wherever you are. From activities you can do easily at home, to how you can get involved with efforts organized in your community and beyond, get ideas for climate action here.

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