Politics of Poverty

Summer climate blockbusters and what to watch this fall

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Dry, cracked earth in Dire Dime, Ethiopia. (Photo credit: Eva-Lotta Jansson, Oxfam)

A look back at summer’s hottest climate hits and a special preview of what’s coming this fall.

This post was co-written by Thomas Damassa, Senior Policy Advisor on Climate Change at Oxfam America.

Chances are, no matter how you spent your summer, you encountered climate change. Whether you were vacationing or caught up in the Olympics’ splendor, climate change was hard to miss. But in case you did, we’re recapping the summer’s climate change headlines and the related policy and politics on the horizon for fall.

Record-breaking climate changes

Never before have the impacts of a changing climate felt so acute. NASA reported that in 136 years of record keeping, July 2016 was not only the warmest July on record but also warmer than any other month on record – ever. They also noted that 2016 will almost certainly (99% chance) be the hottest year on record, following a clear trend (15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred during the 21st century).

Simultaneously, we’ve experienced the fallout. The severe drought brought on by the 2015-2016 Super El Niño, and likely made more extreme by climate change, is now affecting more than 60 million people around the globe. Some 24 million people in East Africa alone are facing severe food insecurity. The UN has become so alarmed at the lack of global response that the UN Secretary General appointed two new special envoys on El Niño and Climate Change to raise awareness and inspire action. The droughts were accompanied by warmer ocean temperatures producing other devastating impacts, including unprecedented coral bleaching in the Coral Sea, home to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

And it’s hard to ignore how these extremes are playing out in our own backyards. To name  a few: the epic Baton Rouge floods;  episodic events like the apocalyptic rains and flooding in Ellicott City, MD that historically have only happened once every 1,000 years; one of California’s worst wildfire seasons on record following five years of sustained drought, and the most severe drought in a decade in the northeastern US. Together, this has strained local and national resources, displaced thousands, and hit the most vulnerable the hardest. As our Oxfam colleague recently made clear, it’s time to plan for a new reality.

Policy and politics continue to shift as a result

The good news is that the world is starting to pay attention. Perhaps most notably, over Labor Day weekend, the United States and China announced , ahead of the G20 meeting in Beijing, that they have officially joined the Paris Agreement. Since the US and China are the top two global emitters, the announcement marks a giant leap toward full implementation of the Agreement, which requires at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions to join or ratify in order to ‘enter into force’.

Additionally, President Obama continues to make addressing climate change a central issue of his final year in office. His list of accomplishments in recent weeks include expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument specifically linked to climate risk, dedicating increased support for adaptation and disaster risk reduction in the Pacific Islands, and announcing new fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Earlier this summer, the President also joined with the leaders of Mexico and Canada at the “Three Amigos” Summit to highlight important commitments on methane emissions reductions from the oil and gas sector. Not to be overlooked, the state of California continues to lead the way with landmark climate legislation and associated emissions reduction targets passed in August.

 Sneak Peek: Fall’s Climate Features

The 2016 Olympic opening ceremonies in Rio fittingly reminded us of our global climate challenge and collective responsibility to act. Unfortunately, climate change doesn’t get that kind of global stage every day. Luckily though, there are still some upcoming blockbusters to take note of.

  • The Paris Agreement: Full Force: With the US and China officially joining the Paris Agreement, we expect many other countries to follow suit. Keep an eye out for action from Brazil, Mexico, and India, among others, and for the the agreement to enter into force late this year or early 2017. If it happens, this would be the most rapid ratification of a UN agreement in history and would trigger the first meeting of the Parties to the Agreement—a venue that will hopefully be an effective forum for rapid action on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • Battle of the Super Pollutants: In October, countries will meet in Kigali, Rwanda in hopes of forging another climate pact to slow the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are super pollutants that are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide for warming the planet and still used the world over in air conditioning and refrigeration systems. In the recent US-China announcement, both countries reaffirmed their commitment to a global phase down and added their clear support for an early freeze date. Replacing HFCs as soon as possible with other viable alternatives could help avoid 0.5oC (~1oF) of global warming, potentially averting catastrophic climate tipping points.
  • An UN-Wavering Leader: Later this year, the United Nations will elect a new Secretary General. Despite the UN’s broad purview, it is clear that to achieve its goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the institution will require a leader fully invested in advocating for and implementing an aggressive climate agenda.
  • Climate Rights: A Journey to Morocco: While this year’s UN climate summit (COP22) in Morocco is unlikely to draw the political and media attention of last year’s event, it is important in its own right. With themes including adaptation, agriculture, and climate change’s unique and profound effects on Africa, COP22 will be an opportunity to highlight challenges faced by some of the world’s most vulnerable people. There will be a sustained push in Morocco for inclusive, equitable solutions that address climate change, as well as poverty, hunger, and injustice.
  • Electing an American President: Finally, come November 8th, most in the US, if not the world, will be waiting on the presidential election results. How the US presidential candidates continue to talk about climate change in the coming months and their platform’s climate agenda for their administration will likely have global repercussions for years to come.
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