As a tumultuous 2017 draws to a close, WHRC looked back on the year in climate change news. There was plenty of distressing news, but also some positive signs and hope for the future.
And so, we present the biggest climate change stories from 2017:
10) Hurricanes hit Caribbean and Gulf Coast
A series of historically powerful hurricanes caused damage and extensive fatalities this year. Three Category 4 hurricanes–Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria–made landfall in the United States. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure in September, leaving almost the entire island without power. Hurricane Harvey dropped more than 60 inches of rain on Texas, shattering previous records. The increased rainfall and storm intensity matched modeling and scientists’ expectations for climate change influence. In December, a team of researchers published a paper linking Harvey’s record rainfall to climate change.
9) Federal agencies release climate reports
Despite climate change denial from the highest levels of the Trump Administration, federal scientists are pushing forward with their work. In November, the White House released the Climate Science Special Report, which was approved by 13 federal agencies. In December, NOAA released the Arctic Report Card, which showed the remarkable and alarming rate of warming in the Arctic.
8) Tropical forests are losing carbon faster than they can capture it
In September, WHRC researchers published a paper in the journal Science showing that tropical forests are losing carbon to the atmosphere faster than they are sequestering carbon in new growth. The net loss is largely the result of forest degradation–smaller scale tree removal–that was identified using a new methodology developed at WHRC. The good news, according to WHRC scientists Alessandro Baccini, is that understanding the degradation creates an opportunity to fix it.
7) Antarctica crack
In July, an iceberg about the size of Delaware broke off from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. Larsen C is a massive floating platform of ice on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula, the fourth largest ice shelf around continent. The split decreased the size of Larsen C by approximately 10 percent.
6) Trump pulls back on climate policies
U.S. President Donald Trump sought to unwind several key Obama-era climate policies. In June, he announced that he would begin the process to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. In October, Trump announced that he would halt the Clean Power Plan.
5) States and cities step forward
While the federal government was abandoning its responsibilities, state and local governments were taking the lead. Thousands of city, state, and business officials signaled their support for the Paris Agreement. 15 states joined the U.S. Climate Alliance. At the COP23 UN climate change conference in Germany, U.S. state officials, senators, and governors circulated through the halls assuring international delegates that the Trump Administration did not represent all Americans on climate change.
4) Carbon emissions tick back up
After staying flat for several years, global carbon emissions increased in 2017 by about 2 percent. The news served as an important reminder that we are still a long way from achieving the decarbonization we need to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
3) Wildfires scorch the West
Severe fires ravaged forests across the American West, burning millions of acres. The conditions that caused the fires are being driven by climate change.
2) Cost of renewables keeps falling
The cost of wind and solar power keeps falling, driving widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies. In 2016, almost two-thirds of net new power capacity added around the world was from renewable energy – approximately 165 gigawatts.
1) Forests and soils are being recognized for their role in fighting climate change
Thanks to new research–and new outreach efforts–the role of forests and soils as climate change solutions received more attention than ever before. Scientists highlighted the massive potential for agriculture, soils, and forests to sequester carbon, and provide as much as one-third of the carbon dioxide mitigation needed to keep the world under 2°C of warming.