Author: Alex Kirby

About Alex Kirby

Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.

Paris climate goals may be beyond reach

Scientists find carbon dioxide is more potent than thought, meaning the Paris climate goals on cutting greenhouse gases may be unattainable.

LONDON, 23 January, 2020 − The fevered arguments about how the world can reach the Paris climate goals on cutting the greenhouse gases which are driving global heating may be a waste of time. An international team of scientists has learned more about the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) − and it’s not good news.

Teams in six countries, using new climate models, say the warming potential of CO2 has been underestimated for years. The new models will be used in revised UN temperature projections next year. If they are accurate, the Paris targets of keeping temperature rise below 2°C − or preferably 1.5°C − will belong to a fantasy world.

Vastly more data and computing power has become available since the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections were finalised in 2013. “We have better models now,” Olivier Boucher, head of the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace Climate Modelling Centre in Paris, told the French news agency AFP, and they “represent current climate trends more accurately”.

Projections from government-backed teams using the models in the US, UK, France and Canada suggest a much warmer future unless the world acts fast: CO2 concentrations which have till now been expected to produce a world only 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels would more probably heat the Earth’s surface by four or five degrees Celsius.

“If you think the new models give a more realistic picture, then it will, of course, be harder to achieve the Paris targets, whether it is 1.5°C or two degrees Celsius,” Mark Zelinka told AFP. Dr Zelinka, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is the lead author of the first peer-reviewed assessment of the new generation of models, published earlier this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Climate sensitivity has been in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C for more than 30 years. If it is now moving to between 3°C and 7°C, that would be tremendously dangerous”

Scientists want to establish how much the Earth’s surface will warm over time if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doubles. The resulting temperature increase, known as Earth’s climate sensitivity, is a key indicator of the probable future climate. The part played in it by clouds is crucial.

“How clouds evolve in a warmer climate and whether they will exert a tempering or amplifying effect has long been a major source of uncertainty,” said Imperial College London researcher Joeri Rogelj, the lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the global carbon budget − the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted without exceeding a given temperature cap. The new models reflect a better understanding of cloud dynamics that reinforce the warming impact of CO2.

For most of the last 10,000 years the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was a nearly constant 280 parts per million (ppm). But at the start of the 19th century and of the industrial revolution, fuelled by oil, gas and coal, the number of CO2 molecules in the air rose sharply. Today the concentration stands at 412 ppm, a 45% rise − half of it in the last three decades.

Last year alone, human activity injected more than 41 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, about five million tonnes every hour.

Impacts already evident

With only one degree Celsius of warming above historic levels so far, the world is already having to cope with increasingly deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones made more destructive by rising seas.

By the late 1970s scientists had settled on a probable climate sensitivity of 3°C (plus-or-minus 1.5°C), corresponding to about 560 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. That assessment remained largely unchanged − until now.

“Right now, there is an enormously heated debate within the climate modelling community,” said Earth system scientist Johan Rockström, director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“You have 12 or 13 models showing sensitivity which is no longer 3°C, but rather 5°C or 6°C with a doubling of CO2,” he told AFP. “What is particularly worrying is that these are not the outliers.”

Serious science

Models from France, the US Department of Energy, Britain’s Met Office and Canada show climate sensitivity of 4.9°C, 5.3°C, 5.5°C and 5.6°C respectively, Dr Zelinka said. “You have to take these models seriously − they are highly developed, state-of-the-art.”

Among the 27 new models examined in his study, these were also among those that best matched climate change over the last 75 years, suggesting a further validation of their accuracy.

But other models that will feed into the IPCC’s next major Assessment Report found significantly smaller increases, though almost all were higher than earlier estimates. Scientists will test and challenge the new models rigorously.

“The jury is still out, but it is worrying,” said Rockstrom. “Climate sensitivity has been in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C for more than 30 years. If it is now moving to between 3°C and 7°C, that would be tremendously dangerous.” − Climate News Network

Scientists find carbon dioxide is more potent than thought, meaning the Paris climate goals on cutting greenhouse gases may be unattainable.

LONDON, 23 January, 2020 − The fevered arguments about how the world can reach the Paris climate goals on cutting the greenhouse gases which are driving global heating may be a waste of time. An international team of scientists has learned more about the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) − and it’s not good news.

Teams in six countries, using new climate models, say the warming potential of CO2 has been underestimated for years. The new models will be used in revised UN temperature projections next year. If they are accurate, the Paris targets of keeping temperature rise below 2°C − or preferably 1.5°C − will belong to a fantasy world.

Vastly more data and computing power has become available since the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections were finalised in 2013. “We have better models now,” Olivier Boucher, head of the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace Climate Modelling Centre in Paris, told the French news agency AFP, and they “represent current climate trends more accurately”.

Projections from government-backed teams using the models in the US, UK, France and Canada suggest a much warmer future unless the world acts fast: CO2 concentrations which have till now been expected to produce a world only 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels would more probably heat the Earth’s surface by four or five degrees Celsius.

“If you think the new models give a more realistic picture, then it will, of course, be harder to achieve the Paris targets, whether it is 1.5°C or two degrees Celsius,” Mark Zelinka told AFP. Dr Zelinka, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is the lead author of the first peer-reviewed assessment of the new generation of models, published earlier this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Climate sensitivity has been in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C for more than 30 years. If it is now moving to between 3°C and 7°C, that would be tremendously dangerous”

Scientists want to establish how much the Earth’s surface will warm over time if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doubles. The resulting temperature increase, known as Earth’s climate sensitivity, is a key indicator of the probable future climate. The part played in it by clouds is crucial.

“How clouds evolve in a warmer climate and whether they will exert a tempering or amplifying effect has long been a major source of uncertainty,” said Imperial College London researcher Joeri Rogelj, the lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the global carbon budget − the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted without exceeding a given temperature cap. The new models reflect a better understanding of cloud dynamics that reinforce the warming impact of CO2.

For most of the last 10,000 years the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was a nearly constant 280 parts per million (ppm). But at the start of the 19th century and of the industrial revolution, fuelled by oil, gas and coal, the number of CO2 molecules in the air rose sharply. Today the concentration stands at 412 ppm, a 45% rise − half of it in the last three decades.

Last year alone, human activity injected more than 41 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, about five million tonnes every hour.

Impacts already evident

With only one degree Celsius of warming above historic levels so far, the world is already having to cope with increasingly deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones made more destructive by rising seas.

By the late 1970s scientists had settled on a probable climate sensitivity of 3°C (plus-or-minus 1.5°C), corresponding to about 560 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. That assessment remained largely unchanged − until now.

“Right now, there is an enormously heated debate within the climate modelling community,” said Earth system scientist Johan Rockström, director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“You have 12 or 13 models showing sensitivity which is no longer 3°C, but rather 5°C or 6°C with a doubling of CO2,” he told AFP. “What is particularly worrying is that these are not the outliers.”

Serious science

Models from France, the US Department of Energy, Britain’s Met Office and Canada show climate sensitivity of 4.9°C, 5.3°C, 5.5°C and 5.6°C respectively, Dr Zelinka said. “You have to take these models seriously − they are highly developed, state-of-the-art.”

Among the 27 new models examined in his study, these were also among those that best matched climate change over the last 75 years, suggesting a further validation of their accuracy.

But other models that will feed into the IPCC’s next major Assessment Report found significantly smaller increases, though almost all were higher than earlier estimates. Scientists will test and challenge the new models rigorously.

“The jury is still out, but it is worrying,” said Rockstrom. “Climate sensitivity has been in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C for more than 30 years. If it is now moving to between 3°C and 7°C, that would be tremendously dangerous.” − Climate News Network

Climate migrants still face ‘immense disaster’

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

There’s hope for many people seeking better lives as generosity offers them a real welcome. But for climate migrants serious doubts persist.

LONDON, 22 January, 2020 − If you are a climate migrant, how urgent is urgent? Slowing, or even stopping, the damage humans are doing to the physical world through profligate use of fossil fuels and casual extermination of other species is urgent. But what we are allowing fellow humans to tolerate is just as urgent, though often less remarked.

Many millions more will be forced to flee their homes in a world experiencing intensifying climate breakdown. Some will move within national borders, and many others will cross them. The UN body that monitors migration is the International Organisation for Migration, whose data portal provides recent estimates of the numbers of migrants globally.

It says 17.2 million people were forced to flee by disasters, many climate-related, in 2018 alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 143 million people across three global regions could be displaced within their countries by climate breakdown.

Their plight is urgent. But there are strenuous efforts to tackle the problem; movements to welcome migrants − and refugees − and offer them hospitality are growing, from the initiative for sanctuary cities in the US to villages in southern Europe.

The initiative is needed more than ever, as President Trump issued an executive order in 2017 seeking to criminalise sanctuary jurisdictions and cut off their funds. Several cities have simply ignored his action.

“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, thinks there is mounting urgency, which will result in rapid change for the better for many of the world’s migrants.

It acknowledges that “the real challenge is how to look after the huge numbers of lone young people struggling as migrants without family or community support. Between 2014 and 2018, around 60,000 minors arrived alone in Italy by sea, 90% of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17,” according to a recent report.

But it also instances the proposal to introduce a cross-border tax on financial speculation (the so-called Tobin Tax) as a way of helping to support migrants and refugees and to help to meet the costs associated with relocation.

The Alliance is upbeat. It says: “Despite high levels of hostility in the global North, exaggeration of the problem, and the irony that many wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for many of the push factors driving human displacement, movement mostly happens within and between poorer countries.

Political blindness

“Where flows do occur from the global South to the North, it is often to where it is needed, and people are generally good at integrating and adapting.”

Others have been more sceptical about the world’s chances of preventing a climate-driven migrant catastrophe. As recently as 2015 the late British peer Lord Ashdown told the BBC: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, known popularly as Paddy, told the Climate News Network: “I raised the issue of climate refugees then because I’ve been trying for a very long time to get the international community to take some notice of them . . . I raised it to make the problem more obvious – though I do not know why politicians continue to be so blind to it.”

Paddy Ashdown died in December 2018, enough time to see himself proved right. Three years earlier he had said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

New forests mean permanently lower river flows

Planting trees helps to combat the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gases. But the price can be permanently lower river flows.

LONDON, 20 January, 2020 − New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there’s a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

A study by scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, has found that river flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted − and, significantly, it does not recover over time. Rivers in some regions can disappear completely within 10 years.

This, the researchers say, highlights the need to consider the impact on regional water availability, as well as the wider climate benefit of tree-planting plans.

“Reforestation is an important part of tackling climate change, but we need to carefully consider the best places for it. In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”, said Laura Bentley, a plant scientist in the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and first author of the report.

Age effect missed

Planting large areas of trees has been suggested as one of the best ways of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, because trees absorb and store the gas as they grow, although uncertainties about the strategy persist. Science has known for a long time that planting trees reduces the amount of water flowing into nearby rivers, but no-one had realised how this effect changes as forests age.

The Cambridge study looked at 43 sites across the world where forests have been established, and used river flow as a measure of water availability in the region. It found that within five years of planting trees, river flow had reduced by an average of 25%.

But 25 years after the trees were planted, rivers had gone down by an average of 40%, or in a few cases had dried up altogether. The biggest percentage reductions in water availability were in parts of Australia and South Africa.

“River flow does not recover after planting trees, even after many years, once disturbances in the catchment and the effects of climate are accounted for,” said Professor David Coomes, director of the Conservation Research Institute, who led the study.

“In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”

Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the research showed that the type of land where trees are planted determines the impact they have on local water availability.

Trees planted on natural grassland where the soil is healthy decrease river flow significantly. But on land previously degraded by agriculture, establishing a forest helps to repair the soil so that it can hold more water, and therefore decreases nearby river flow by a smaller amount.

Strangely, the effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than in wetter ones. When trees are drought-stressed they close the pores on their leaves to conserve water, and as a result take up less water from the soil. In wet weather, though, they use more water from the soil, and also catch the rainwater in their leaves.

“Climate change will affect water availability around the world,” said Bentley. “By studying how forestation affects water availability, we can work to minimise any local consequences for people and the environment.” − Climate News Network

Planting trees helps to combat the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gases. But the price can be permanently lower river flows.

LONDON, 20 January, 2020 − New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there’s a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

A study by scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, has found that river flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted − and, significantly, it does not recover over time. Rivers in some regions can disappear completely within 10 years.

This, the researchers say, highlights the need to consider the impact on regional water availability, as well as the wider climate benefit of tree-planting plans.

“Reforestation is an important part of tackling climate change, but we need to carefully consider the best places for it. In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”, said Laura Bentley, a plant scientist in the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and first author of the report.

Age effect missed

Planting large areas of trees has been suggested as one of the best ways of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, because trees absorb and store the gas as they grow, although uncertainties about the strategy persist. Science has known for a long time that planting trees reduces the amount of water flowing into nearby rivers, but no-one had realised how this effect changes as forests age.

The Cambridge study looked at 43 sites across the world where forests have been established, and used river flow as a measure of water availability in the region. It found that within five years of planting trees, river flow had reduced by an average of 25%.

But 25 years after the trees were planted, rivers had gone down by an average of 40%, or in a few cases had dried up altogether. The biggest percentage reductions in water availability were in parts of Australia and South Africa.

“River flow does not recover after planting trees, even after many years, once disturbances in the catchment and the effects of climate are accounted for,” said Professor David Coomes, director of the Conservation Research Institute, who led the study.

“In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”

Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the research showed that the type of land where trees are planted determines the impact they have on local water availability.

Trees planted on natural grassland where the soil is healthy decrease river flow significantly. But on land previously degraded by agriculture, establishing a forest helps to repair the soil so that it can hold more water, and therefore decreases nearby river flow by a smaller amount.

Strangely, the effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than in wetter ones. When trees are drought-stressed they close the pores on their leaves to conserve water, and as a result take up less water from the soil. In wet weather, though, they use more water from the soil, and also catch the rainwater in their leaves.

“Climate change will affect water availability around the world,” said Bentley. “By studying how forestation affects water availability, we can work to minimise any local consequences for people and the environment.” − Climate News Network

Can batteries help to limit bushfire horrors?

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Jet stream changes may hit global breadbaskets

Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth, scientists say.

LONDON, 10 December, 2019 − Patterns in the winds of the jet stream that circles the Earth can bring simultaneous heatwaves to breadbasket regions which provide up to a quarter of global crops, scientists have found.

Extreme weather on this scale can significantly harm food production, making prices soar and fuelling social unrest. Western North America, western Europe, western Russia, Ukraine and the Caspian Sea region are especially susceptible.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change the researchers, from Germany, Australia and the US, explain how specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of heatwaves occurring at the same time in different parts of the globe.

The jet stream is a fast-moving river of air that continuously circles the northern hemisphere from west to east. It generally confines itself to a relatively narrow band, but can meander north or south, due to a feature scientists call Rossby waves.

Among other effects, these atmospheric wobbles may pull frigid air masses from the polar regions, or hot ones from the subtropics, into the populous mid-latitudes.

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”

The wobbles strongly influence daily weather. When they grow particularly large they can bring prolonged heatwaves, droughts or floods in summer, or in colder seasons abnormal cold spells.

The waves have hit in 1983, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018, when many temperature records fell across the US, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. As well as killing crops, the waves have killed thousands of people, especially in Europe and Russia, where air conditioning is far less common than in North America.

The research shows that there has been a significant increase in the probability of multiple global breadbasket failures, particularly for wheat, maize, and soybeans. For soybeans the implications of crop failure in all major breadbaskets associated with climate risk would be at least 12.55 million tons of crop losses, far more than the 7.2 million tons lost in 1988–1989, one of the largest soybean production shocks.

Kai Kornhuber, a doctoral candidate from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, US, and colleagues found that it is these simultaneous heatwaves that can significantly reduce crop production and create the risk of multiple harvest failures and other far-reaching consequences.

Twentyfold increase

“We found an under-explored vulnerability in the food system: when these global-scale wind patterns are in place, we see a twenty-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop-producing regions ”, said Kornhuber. “During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation.”

The atmospheric patterns the team researched mean that heat and drought become locked into one place simultaneously, where they then affect crops’ production yields.

“What makes this particularly relevant: the bell can ring in multiple regions at once, and the impacts of those specific interconnections were not quantified previously,” Kornhuber said.

“Normally low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere. But these waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production”, said co-author Dr Dim Coumou from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam and PIK.

Remote effects

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”, added Dr Jonathan Donges, another co-author at PIK. “This can impact food availability not only in the regions directly affected. Even remoter regions may see scarcities and price spikes as a result.”

“During years in which two or more summer weeks featured the amplified wave pattern, cereal crop production was reduced by more than 10% in individual regions, and by 4% when averaged across all crop regions affected by the pattern”, said Elisabeth Vogel, from Melbourne University.

Ted Shepherd, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, UK, who was not involved in the study, said: “We have strong observational evidence of this wave pattern. What is open for discussion is how it might respond to climate change.”

Professor Shepherd said many consensus scientific statements, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had proved to be under-estimates of how fast and far the effects of global warming might move. − Climate News Network

Food shortages and civil disturbances may result from changes in the jet stream winds which circle the Earth, scientists say.

LONDON, 10 December, 2019 − Patterns in the winds of the jet stream that circles the Earth can bring simultaneous heatwaves to breadbasket regions which provide up to a quarter of global crops, scientists have found.

Extreme weather on this scale can significantly harm food production, making prices soar and fuelling social unrest. Western North America, western Europe, western Russia, Ukraine and the Caspian Sea region are especially susceptible.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change the researchers, from Germany, Australia and the US, explain how specific wave patterns in the jet stream strongly increase the chance of heatwaves occurring at the same time in different parts of the globe.

The jet stream is a fast-moving river of air that continuously circles the northern hemisphere from west to east. It generally confines itself to a relatively narrow band, but can meander north or south, due to a feature scientists call Rossby waves.

Among other effects, these atmospheric wobbles may pull frigid air masses from the polar regions, or hot ones from the subtropics, into the populous mid-latitudes.

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”

The wobbles strongly influence daily weather. When they grow particularly large they can bring prolonged heatwaves, droughts or floods in summer, or in colder seasons abnormal cold spells.

The waves have hit in 1983, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2018, when many temperature records fell across the US, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. As well as killing crops, the waves have killed thousands of people, especially in Europe and Russia, where air conditioning is far less common than in North America.

The research shows that there has been a significant increase in the probability of multiple global breadbasket failures, particularly for wheat, maize, and soybeans. For soybeans the implications of crop failure in all major breadbaskets associated with climate risk would be at least 12.55 million tons of crop losses, far more than the 7.2 million tons lost in 1988–1989, one of the largest soybean production shocks.

Kai Kornhuber, a doctoral candidate from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, US, and colleagues found that it is these simultaneous heatwaves that can significantly reduce crop production and create the risk of multiple harvest failures and other far-reaching consequences.

Twentyfold increase

“We found an under-explored vulnerability in the food system: when these global-scale wind patterns are in place, we see a twenty-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heatwaves in major crop-producing regions ”, said Kornhuber. “During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation.”

The atmospheric patterns the team researched mean that heat and drought become locked into one place simultaneously, where they then affect crops’ production yields.

“What makes this particularly relevant: the bell can ring in multiple regions at once, and the impacts of those specific interconnections were not quantified previously,” Kornhuber said.

“Normally low harvests in one region are expected to be balanced out by good harvests elsewhere. But these waves can cause reduced harvests in several important breadbaskets simultaneously, creating risks for global food production”, said co-author Dr Dim Coumou from the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam and PIK.

Remote effects

“We will see more and more heatwaves striking different areas at the same time, and they will become even more severe”, added Dr Jonathan Donges, another co-author at PIK. “This can impact food availability not only in the regions directly affected. Even remoter regions may see scarcities and price spikes as a result.”

“During years in which two or more summer weeks featured the amplified wave pattern, cereal crop production was reduced by more than 10% in individual regions, and by 4% when averaged across all crop regions affected by the pattern”, said Elisabeth Vogel, from Melbourne University.

Ted Shepherd, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, UK, who was not involved in the study, said: “We have strong observational evidence of this wave pattern. What is open for discussion is how it might respond to climate change.”

Professor Shepherd said many consensus scientific statements, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had proved to be under-estimates of how fast and far the effects of global warming might move. − Climate News Network

Do your maths and tackle the climate crisis

So you want to be a climate scientist? For a start, you’ll need good maths. And Oxford educators have found a way to help you.

OXFORD, 29 November, 2019 – Who would have thought it, that everything which goes under the name of maths is a crucial part of the armoury of climate scientists? But, as the scientists themselves know well, it is, and anyone who wants to make an effective contribution to tackling the global climate emergency must be a competent mathematician.

That’s a lesson not lost on the movement that gave life to the idea of regular school climate strikes, Fridays For Future, which today embarks on another round of action aimed at stirring older generations into tackling the global crisis. It has already earned the backing of senior scientists, and now teachers as well are supporting its activities.

If you search online to find the qualifications you need to become a doctor, you’ll find thousands of answers. But ask the same question for solving climate change – for many people the defining issue of our time – and you may search in vain.

Enter MathsforPlanetEarth.org, part of a project on climate engagement with young people and schools being undertaken by the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) and the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford, UK.

“I’ve been to several school climate strikes this year and met many inspiring, passionate and very well-informed students. Our best contribution is to give them the intellectual tools to help do the job”

The project began with a pop-up “Ask a climate scientist” stand at the student marches, where ECI scientists quickly realised they needed a more strategic offer. They are now working with the university’s education department, with local teachers and with app developers, both “on curriculum” and extra-curriculum. MathsforPlanetEarth.org is their first output and is working to get climate change into A-level maths.

“We’ve started with maths”, says Myles Allen, Oxford’s professor of geosystem science and leader of climateprediction.net, the world’s largest climate forecasting experiment. “There are a lot of numbers and calculations in the weather, temperature and climate models, and around solutions like renewable energy and adaptations like where and how high to build flood defences. We need more brainy mathematicians.”

MathsforPlanetEarth.org has begun deliberately with exam questions. A team of local students – school and university – have worked with scientists at ECI, crafting a collection of climate-related problems based on the A-level and GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) syllabuses (see here for examples). Their problems closely follow the format of the more traditional topics usually associated with school maths.

Irritating topics

“I’ve been to several school climate strikes this year and met many inspiring, passionate and very well-informed students”, Professor Allen told the Climate News Network. “They have extraordinary energy. As educators, our best contribution is to give them the intellectual tools to help do the job.

“Many climate strikers seem taken aback when I urge them to keep their maths going. And when we looked at the examples of maths questions they are given at school, it’s not surprising: almost all of them seemed to be about cars or money, two topics almost guaranteed to irritate a concerned climate-striker.

“So we put this website together to provide teachers with interesting problems in climate change and sustainability, using exactly the techniques they are teaching in GCSE and A-levels anyway. For now, we just have to explain to kids how much of what they learn is relevant to climate change already.”

What MathsforPlanetEarth.org can do in the UK could work well elsewhere too. Dr Kim Polgreen, founder of a new social enterprise, Leadership in Global Change (LIGC), has been collaborating with ECI, hosting sustainability summer schools for 15-18 year olds from across the world, and from local schools in Oxford.

Impatient ambition

She is working to get ECI’s project into schools through teacher training organisations and teacher groups. “While teachers like the idea, they are challenged by needing some confidence in the science that lies behind the questions”, she says.

She is one of over 800 international graduates from ECI, now working in more than 80 countries, who could be a good way to tell teachers about the project worldwide. She also sees maths as just a start: “I am hopeful that we can expand the concept to texts used in English, to more case studies in geography and the sciences. This approach can make the curriculum across all subjects more real and meaningful for today’s teenagers.”

Professor Allen agrees: “Climate change – and the environment – are today’s pioneering topics for young people’s education. We must be ambitious and impatient about creating stimulating material across all subjects, equipping our children with the skills they need.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How would you make MathsforPlanetEarth.org better?

ECI would like to hear from teachers, students and others about what you think of MathsforPlanetEarth.org – and how you would improve and add to it.
Please send your comments to: mathsforplanetearth@ouce.ox.ac.uk

Thank you!

So you want to be a climate scientist? For a start, you’ll need good maths. And Oxford educators have found a way to help you.

OXFORD, 29 November, 2019 – Who would have thought it, that everything which goes under the name of maths is a crucial part of the armoury of climate scientists? But, as the scientists themselves know well, it is, and anyone who wants to make an effective contribution to tackling the global climate emergency must be a competent mathematician.

That’s a lesson not lost on the movement that gave life to the idea of regular school climate strikes, Fridays For Future, which today embarks on another round of action aimed at stirring older generations into tackling the global crisis. It has already earned the backing of senior scientists, and now teachers as well are supporting its activities.

If you search online to find the qualifications you need to become a doctor, you’ll find thousands of answers. But ask the same question for solving climate change – for many people the defining issue of our time – and you may search in vain.

Enter MathsforPlanetEarth.org, part of a project on climate engagement with young people and schools being undertaken by the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) and the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford, UK.

“I’ve been to several school climate strikes this year and met many inspiring, passionate and very well-informed students. Our best contribution is to give them the intellectual tools to help do the job”

The project began with a pop-up “Ask a climate scientist” stand at the student marches, where ECI scientists quickly realised they needed a more strategic offer. They are now working with the university’s education department, with local teachers and with app developers, both “on curriculum” and extra-curriculum. MathsforPlanetEarth.org is their first output and is working to get climate change into A-level maths.

“We’ve started with maths”, says Myles Allen, Oxford’s professor of geosystem science and leader of climateprediction.net, the world’s largest climate forecasting experiment. “There are a lot of numbers and calculations in the weather, temperature and climate models, and around solutions like renewable energy and adaptations like where and how high to build flood defences. We need more brainy mathematicians.”

MathsforPlanetEarth.org has begun deliberately with exam questions. A team of local students – school and university – have worked with scientists at ECI, crafting a collection of climate-related problems based on the A-level and GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) syllabuses (see here for examples). Their problems closely follow the format of the more traditional topics usually associated with school maths.

Irritating topics

“I’ve been to several school climate strikes this year and met many inspiring, passionate and very well-informed students”, Professor Allen told the Climate News Network. “They have extraordinary energy. As educators, our best contribution is to give them the intellectual tools to help do the job.

“Many climate strikers seem taken aback when I urge them to keep their maths going. And when we looked at the examples of maths questions they are given at school, it’s not surprising: almost all of them seemed to be about cars or money, two topics almost guaranteed to irritate a concerned climate-striker.

“So we put this website together to provide teachers with interesting problems in climate change and sustainability, using exactly the techniques they are teaching in GCSE and A-levels anyway. For now, we just have to explain to kids how much of what they learn is relevant to climate change already.”

What MathsforPlanetEarth.org can do in the UK could work well elsewhere too. Dr Kim Polgreen, founder of a new social enterprise, Leadership in Global Change (LIGC), has been collaborating with ECI, hosting sustainability summer schools for 15-18 year olds from across the world, and from local schools in Oxford.

Impatient ambition

She is working to get ECI’s project into schools through teacher training organisations and teacher groups. “While teachers like the idea, they are challenged by needing some confidence in the science that lies behind the questions”, she says.

She is one of over 800 international graduates from ECI, now working in more than 80 countries, who could be a good way to tell teachers about the project worldwide. She also sees maths as just a start: “I am hopeful that we can expand the concept to texts used in English, to more case studies in geography and the sciences. This approach can make the curriculum across all subjects more real and meaningful for today’s teenagers.”

Professor Allen agrees: “Climate change – and the environment – are today’s pioneering topics for young people’s education. We must be ambitious and impatient about creating stimulating material across all subjects, equipping our children with the skills they need.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How would you make MathsforPlanetEarth.org better?

ECI would like to hear from teachers, students and others about what you think of MathsforPlanetEarth.org – and how you would improve and add to it.
Please send your comments to: mathsforplanetearth@ouce.ox.ac.uk

Thank you!

Iceland put people first to save melting economy

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Scientists’ climate gap is narrowing

A poll shows scientists’ climate gap is shrinking − between their work on climate change and their own response to it..

LONDON, 18 November, 2019 − There’s evidence that a scientists’ climate gap − a hesitation to reflect their findings in their personal lives − is diminishing, with significant changes under way in individuals’ behaviour.

The world’s climate scientists spend their working lives establishing what is happening as the world heats up. They tell the rest of us the facts they discover so that we can decide how to respond. But how they respond themselves is a telling indicator of how concerned they are − and how worried we should be.

A poll of scientists − many working in fields related to the climate emergency – reveals a gap between awareness of international climate goals, and action to change lifestyles so as to reflect them. But there are signs that science professionals are starting to make radical shifts in their behaviour.

The poll, detailed in a new briefing, Scientists Behaving Responsibly, was published to mark a conference on 16 November in London, Scientists behaving responsibly: should science walk the talk on climate breakdown?, organised by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)..

SGR acknowledges that it was a small exercise, a straw poll disseminated to specialist scientific audiences including its own membership and those who follow the international climate negotiations. There were 153 responses.

“Be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it”

The poll found that nearly one in three respondents are choosing not to have children. More than one in three already reject flying, with that number pledged to increase to nearly half (48%).

While 87% of respondents said they had considered the implications of the climate goals for their own lives, only around half (52%), thought their lives were aligned with the goals. 71% thought the response of the sector in which they work on the climate emergency was either unsatisfactory, or highly unsatisfactory

Over one in three (38%) do not own a car and rarely use one, and the number planning to take “very serious” steps to reduce the impact of their car use is rising “dramatically”.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) say they are adopting largely plant-based diets, and 13% are vegans. 76% say they are turning their backs on new consumer goods, choosing fewer items and second-hand ones and long-term repair options instead.

Systemic change needed

“Meeting agreed international emissions targets and preventing climate breakdown needs systemic and behavioural change”, says Andrew Simms, assistant director of SGR. “Nearly two-thirds of the changes needed to meet the UK national zero carbon target have been officially recognised as involving societal and behavioural change.

“This poll shows scientists starting to make big life changes to walk the talk on climate breakdown, including getting involved in protest.

“Research on behaviour change shows that seeing people act differently matters. It is hugely influential in persuading others to make changes, creating a positive ‘social contagion’ effect.

“However, many behaviour changes are shaped by the energy, food and transport systems we live within, and the lack of easily available low carbon alternatives was cited as the biggest obstacle to change.”

Lobbyists’ billions

One of the speakers at the London conference was Farhana Yamin, an international climate change lawyer. She tweeted: “So many climate initiatives fail because of the vast lobbying power of vested interests. The oil majors spent US$1billion since the Paris climate talks [in 2015] on greenwash and lobbying. That’s why I broke the law and glued myself to Shell.”

Another speaker was Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. In a recent blog, An alarmist’s guide to climate change, he called for “some healthy and realistic alarmism”.

He ended: “Be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it.

”Drastically change your lifestyle; become an activist; vote into power a government that will walk the walk on climate change, not just talk the talk. Or – preferably – all three.” − Climate News Network

A poll shows scientists’ climate gap is shrinking − between their work on climate change and their own response to it..

LONDON, 18 November, 2019 − There’s evidence that a scientists’ climate gap − a hesitation to reflect their findings in their personal lives − is diminishing, with significant changes under way in individuals’ behaviour.

The world’s climate scientists spend their working lives establishing what is happening as the world heats up. They tell the rest of us the facts they discover so that we can decide how to respond. But how they respond themselves is a telling indicator of how concerned they are − and how worried we should be.

A poll of scientists − many working in fields related to the climate emergency – reveals a gap between awareness of international climate goals, and action to change lifestyles so as to reflect them. But there are signs that science professionals are starting to make radical shifts in their behaviour.

The poll, detailed in a new briefing, Scientists Behaving Responsibly, was published to mark a conference on 16 November in London, Scientists behaving responsibly: should science walk the talk on climate breakdown?, organised by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)..

SGR acknowledges that it was a small exercise, a straw poll disseminated to specialist scientific audiences including its own membership and those who follow the international climate negotiations. There were 153 responses.

“Be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it”

The poll found that nearly one in three respondents are choosing not to have children. More than one in three already reject flying, with that number pledged to increase to nearly half (48%).

While 87% of respondents said they had considered the implications of the climate goals for their own lives, only around half (52%), thought their lives were aligned with the goals. 71% thought the response of the sector in which they work on the climate emergency was either unsatisfactory, or highly unsatisfactory

Over one in three (38%) do not own a car and rarely use one, and the number planning to take “very serious” steps to reduce the impact of their car use is rising “dramatically”.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) say they are adopting largely plant-based diets, and 13% are vegans. 76% say they are turning their backs on new consumer goods, choosing fewer items and second-hand ones and long-term repair options instead.

Systemic change needed

“Meeting agreed international emissions targets and preventing climate breakdown needs systemic and behavioural change”, says Andrew Simms, assistant director of SGR. “Nearly two-thirds of the changes needed to meet the UK national zero carbon target have been officially recognised as involving societal and behavioural change.

“This poll shows scientists starting to make big life changes to walk the talk on climate breakdown, including getting involved in protest.

“Research on behaviour change shows that seeing people act differently matters. It is hugely influential in persuading others to make changes, creating a positive ‘social contagion’ effect.

“However, many behaviour changes are shaped by the energy, food and transport systems we live within, and the lack of easily available low carbon alternatives was cited as the biggest obstacle to change.”

Lobbyists’ billions

One of the speakers at the London conference was Farhana Yamin, an international climate change lawyer. She tweeted: “So many climate initiatives fail because of the vast lobbying power of vested interests. The oil majors spent US$1billion since the Paris climate talks [in 2015] on greenwash and lobbying. That’s why I broke the law and glued myself to Shell.”

Another speaker was Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. In a recent blog, An alarmist’s guide to climate change, he called for “some healthy and realistic alarmism”.

He ended: “Be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it.

”Drastically change your lifestyle; become an activist; vote into power a government that will walk the walk on climate change, not just talk the talk. Or – preferably – all three.” − Climate News Network

Penguins in peril as winds change and heat rises

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

Scientists back global climate strike

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network