Category Archives: Emissions

Change of diet could help tackle climate change

Food causes climate problems, and offers solutions too. New research examines what change of diet could do.

LONDON, 17 September, 2021 − Once again, scientists have confirmed that humankind could be grazing the planet to death. Food-based agriculture accounts for more than a third of all the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and farming for an animal-based diet adds up to at least 57% of that. Could a change of diet be useful?

The implication − long ago backed up by many other studies − is that a global difference in diet could help contain climate change, conserve the world’s natural biodiversity and feed a growing population all at the same time.

And the strength of the latest study is that it could help governments, civic authorities, communities and famers identify where best to start.

US and European researchers report, in the journal Nature Food, that they looked at the big picture to apportion the contribution to global heating from the 171 crops and 16 animal products in more than 200 countries around the world in the year 2010.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including plant- and animal-based foods”

Plant-based foods account for 19% of the carbon dioxide, 6% of the methane and 4% of the nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere. Animal-based food processes surrender 32% of the carbon dioxide, 20% of the methane and 6% of the nitrous oxide. Farming for fabrics rather than food products − think of cotton, rubber and so on − accounts for 14% of all emissions.

“Although CO2 is the most important and most frequently discussed of greenhouse gas emissions, methane generated by rice cultivation and animals, and nitrous oxide from fertilisers, are 34 and 298 times more powerful than CO2, respectively, when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere,” said Xiaoming Xu, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the lead author.

Food is part of the machinery that drives potentially catastrophic climate change. Researchers have again and again demonstrated that global food security is also likely to be put at serious risk by climate change, in the form of massive harvest failure as a consequence of extremes of temperature and drought, of the slowness of change in the agricultural sector, and of the impact of climate change on the nutritional value of the food that can be harvested in a hotter world.

Humans waste food. They demand foods that precipitate the loss of natural ecosystems that might otherwise help limit climate change. And, by fuelling climate change, humans have even put at risk those genetic resources from which human diet has, over at least 10,000 years, evolved.

Planetary diet change

But in the next 30 years, farmers will have to increase food output by 70% to meet the demands of a swelling global population. Once again, other groups have looked at the challenge and proposed ways to deliver more while emitting lower levels of greenhouse gases, and while protecting vital rainforests and grassland from further devastation.

But that means a change of diet on a planetary scale. The latest study shows that China now leads the world with emissions from animal-based foods at 8%, ahead of Brazil (6%) and the US (5%). China also leads the world with plant-based emissions at 7%, followed by India at 4% and Indonesia at 2%.

“We estimate that population growth will drive the expansion of food sub-sectors, including crop cultivation and livestock production, as well as product transportation and processing, irrigation, and materials like fertiliser and pesticides,” said Atul Jain, who heads atmospheric sciences research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including those from the production and consumption of total and individual plant- and animal-based foods.” − Climate News Network

Food causes climate problems, and offers solutions too. New research examines what change of diet could do.

LONDON, 17 September, 2021 − Once again, scientists have confirmed that humankind could be grazing the planet to death. Food-based agriculture accounts for more than a third of all the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, and farming for an animal-based diet adds up to at least 57% of that. Could a change of diet be useful?

The implication − long ago backed up by many other studies − is that a global difference in diet could help contain climate change, conserve the world’s natural biodiversity and feed a growing population all at the same time.

And the strength of the latest study is that it could help governments, civic authorities, communities and famers identify where best to start.

US and European researchers report, in the journal Nature Food, that they looked at the big picture to apportion the contribution to global heating from the 171 crops and 16 animal products in more than 200 countries around the world in the year 2010.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including plant- and animal-based foods”

Plant-based foods account for 19% of the carbon dioxide, 6% of the methane and 4% of the nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere. Animal-based food processes surrender 32% of the carbon dioxide, 20% of the methane and 6% of the nitrous oxide. Farming for fabrics rather than food products − think of cotton, rubber and so on − accounts for 14% of all emissions.

“Although CO2 is the most important and most frequently discussed of greenhouse gas emissions, methane generated by rice cultivation and animals, and nitrous oxide from fertilisers, are 34 and 298 times more powerful than CO2, respectively, when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere,” said Xiaoming Xu, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the lead author.

Food is part of the machinery that drives potentially catastrophic climate change. Researchers have again and again demonstrated that global food security is also likely to be put at serious risk by climate change, in the form of massive harvest failure as a consequence of extremes of temperature and drought, of the slowness of change in the agricultural sector, and of the impact of climate change on the nutritional value of the food that can be harvested in a hotter world.

Humans waste food. They demand foods that precipitate the loss of natural ecosystems that might otherwise help limit climate change. And, by fuelling climate change, humans have even put at risk those genetic resources from which human diet has, over at least 10,000 years, evolved.

Planetary diet change

But in the next 30 years, farmers will have to increase food output by 70% to meet the demands of a swelling global population. Once again, other groups have looked at the challenge and proposed ways to deliver more while emitting lower levels of greenhouse gases, and while protecting vital rainforests and grassland from further devastation.

But that means a change of diet on a planetary scale. The latest study shows that China now leads the world with emissions from animal-based foods at 8%, ahead of Brazil (6%) and the US (5%). China also leads the world with plant-based emissions at 7%, followed by India at 4% and Indonesia at 2%.

“We estimate that population growth will drive the expansion of food sub-sectors, including crop cultivation and livestock production, as well as product transportation and processing, irrigation, and materials like fertiliser and pesticides,” said Atul Jain, who heads atmospheric sciences research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“Developing climate mitigation strategies must rely on accurate estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including those from the production and consumption of total and individual plant- and animal-based foods.” − Climate News Network

Move from fossil fuels and promote renewables, says Iraq

Iraq, the planet’s sixth-largest oil producer, urges the world to move from fossil fuels and focus on renewable energy.

LONDON, 7 September, 2021 − The deputy prime minister of Iraq and the executive director of the International Energy Agency are urging the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Opec, to move from fossil fuels and shift into renewable energy.

The “unprecedented” opinion piece  in The Guardian appeared ahead of a major meeting of the decades-old oil cartel earlier this week, reports Guardian reporter Fiona Harvey.

“To stand a chance of limiting the worst effects of climate change, the world needs to fundamentally change the way it produces and consumes energy, burning less coal, oil, and natural gas,” write Ali Allawi, who is also Iraq’s finance minister, and the IEA’s Fatih Birol.

“If oil revenues start to decline before producer countries have successfully diversified their economies, livelihoods will be lost and poverty rates will increase.”

Moreover, “in a region “with one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in the world, economic hardship and increasing unemployment risk creating broader unrest and instability,” they add.

Rising production planned?

The Guardian says the OPEC meeting on 3 September was also expected to discuss climate change an unusual topic for a gathering usually devoted to managing the world price of oil ahead of this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow.

The top-line news from the meeting was that Opec will stick with plans for a gradual increase in oil production, while increasing its estimate of 2022 oil demand, Reuters reports.

In their article, Allawi and Birol cite the IEA’s landmark net-zero roadmap, published in May, which called for a 75% reduction in global oil output and 55% cut in natural gas production by 2050.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA concluded.

“The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output and emissions reductions from the operation of existing assets.”

“There are promising initiatives, but reaching net-zero emissions will require much stronger actions and much greater international collaboration”

The two authors add that oil-producing regions are already bearing the brunt of the global crisis their product has been so instrumental in creating and accelerating.

“In the Middle East and North Africa, global warming is not a distant threat, but an already painful reality,” they write. “Rising temperatures are exacerbating water shortages. In Iraq, temperatures are estimated to be rising as much as seven times faster than the global average.”

But “countries in this region are not only uniquely affected by global temperature rises: their centrality to global oil and gas markets makes their economies particularly vulnerable to the transition away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy sources,” they add. So “it’s essential the voices of Iraq and similar countries are heard” at COP 26.

‘Every last molecule’

In the past, Middle East oil producers have indeed been heard at UN climate meetings, usually arguing to delay action on the climate emergency or suppress the scientific consensus on climate action. (Although Iraq is not a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the regional body that often speaks for Middle East oil producers at the COP.)

After the IEA released its report in May, Saudi oil minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman famously described the agency’s conclusions as “La La Land”, later vowing his country will extract every last molecule of oil in its possession. While “Saudi ministers have flirted with climate action,” The Guardian’s Harvey writes, “none have seriously suggested a policy to cease oil exports.”

But “some oil producers have taken a more dovish stance. Oman, which is no longer an OPEC member, is pursuing hydrogen as a potential low-carbon fuel for the future. [The United Arab Emirates] is also working on hydrogen, and boosting renewables, and recently inaugurated a new nuclear plant. Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan are among other countries in the region with sizeable renewable energy programs.”

Now Iraq is taking a different tack, as well. After seeing its poverty rates double in 2020 not due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but primarily because of crashing oil income Iraq “cannot allow the livelihoods of millions of families to continue to be dictated by the vagaries of an unpredictable oil market,” Allawi and Birol write.

“Redressing this will require policies and investments that enable oil and gas-producing countries such as Iraq to channel capital and labour into productive industries for the future and stimulate the private sector.”

Bettered by Germany

Iraq is already laying plans to reduce its dependence on hydrocarbon exports and refocus on “environmentally sound policies and technologies,” they add, and “the energy sector could play a role here by making use of the region’s vast potential for producing and supplying clean energy.”

In a remarkable pitch for a clean energy transition, Allawi and Birol lay out a menu of options for Iraq to pursue beginning with curbs on gas flaring in a fossil industry that accounts for 40% of its emissions, then extending to energy efficiency and renewables with “tremendous economic benefits” as a consequence.

“The worst potential solar sites in Iraq get up to 60% more direct energy from the sun than the best sites in Germany,” they write. “And yet the solar plants that Germany has built to date together offer two and a half times the electricity capacity of all Iraq’s operational oil, gas, and hydropower plants combined.”

“More than at any point in history, fundamental changes to the economic model in resource-rich countries look unavoidable,” Birol told Harvey. “Countries in the region have been making some efforts on the energy transition.

But any move from fossil fuels may be some time in coming. “There are promising initiatives [among oil producers], but as is the case for many other countries around the world, reaching net-zero emissions will require much stronger actions and much greater international collaboration,” said Birol. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report first appeared on the site of our Canadian partners The Energy Mix on 1 September and is republished here by courtesy of them.

Iraq, the planet’s sixth-largest oil producer, urges the world to move from fossil fuels and focus on renewable energy.

LONDON, 7 September, 2021 − The deputy prime minister of Iraq and the executive director of the International Energy Agency are urging the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Opec, to move from fossil fuels and shift into renewable energy.

The “unprecedented” opinion piece  in The Guardian appeared ahead of a major meeting of the decades-old oil cartel earlier this week, reports Guardian reporter Fiona Harvey.

“To stand a chance of limiting the worst effects of climate change, the world needs to fundamentally change the way it produces and consumes energy, burning less coal, oil, and natural gas,” write Ali Allawi, who is also Iraq’s finance minister, and the IEA’s Fatih Birol.

“If oil revenues start to decline before producer countries have successfully diversified their economies, livelihoods will be lost and poverty rates will increase.”

Moreover, “in a region “with one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in the world, economic hardship and increasing unemployment risk creating broader unrest and instability,” they add.

Rising production planned?

The Guardian says the OPEC meeting on 3 September was also expected to discuss climate change an unusual topic for a gathering usually devoted to managing the world price of oil ahead of this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow.

The top-line news from the meeting was that Opec will stick with plans for a gradual increase in oil production, while increasing its estimate of 2022 oil demand, Reuters reports.

In their article, Allawi and Birol cite the IEA’s landmark net-zero roadmap, published in May, which called for a 75% reduction in global oil output and 55% cut in natural gas production by 2050.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA concluded.

“The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output and emissions reductions from the operation of existing assets.”

“There are promising initiatives, but reaching net-zero emissions will require much stronger actions and much greater international collaboration”

The two authors add that oil-producing regions are already bearing the brunt of the global crisis their product has been so instrumental in creating and accelerating.

“In the Middle East and North Africa, global warming is not a distant threat, but an already painful reality,” they write. “Rising temperatures are exacerbating water shortages. In Iraq, temperatures are estimated to be rising as much as seven times faster than the global average.”

But “countries in this region are not only uniquely affected by global temperature rises: their centrality to global oil and gas markets makes their economies particularly vulnerable to the transition away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy sources,” they add. So “it’s essential the voices of Iraq and similar countries are heard” at COP 26.

‘Every last molecule’

In the past, Middle East oil producers have indeed been heard at UN climate meetings, usually arguing to delay action on the climate emergency or suppress the scientific consensus on climate action. (Although Iraq is not a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the regional body that often speaks for Middle East oil producers at the COP.)

After the IEA released its report in May, Saudi oil minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman famously described the agency’s conclusions as “La La Land”, later vowing his country will extract every last molecule of oil in its possession. While “Saudi ministers have flirted with climate action,” The Guardian’s Harvey writes, “none have seriously suggested a policy to cease oil exports.”

But “some oil producers have taken a more dovish stance. Oman, which is no longer an OPEC member, is pursuing hydrogen as a potential low-carbon fuel for the future. [The United Arab Emirates] is also working on hydrogen, and boosting renewables, and recently inaugurated a new nuclear plant. Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan are among other countries in the region with sizeable renewable energy programs.”

Now Iraq is taking a different tack, as well. After seeing its poverty rates double in 2020 not due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but primarily because of crashing oil income Iraq “cannot allow the livelihoods of millions of families to continue to be dictated by the vagaries of an unpredictable oil market,” Allawi and Birol write.

“Redressing this will require policies and investments that enable oil and gas-producing countries such as Iraq to channel capital and labour into productive industries for the future and stimulate the private sector.”

Bettered by Germany

Iraq is already laying plans to reduce its dependence on hydrocarbon exports and refocus on “environmentally sound policies and technologies,” they add, and “the energy sector could play a role here by making use of the region’s vast potential for producing and supplying clean energy.”

In a remarkable pitch for a clean energy transition, Allawi and Birol lay out a menu of options for Iraq to pursue beginning with curbs on gas flaring in a fossil industry that accounts for 40% of its emissions, then extending to energy efficiency and renewables with “tremendous economic benefits” as a consequence.

“The worst potential solar sites in Iraq get up to 60% more direct energy from the sun than the best sites in Germany,” they write. “And yet the solar plants that Germany has built to date together offer two and a half times the electricity capacity of all Iraq’s operational oil, gas, and hydropower plants combined.”

“More than at any point in history, fundamental changes to the economic model in resource-rich countries look unavoidable,” Birol told Harvey. “Countries in the region have been making some efforts on the energy transition.

But any move from fossil fuels may be some time in coming. “There are promising initiatives [among oil producers], but as is the case for many other countries around the world, reaching net-zero emissions will require much stronger actions and much greater international collaboration,” said Birol. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

This report first appeared on the site of our Canadian partners The Energy Mix on 1 September and is republished here by courtesy of them.

My lengthy battle to abandon fossil fuels

We can all agree to go carbon-neutral, but how easy is it? A Network editor describes his battle to abandon fossil fuels.

LONDON, 1 September, 2021− After decades of reporting on climate change and the inaction of governments in averting the coming tragedy of an overheated planet, for me the issue has gradually become more personal. Just how hard is it for anyone in the United Kingdom to become carbon-neutral? The answer: for me it took a long battle to abandon fossil fuels.

My journey to cutting my own carbon emissions began ten years ago with moving house. Our 1930s bungalow needed a new roof and updating − an opportunity to put into practice some of the carbon-saving schemes that had filled so many column inches and helped earn my living down the years.

The refurbishment was an opportunity to pack large amounts of insulation into the roof, walls and under the floor. More light entered the building through triple-glazed skylights installed in a green roof. Then came solar panels and a wood-burning stove.

The building works were essential anyway, so the extra cost of a bungalow that was warmer, lighter and cheaper to run was fairly small. Adding a second conservatory for a cactus collection was a luxury, but later proved a valuable passive heating source, especially in spring and autumn.

Selling the surplus electricity from the solar panels to the grid made me feel better too, as well as netting £1,000 (US$1,375) a year from the UK’s then generous government feed-in tariff. When the sun was not shining and we needed to buy electricity, it came from a company relying on its own wind and solar sources.

“If the meter was removed and the gas pipe remained we could easily steal the gas. Charming!”

The bungalow still used a gas-condensing boiler for heating water − a long way from carbon neutrality. The next step, when the old petrol car died, was to buy the smallest hybrid on the market, promising 80 miles per gallon and achieving an average of 60.

For a short while this was enough, but an unexpected financial windfall was an opportunity to pay for the installation of an array of solar panels on the roof of the local community centre. This became my personal carbon offset scheme and still cheers me up whenever I walk past it. The panels also provide income for the community.

So far, so good. But despite its wood-burning stove, the bungalow still needed plenty of gas for both hot water and central heating, creating a sizeable carbon footprint. Earlier this year I received an offer to install an air-source heat pump.

It wasn’t cheap – £13,000 (US$17,890), including fitting new radiators and a new larger super-insulated water tank – but it came with a promise of a  government subsidy of £8,500 (US$11,700 ) – payable in quarterly instalments over seven years.

There were a few hoops to jump through before installation – like proving my home had been improved as much as it could be in terms of energy efficiency. Fortunately it passed an expensive survey with flying colours.

Wrong answers

The installation took three days. The heat pump was anchored on the green roof for maximum efficiency and the gas boiler was removed.

Up to then every step I’d taken towards carbon neutrality had been relatively easy in terms of gaining feed-in tariffs and complying with paperwork. The heat pump subsidy and getting rid of the gas supply, however, proved harder.

The UK government’s heat pump subsidy scheme is operated by the consumer watchdog Ofgem, Britain’s energy regulator. Filling in its forms online was difficult because many questions were technical and inevitably, despite my best efforts, it decided some answers were wrong.

Bizarrely, this led to my being accused of attempted fraud and possible money laundering in my attempt to get a subsidy for installing the heat pump.

I had to send copies of my bank statements and driving licence to a web address my computer told me was not secure. It took a full four months of email exchanges and telephone calls to the “help” line to solve these problems. Just when I thought I would have to get my Member of Parliament involved on my behalf, Ofgem unexpectedly relented and awarded me the grant.

Free at last

Meanwhile a second battle was under way. The gas company continued to charge its 30 pence (US41 cents) daily standard rate for a gas supply that I no longer used or wanted. This would amount to £100 a year. To stop this charge continuing indefinitely we were told we had to have the gas meter removed.

Despite repeated attempts this proved almost impossible to organise – removing a gas meter was apparently an unheard-of service, and a meter could not be removed unless the householder paid another £800 to have the gas supply removed entirely from the property, back to the main supply pipe beneath the road.

This was necessary, we were told, because if the meter was removed and the gas pipe remained we could easily steal the gas. Charming!

Eventually, after much emailing, a few telephone calls and unkept appointments, a very competent gas fitter turned up and removed the meter. The gas supply pipe remains, but is sealed shut.

Time, and the coming winter, will tell whether the heat pump works as well as the gas, but just at the moment it is good to feel free of fossil fuels. While it will never be possible to atone for all those journalistic flights and carefree foreign holidays, I am, at least, at last no longer making things worse. − Climate News Network

We can all agree to go carbon-neutral, but how easy is it? A Network editor describes his battle to abandon fossil fuels.

LONDON, 1 September, 2021− After decades of reporting on climate change and the inaction of governments in averting the coming tragedy of an overheated planet, for me the issue has gradually become more personal. Just how hard is it for anyone in the United Kingdom to become carbon-neutral? The answer: for me it took a long battle to abandon fossil fuels.

My journey to cutting my own carbon emissions began ten years ago with moving house. Our 1930s bungalow needed a new roof and updating − an opportunity to put into practice some of the carbon-saving schemes that had filled so many column inches and helped earn my living down the years.

The refurbishment was an opportunity to pack large amounts of insulation into the roof, walls and under the floor. More light entered the building through triple-glazed skylights installed in a green roof. Then came solar panels and a wood-burning stove.

The building works were essential anyway, so the extra cost of a bungalow that was warmer, lighter and cheaper to run was fairly small. Adding a second conservatory for a cactus collection was a luxury, but later proved a valuable passive heating source, especially in spring and autumn.

Selling the surplus electricity from the solar panels to the grid made me feel better too, as well as netting £1,000 (US$1,375) a year from the UK’s then generous government feed-in tariff. When the sun was not shining and we needed to buy electricity, it came from a company relying on its own wind and solar sources.

“If the meter was removed and the gas pipe remained we could easily steal the gas. Charming!”

The bungalow still used a gas-condensing boiler for heating water − a long way from carbon neutrality. The next step, when the old petrol car died, was to buy the smallest hybrid on the market, promising 80 miles per gallon and achieving an average of 60.

For a short while this was enough, but an unexpected financial windfall was an opportunity to pay for the installation of an array of solar panels on the roof of the local community centre. This became my personal carbon offset scheme and still cheers me up whenever I walk past it. The panels also provide income for the community.

So far, so good. But despite its wood-burning stove, the bungalow still needed plenty of gas for both hot water and central heating, creating a sizeable carbon footprint. Earlier this year I received an offer to install an air-source heat pump.

It wasn’t cheap – £13,000 (US$17,890), including fitting new radiators and a new larger super-insulated water tank – but it came with a promise of a  government subsidy of £8,500 (US$11,700 ) – payable in quarterly instalments over seven years.

There were a few hoops to jump through before installation – like proving my home had been improved as much as it could be in terms of energy efficiency. Fortunately it passed an expensive survey with flying colours.

Wrong answers

The installation took three days. The heat pump was anchored on the green roof for maximum efficiency and the gas boiler was removed.

Up to then every step I’d taken towards carbon neutrality had been relatively easy in terms of gaining feed-in tariffs and complying with paperwork. The heat pump subsidy and getting rid of the gas supply, however, proved harder.

The UK government’s heat pump subsidy scheme is operated by the consumer watchdog Ofgem, Britain’s energy regulator. Filling in its forms online was difficult because many questions were technical and inevitably, despite my best efforts, it decided some answers were wrong.

Bizarrely, this led to my being accused of attempted fraud and possible money laundering in my attempt to get a subsidy for installing the heat pump.

I had to send copies of my bank statements and driving licence to a web address my computer told me was not secure. It took a full four months of email exchanges and telephone calls to the “help” line to solve these problems. Just when I thought I would have to get my Member of Parliament involved on my behalf, Ofgem unexpectedly relented and awarded me the grant.

Free at last

Meanwhile a second battle was under way. The gas company continued to charge its 30 pence (US41 cents) daily standard rate for a gas supply that I no longer used or wanted. This would amount to £100 a year. To stop this charge continuing indefinitely we were told we had to have the gas meter removed.

Despite repeated attempts this proved almost impossible to organise – removing a gas meter was apparently an unheard-of service, and a meter could not be removed unless the householder paid another £800 to have the gas supply removed entirely from the property, back to the main supply pipe beneath the road.

This was necessary, we were told, because if the meter was removed and the gas pipe remained we could easily steal the gas. Charming!

Eventually, after much emailing, a few telephone calls and unkept appointments, a very competent gas fitter turned up and removed the meter. The gas supply pipe remains, but is sealed shut.

Time, and the coming winter, will tell whether the heat pump works as well as the gas, but just at the moment it is good to feel free of fossil fuels. While it will never be possible to atone for all those journalistic flights and carefree foreign holidays, I am, at least, at last no longer making things worse. − Climate News Network

Cargo bikes offer new way to deliver goods in town

Moving goods − and even people − around towns and cities is becoming easier and healthier. Enter the cargo bikes.

LONDON, 25 August, 2021 − Don’t be too surprised if you come across an unwieldy-looking contraption trundling across a European city − and even a few North American ones too. It’s probably just one of the new cargo bikes, a mega-version of a much older technology. And it could be the answer to a range of urban problems.

Cargo bikes come in two versions, manual (or rather pedal) and electric. Either is ideal for tackling that bane of urban living, air pollution. Globally, air pollution kills an estimated seven million people annually; in the UK alone, it is responsible for approximately 40,000 deaths a year. Cargo bikes, where they work (obviously there are places where they don’t) cut the pollution drastically.

One study by scientists at the University of Cambridge said they had found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

A member of the research team, Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.”

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

Faster and cheaper

The Alliance has published a report, Large-tired and tested: how Europe’s cargo bike roll-out is delivering, which argues for the widest possible uptake of the vehicles, for a range of reasons. It’s urging readers not to dismiss them as an example of “old, unglamorous technologies”, but rather something which represents a move “from a niche transport option to a mainstream delivery choice”.

A recent study from Possible, a climate charity and member of the RTA, found that cargo bikes cut emissions by 90% compared with diesel vans, and by a third when compared with electric vans. The study also concluded that electric cargo bikes are 60% faster than vans at making deliveries in urban centres, achieving higher average speeds and dropping off ten parcels an hour compared with just six for a van.

Cargo bikes are essentially a new and larger form of something that used to be a familiar sight on the streets of many countries: the modest delivery bicycles used to take meat and groceries from retailers’ shops to customers’ homes.

In that guise they are still often seen, at least in the UK, their riders racing to get comestibles, often ready meals, into the hands of waiting diners. The main difference from 50 years ago is simple: the sheer scale and greater capacity of the behemoths now plying the streets.

The RTA is full of praise for the way simple butchers’ bikes have morphed into their (relatively) sleek successors: “Cargo bikes offer a win-win solution for cities, residents, safer streets, the environment and businesses alike. Greening growing industries early is vital to meeting climate targets: With spending habits shifting during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing low-impact and low-emissions solutions for new, expanding markets is essential.”

“Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England”

The Alliance says the new bikes present businesses with a way to increase urban deliveries, improving their speed and reliability, and have also revolutionised the urban school run, some of them able to hold up to eight children.

“The result”, it says. “is less congested roads, more breathable air, fewer road traffic accidents, a radical drop in carbon emissions and a flourishing ecosystem of businesses that can go direct to their customers without harming the environment.”

In Germany nearly 100,000 e-cargo bikes are sold every year and in France around 50,000. The UK managed only 2,000 sales for commercial use in 2020, but sales are expected to grow by 60% this year, with market size set to increase15-fold within the next five years. European sales are also expected to increase by 50% year on year, reaching an estimated total by 2030 of a million cargo bikes for commercial use and a million more for families to enjoy.

There’s money to be made from mega-bikes too. Some estimates of the financial benefits to businesses range from 70-90% cost savings compared with reliance on delivery vans. The leading UK-based bike manufacturer, Raleigh, saw sales increase by 75% last year at its main British factory. Happy pedalling! − Climate News Network

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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. 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.

Moving goods − and even people − around towns and cities is becoming easier and healthier. Enter the cargo bikes.

LONDON, 25 August, 2021 − Don’t be too surprised if you come across an unwieldy-looking contraption trundling across a European city − and even a few North American ones too. It’s probably just one of the new cargo bikes, a mega-version of a much older technology. And it could be the answer to a range of urban problems.

Cargo bikes come in two versions, manual (or rather pedal) and electric. Either is ideal for tackling that bane of urban living, air pollution. Globally, air pollution kills an estimated seven million people annually; in the UK alone, it is responsible for approximately 40,000 deaths a year. Cargo bikes, where they work (obviously there are places where they don’t) cut the pollution drastically.

One study by scientists at the University of Cambridge said they had found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

A member of the research team, Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.”

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

Faster and cheaper

The Alliance has published a report, Large-tired and tested: how Europe’s cargo bike roll-out is delivering, which argues for the widest possible uptake of the vehicles, for a range of reasons. It’s urging readers not to dismiss them as an example of “old, unglamorous technologies”, but rather something which represents a move “from a niche transport option to a mainstream delivery choice”.

A recent study from Possible, a climate charity and member of the RTA, found that cargo bikes cut emissions by 90% compared with diesel vans, and by a third when compared with electric vans. The study also concluded that electric cargo bikes are 60% faster than vans at making deliveries in urban centres, achieving higher average speeds and dropping off ten parcels an hour compared with just six for a van.

Cargo bikes are essentially a new and larger form of something that used to be a familiar sight on the streets of many countries: the modest delivery bicycles used to take meat and groceries from retailers’ shops to customers’ homes.

In that guise they are still often seen, at least in the UK, their riders racing to get comestibles, often ready meals, into the hands of waiting diners. The main difference from 50 years ago is simple: the sheer scale and greater capacity of the behemoths now plying the streets.

The RTA is full of praise for the way simple butchers’ bikes have morphed into their (relatively) sleek successors: “Cargo bikes offer a win-win solution for cities, residents, safer streets, the environment and businesses alike. Greening growing industries early is vital to meeting climate targets: With spending habits shifting during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing low-impact and low-emissions solutions for new, expanding markets is essential.”

“Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England”

The Alliance says the new bikes present businesses with a way to increase urban deliveries, improving their speed and reliability, and have also revolutionised the urban school run, some of them able to hold up to eight children.

“The result”, it says. “is less congested roads, more breathable air, fewer road traffic accidents, a radical drop in carbon emissions and a flourishing ecosystem of businesses that can go direct to their customers without harming the environment.”

In Germany nearly 100,000 e-cargo bikes are sold every year and in France around 50,000. The UK managed only 2,000 sales for commercial use in 2020, but sales are expected to grow by 60% this year, with market size set to increase15-fold within the next five years. European sales are also expected to increase by 50% year on year, reaching an estimated total by 2030 of a million cargo bikes for commercial use and a million more for families to enjoy.

There’s money to be made from mega-bikes too. Some estimates of the financial benefits to businesses range from 70-90% cost savings compared with reliance on delivery vans. The leading UK-based bike manufacturer, Raleigh, saw sales increase by 75% last year at its main British factory. Happy pedalling! − Climate News Network

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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. 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.

Ireland faces future of climate change division

Ireland, known as the Emerald Isle for its verdant pastures, may soon lose its title as climate change division takes hold.

DUBLIN, 17 August, 2021 − A friend emails from Athens, describing brown, smoke-filled skies caused by Greece’s raging fires, and says she dreams of soft Irish rain. Little does she know of the growing climate change division which is splitting the island apart.

The brother, living in northern California, talks of temperatures yet again topping 40°C, and driving along highways and hearing the macabre, crackling sound of burning forests.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”, he says.

Ireland, blessed with a temperate climate, little polluting heavy industry and a relatively small population, has so far escaped most of the extremes of climate change.

While many countries in southern Europe in recent months have been hit by record high temperatures, drought and wildfires, and several states in northern Europe have endured torrential rain and floods, Ireland has been unscathed.

Semi-tropical Ireland

But a new report on the country’s climate – the most comprehensive such study in more than eight years – warns that Ireland is not immune to the dramatic changes happening elsewhere.

The study, by the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  and Met Éireann, the national meteorological service, warns of coming weather extremes.

Trends point to “more intense, almost tropical rainfall events.” Couched in cautious terms, the study says scientists in Ireland are “more certain” that the country is becoming both wetter and warmer.

The report says annual rainfall has increased by 6% over the last 30 years compared with the 1960 to 1990 period, while annual average temperatures in Ireland have increased by 0.9% over the past 120 years. The seas round Ireland are becoming warmer and are rising – by approximately 2 to 3mm a year since the early 1990s.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”

A lack of rainfall is not a phenomenon usually associated with Ireland, but the study warns that, despite the increase in total amounts of precipitation, drought could hit many areas in coming years.

The climate is effectively dividing the country in half: rivers in the west and north of the country are becoming fuller, leading to an increased risk of serious flooding. But in the east and south – where the majority of the population lives – some rivers are at risk of drying up.

Frank McGovern, the EPA’s chief scientist, told the Irish Times that government policies need to take account of the country’s changing rainfall patterns: the study’s findings “should inform investment in planning and making our infrastructure and population more resilient to climate change.”

Ireland markets itself as a green and unpolluted land, free of the smoking industrial chimneys of much of the developed world.

Judicial rebuke

The reality is different: per head of population, Ireland is one of the leading emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Europe.

Its agricultural sector – a key part of the economy – is responsible for a large portion of those emissions.

Problems caused by GHG emissions from the country’s seven million cattle herd and by nitrate-based fertilisers are only slowly being tackled. Ireland’s transport sector is also a big polluter.

Last year Ireland’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial authority, described the Dublin government’s climate policies as “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacking in clear plans and goals. − Climate News Network

Ireland, known as the Emerald Isle for its verdant pastures, may soon lose its title as climate change division takes hold.

DUBLIN, 17 August, 2021 − A friend emails from Athens, describing brown, smoke-filled skies caused by Greece’s raging fires, and says she dreams of soft Irish rain. Little does she know of the growing climate change division which is splitting the island apart.

The brother, living in northern California, talks of temperatures yet again topping 40°C, and driving along highways and hearing the macabre, crackling sound of burning forests.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”, he says.

Ireland, blessed with a temperate climate, little polluting heavy industry and a relatively small population, has so far escaped most of the extremes of climate change.

While many countries in southern Europe in recent months have been hit by record high temperatures, drought and wildfires, and several states in northern Europe have endured torrential rain and floods, Ireland has been unscathed.

Semi-tropical Ireland

But a new report on the country’s climate – the most comprehensive such study in more than eight years – warns that Ireland is not immune to the dramatic changes happening elsewhere.

The study, by the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  and Met Éireann, the national meteorological service, warns of coming weather extremes.

Trends point to “more intense, almost tropical rainfall events.” Couched in cautious terms, the study says scientists in Ireland are “more certain” that the country is becoming both wetter and warmer.

The report says annual rainfall has increased by 6% over the last 30 years compared with the 1960 to 1990 period, while annual average temperatures in Ireland have increased by 0.9% over the past 120 years. The seas round Ireland are becoming warmer and are rising – by approximately 2 to 3mm a year since the early 1990s.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”

A lack of rainfall is not a phenomenon usually associated with Ireland, but the study warns that, despite the increase in total amounts of precipitation, drought could hit many areas in coming years.

The climate is effectively dividing the country in half: rivers in the west and north of the country are becoming fuller, leading to an increased risk of serious flooding. But in the east and south – where the majority of the population lives – some rivers are at risk of drying up.

Frank McGovern, the EPA’s chief scientist, told the Irish Times that government policies need to take account of the country’s changing rainfall patterns: the study’s findings “should inform investment in planning and making our infrastructure and population more resilient to climate change.”

Ireland markets itself as a green and unpolluted land, free of the smoking industrial chimneys of much of the developed world.

Judicial rebuke

The reality is different: per head of population, Ireland is one of the leading emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Europe.

Its agricultural sector – a key part of the economy – is responsible for a large portion of those emissions.

Problems caused by GHG emissions from the country’s seven million cattle herd and by nitrate-based fertilisers are only slowly being tackled. Ireland’s transport sector is also a big polluter.

Last year Ireland’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial authority, described the Dublin government’s climate policies as “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacking in clear plans and goals. − Climate News Network

Ancient sea level rises may have been fairly minimal

Maybe ancient sea level rises were not so dramatic. But they’d still have been pretty frightening.

LONDON, 12 August, 2021 − Earth scientists have measured the rising tides of a warmer world more than 100 millennia ago and found a glimmer of good news: ancient sea level rises during a warm spell in the last Ice Age were quite possibly only about 1.2 metres higher than they are today.

Since, between 128,000 and 117,000 years ago, the world was perhaps as much as 2°C warmer than it would become for most of human history, this really is encouraging. Right now, climate scientists project a rise of somewhere between 60cm and 1.5m later this century, as global temperature levels rise 2°C or more above those normal before the Industrial Revolution.

But until now, geological orthodoxy has proposed that during the last “interglacial” or sudden warming, sea levels rose by six metres or possibly even nine metres. This could only happen if the Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets had collapsed.

And although these are indeed already losing ice at an accelerating rate, it doesn’t seem possible for such a colossal quantity of ice to melt in only a handful of decades.

Missing factor

So there was a mismatch between the predictions of the world’s scientists and the apparent evidence from the past.

Now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a solution: calculations about past sea level heights may have been perhaps too gloomy because they did not fully factor in sea level’s other great uncertainty — the movement of the continents lapped by the sea.

This bedevils all predictions about sea level rise. Seas rise and fall with global temperatures, but so do landmasses. Right now, although sea level is creeping up at a rate measured in millimetres per year, the land under a number of great coastal cities is sinking dramatically, as humans build  ever more massive cities and abstract ever more groundwater. So predictions warn that millions could be at risk of coastal flooding.

But there is another, deeper reason for the uncertainty: as rising temperatures remove the massive burden of ice from glaciated land, and wind and rain erode mountains, so the subterranean rocks in the Earth’s mantle, far below the crust, respond by inching upwards. Even the seemingly solid rocks are elastic, subsiding under pressure and rising when the mass is removed.

“Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood”

All this means that, unless researchers can make an accurate estimate of land movement as well, sea level estimates are riven with uncertainties.

So a team from Columbia University in the US has looked at evidence of sea level rise and fall preserved in fossilised reefs and dunes in just one 1200km chain of islands − the Bahamas in the Atlantic − to come up with a new set of projections.

In the next 100 years, sea levels will rise by about 1.2 metres. This could be too modest: sea levels could just possibly rise by perhaps 5.3 metres, but this doesn’t seem likely. And a nine-metre rise is highly improbable.

“To get to nine metres of sea level rise, you’d have to melt large parts of Greenland and Antarctica,” said Blake Dyer, of the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Tricky calculation

“This suggests that didn’t happen. So maybe we should feel not so bad about the future. On the other hand, our lower estimate is bad, and our upper one is really bad.”

At the heart of the puzzle is a phenomenon known to geophysicists as isostasy: vast tracts of continental landmass have been heaving up and down, imperceptibly, over periods of tens of thousands of years, in response to ice and erosion.

So calculating sea level rise and fall when the thing on which sea level measurements are recorded − the land − is itself always shifting becomes tricky. That has always been why climate projections of sea levels contain a range of forecasts, rather than a hard number.

The argument is that changes recorded along the north-south lie of the Bahamas would provide a new and more sophisticated way of reconstructing sea heights in the relatively recent past.

Melting not guaranteed

The study doesn’t settle the question: estimates of past sea level change on a dramatic scale come from many parts of the planet, and glaciologists still have to reconstruct the rate at which the northern ice, for instance, may have retreated while the southern ice cap continued to advance during the last interglacial: that too would have limited sea level rise.

“This is still a question. Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood,” said Maureen Raymo, director of the Earth Observatory and a co-author.

Human carbon emissions are now heating the globe far more rapidly and evenly than during the last interglacial, so there is no guarantee of any melting at different rates in two hemispheres

“That makes it more difficult to apply the results to today. The easy thing to say would be, ‘Oh we showed that sea levels were not so bad, and that’s terrific.’  The harder answer, the more honest answer, is that maybe things were different then, and we’re not in the clear.” − Climate News Network

Maybe ancient sea level rises were not so dramatic. But they’d still have been pretty frightening.

LONDON, 12 August, 2021 − Earth scientists have measured the rising tides of a warmer world more than 100 millennia ago and found a glimmer of good news: ancient sea level rises during a warm spell in the last Ice Age were quite possibly only about 1.2 metres higher than they are today.

Since, between 128,000 and 117,000 years ago, the world was perhaps as much as 2°C warmer than it would become for most of human history, this really is encouraging. Right now, climate scientists project a rise of somewhere between 60cm and 1.5m later this century, as global temperature levels rise 2°C or more above those normal before the Industrial Revolution.

But until now, geological orthodoxy has proposed that during the last “interglacial” or sudden warming, sea levels rose by six metres or possibly even nine metres. This could only happen if the Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets had collapsed.

And although these are indeed already losing ice at an accelerating rate, it doesn’t seem possible for such a colossal quantity of ice to melt in only a handful of decades.

Missing factor

So there was a mismatch between the predictions of the world’s scientists and the apparent evidence from the past.

Now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a solution: calculations about past sea level heights may have been perhaps too gloomy because they did not fully factor in sea level’s other great uncertainty — the movement of the continents lapped by the sea.

This bedevils all predictions about sea level rise. Seas rise and fall with global temperatures, but so do landmasses. Right now, although sea level is creeping up at a rate measured in millimetres per year, the land under a number of great coastal cities is sinking dramatically, as humans build  ever more massive cities and abstract ever more groundwater. So predictions warn that millions could be at risk of coastal flooding.

But there is another, deeper reason for the uncertainty: as rising temperatures remove the massive burden of ice from glaciated land, and wind and rain erode mountains, so the subterranean rocks in the Earth’s mantle, far below the crust, respond by inching upwards. Even the seemingly solid rocks are elastic, subsiding under pressure and rising when the mass is removed.

“Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood”

All this means that, unless researchers can make an accurate estimate of land movement as well, sea level estimates are riven with uncertainties.

So a team from Columbia University in the US has looked at evidence of sea level rise and fall preserved in fossilised reefs and dunes in just one 1200km chain of islands − the Bahamas in the Atlantic − to come up with a new set of projections.

In the next 100 years, sea levels will rise by about 1.2 metres. This could be too modest: sea levels could just possibly rise by perhaps 5.3 metres, but this doesn’t seem likely. And a nine-metre rise is highly improbable.

“To get to nine metres of sea level rise, you’d have to melt large parts of Greenland and Antarctica,” said Blake Dyer, of the university’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Tricky calculation

“This suggests that didn’t happen. So maybe we should feel not so bad about the future. On the other hand, our lower estimate is bad, and our upper one is really bad.”

At the heart of the puzzle is a phenomenon known to geophysicists as isostasy: vast tracts of continental landmass have been heaving up and down, imperceptibly, over periods of tens of thousands of years, in response to ice and erosion.

So calculating sea level rise and fall when the thing on which sea level measurements are recorded − the land − is itself always shifting becomes tricky. That has always been why climate projections of sea levels contain a range of forecasts, rather than a hard number.

The argument is that changes recorded along the north-south lie of the Bahamas would provide a new and more sophisticated way of reconstructing sea heights in the relatively recent past.

Melting not guaranteed

The study doesn’t settle the question: estimates of past sea level change on a dramatic scale come from many parts of the planet, and glaciologists still have to reconstruct the rate at which the northern ice, for instance, may have retreated while the southern ice cap continued to advance during the last interglacial: that too would have limited sea level rise.

“This is still a question. Models of ice sheets are still in their toddlerhood,” said Maureen Raymo, director of the Earth Observatory and a co-author.

Human carbon emissions are now heating the globe far more rapidly and evenly than during the last interglacial, so there is no guarantee of any melting at different rates in two hemispheres

“That makes it more difficult to apply the results to today. The easy thing to say would be, ‘Oh we showed that sea levels were not so bad, and that’s terrific.’  The harder answer, the more honest answer, is that maybe things were different then, and we’re not in the clear.” − Climate News Network

Real cost of net zero carbon could be mass hunger

Governments and companies are happy to make net zero carbon pledges. Their real cost could be ruinous for the poor.

LONDON, 10 August, 2021 − Plans for removing carbon from the atmosphere, if they proved workable, could exact a lethal price from those least able to afford it: starvation for the world’s poorest people. Anti-poverty campaigners say implementing some net zero carbon schemes could devastate the prospects for global agriculture.

A report by Oxfam International, the global campaign to end poverty, says one of the favoured schemes, planting trees, is totally unrealistic, as it would require 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, an area five times the size of India, and greater than all the existing farmland on the planet.

To prevent irreversible damage to the climate and limit temperature rise to the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above historic levels, governments need to be on track by 2030 to cut carbon emissions by 45% from their 2010 levels, according to the UNFCCC, the United Nations climate change convention.

It says countries’ current plans to cut emissions are inadequate to limit warning to the more lenient 2°C target agreed at its meeting in Paris in 2015, let alone to the 1.5°C that scientists say is necessary. Oxfam says the current plans will achieve only a 1% reduction in emissions, a long way from the 45% that is needed.

Risky gamble

The current lack of governmental action on climate is undermining the efforts of Oxfam and many others to tackle inequality and poverty around the world, while the climate crisis is worsening the humanitarian crisis, hunger and migration.

Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s climate change lead, said: “‘Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains. Instead, too many ‘net zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way. Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realise them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses.”

Separately Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, also expressed concern at what she said was governments’ failure to be realistic on net zero carbon.

Every government is supposed to have submitted its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) by 31July, stating the emissions it plans to make to contribute to the target of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Only 110 of the 197 governments that signed up in Paris to provide one had done so by the deadline.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way”

“Recent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods across the globe are a dire warning that much more needs to be done, and much more quickly, to change our current pathway. This can only be achieved through more ambitious NDCs”, Patricia Espinosa said.

The Oxfam report says the world’s three largest carbon emitters − China, the US and the EU − have pledged to reach net zero by mid-century, but that their plans are vague and unverifiable.

Some plans − Colombia’s, for example − require reforesting on a grand scale. Its forests are still disappearing alarmingly fast, but it pledges to reforest one billion hectares of land by 2030, although there is no sign of that happening.

One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies now have net zero goals that depend on land-based carbon sinks. Four of the world’s largest oil companies − BP, Eni, Shell and TotalEnergies − would have to forest an area of land twice the size of the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

Trusting technology

But unlikely pledges on forests are not the only weaknesses of government and corporation planning to make net zero carbon a possibility. For example the UK, host to November’s COP-26 climate talks, relies heavily on unproven technologies that will magically be developed and built in time to reach net zero by 2050.

These include a new generation of nuclear power stations that are still at the early development stage. The UK is also relying on large-scale carbon capture and storage – a long-promised technology, many of whose bids to succeed have been abandoned as too expensive and impractical. The government hopes as well to replace fossil fuel gas with green hydrogen produced from surplus renewable energy and nuclear power – a hugely ambitious idea.

Meanwhile job-producing and much-needed plans to insulate homes and improve building standards, promised both last year and this, have been postponed again.

Although this is the quickest and easiest way of reducing the UK’s largest source of emissions, the contribution from buildings, the government has met opposition from house builders, many of whom are large donors to the ruling Conservative party’s funds. − Climate News Network

Governments and companies are happy to make net zero carbon pledges. Their real cost could be ruinous for the poor.

LONDON, 10 August, 2021 − Plans for removing carbon from the atmosphere, if they proved workable, could exact a lethal price from those least able to afford it: starvation for the world’s poorest people. Anti-poverty campaigners say implementing some net zero carbon schemes could devastate the prospects for global agriculture.

A report by Oxfam International, the global campaign to end poverty, says one of the favoured schemes, planting trees, is totally unrealistic, as it would require 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, an area five times the size of India, and greater than all the existing farmland on the planet.

To prevent irreversible damage to the climate and limit temperature rise to the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above historic levels, governments need to be on track by 2030 to cut carbon emissions by 45% from their 2010 levels, according to the UNFCCC, the United Nations climate change convention.

It says countries’ current plans to cut emissions are inadequate to limit warning to the more lenient 2°C target agreed at its meeting in Paris in 2015, let alone to the 1.5°C that scientists say is necessary. Oxfam says the current plans will achieve only a 1% reduction in emissions, a long way from the 45% that is needed.

Risky gamble

The current lack of governmental action on climate is undermining the efforts of Oxfam and many others to tackle inequality and poverty around the world, while the climate crisis is worsening the humanitarian crisis, hunger and migration.

Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s climate change lead, said: “‘Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains. Instead, too many ‘net zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way. Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realise them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses.”

Separately Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, also expressed concern at what she said was governments’ failure to be realistic on net zero carbon.

Every government is supposed to have submitted its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) by 31July, stating the emissions it plans to make to contribute to the target of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Only 110 of the 197 governments that signed up in Paris to provide one had done so by the deadline.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way”

“Recent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods across the globe are a dire warning that much more needs to be done, and much more quickly, to change our current pathway. This can only be achieved through more ambitious NDCs”, Patricia Espinosa said.

The Oxfam report says the world’s three largest carbon emitters − China, the US and the EU − have pledged to reach net zero by mid-century, but that their plans are vague and unverifiable.

Some plans − Colombia’s, for example − require reforesting on a grand scale. Its forests are still disappearing alarmingly fast, but it pledges to reforest one billion hectares of land by 2030, although there is no sign of that happening.

One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies now have net zero goals that depend on land-based carbon sinks. Four of the world’s largest oil companies − BP, Eni, Shell and TotalEnergies − would have to forest an area of land twice the size of the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

Trusting technology

But unlikely pledges on forests are not the only weaknesses of government and corporation planning to make net zero carbon a possibility. For example the UK, host to November’s COP-26 climate talks, relies heavily on unproven technologies that will magically be developed and built in time to reach net zero by 2050.

These include a new generation of nuclear power stations that are still at the early development stage. The UK is also relying on large-scale carbon capture and storage – a long-promised technology, many of whose bids to succeed have been abandoned as too expensive and impractical. The government hopes as well to replace fossil fuel gas with green hydrogen produced from surplus renewable energy and nuclear power – a hugely ambitious idea.

Meanwhile job-producing and much-needed plans to insulate homes and improve building standards, promised both last year and this, have been postponed again.

Although this is the quickest and easiest way of reducing the UK’s largest source of emissions, the contribution from buildings, the government has met opposition from house builders, many of whom are large donors to the ruling Conservative party’s funds. − Climate News Network

Gulf Stream puzzles science − but don’t panic yet

Could an ocean circulation system − the Gulf Stream, say − sort of  shut down? And what would that do to the world’s climate?

LONDON, 9 August, 2021 − Once again, new research has warned that one of the great engines of global climate, known variously as the Atlantic conveyor belt, a current that spans the entire ocean from the surface to its lowest depths, or (not very accurately) the Gulf Stream, could be about to falter.

That is, thanks to global heating, it could be about to switch from a relatively stable state to a “critical transition” towards a much feebler regime.

If it does so, that’s bad news for Europe, because part of what oceanographers call the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is the Gulf Stream, a surface flow that brings tropical warmth to what would otherwise be chilly north-western European nations.

And it could be very bad news for billions in tropical Africa, Asia and South America, because it could trigger changes in the tropical monsoon system.

Repeated warnings

Climate scientists have been measuring indicators of possible change in the ocean circulation system for at least two decades: any shift in ocean behaviour could signal a tipping point, a serious shift in climate for the terrestrial world.

The current brings warm, dense salty water north to the Arctic, where it meets less dense meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic glaciers and dives to the ocean floor, to flow south all the way to Antarctica before it surfaces again.

Researchers have warned on an almost yearly basis that as greenhouse gas emissions grow, and global temperatures creep up, the ocean currents could become less stable: Europe’s relatively mellow climate could cool; it could do so some time this century; and when it did, it would disrupt global weather patterns.

The latest study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, is partly based on long-term climate data and reconstructions of past climates, themselves based on ice cores, fossil evidence and ocean deposits.

“If AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system”

These suggest that AMOC can exist in a stable state, or a weak one: more to the point, as it weakens, it could suddenly shift or tip into a new circulation mode. And what could be one of the agents of sudden change might be the increasing flow of cold fresh water from the warming Arctic.

This is consistent with many of the observations of the last decade. What isn’t certain is whether a sudden change is imminent. Is the seeming weakening of the flow part of a long-term natural pattern, or does it herald a dramatic loss of stability? What is the Gulf Stream really up to?

“The difference is crucial, because the loss of dynamical stability would imply that AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition to the weak mode could occur,” said Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the author of the research.

“I wouldn’t have expected that the excessive amounts of fresh water added in the course of the last century would already produce such a response in the overturning circulation.”

Winners and losers

Dr Boers calls for more and more detailed research, and for better climate models that would allow climate scientists to make a more precise judgment of the consequences of what could be a shutdown of ocean circulation. The case is not closed, and Professor Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford, UK, points out that the study is based on indirect evidence.

Direct observations of the deep ocean current do not, he says, suggest that the Atlantic conveyor belt could be close to collapse or shutdown. But he too has argued for a concerted international effort to build better computer simulations of the planetary climate system. This could help to show what is happening to the Gulf Stream.

“The Gulf Stream is forced by atmospheric winds and these will continue to blow. If the AMOC does shut down, the Gulf Stream will flow a little further south than where it flows now. This will lead to cooler temperatures over the North Atlantic and hence over Northern Europe. This may help offset the effects of climate change in these regions (and potentially help stabilise Greenland ice loss − which would be a good thing),” Professor Palmer said.

“On the other hand, if AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system and the moisture flow into the Amazon.” − Climate News Network

Could an ocean circulation system − the Gulf Stream, say − sort of  shut down? And what would that do to the world’s climate?

LONDON, 9 August, 2021 − Once again, new research has warned that one of the great engines of global climate, known variously as the Atlantic conveyor belt, a current that spans the entire ocean from the surface to its lowest depths, or (not very accurately) the Gulf Stream, could be about to falter.

That is, thanks to global heating, it could be about to switch from a relatively stable state to a “critical transition” towards a much feebler regime.

If it does so, that’s bad news for Europe, because part of what oceanographers call the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is the Gulf Stream, a surface flow that brings tropical warmth to what would otherwise be chilly north-western European nations.

And it could be very bad news for billions in tropical Africa, Asia and South America, because it could trigger changes in the tropical monsoon system.

Repeated warnings

Climate scientists have been measuring indicators of possible change in the ocean circulation system for at least two decades: any shift in ocean behaviour could signal a tipping point, a serious shift in climate for the terrestrial world.

The current brings warm, dense salty water north to the Arctic, where it meets less dense meltwater from Greenland and the Arctic glaciers and dives to the ocean floor, to flow south all the way to Antarctica before it surfaces again.

Researchers have warned on an almost yearly basis that as greenhouse gas emissions grow, and global temperatures creep up, the ocean currents could become less stable: Europe’s relatively mellow climate could cool; it could do so some time this century; and when it did, it would disrupt global weather patterns.

The latest study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, is partly based on long-term climate data and reconstructions of past climates, themselves based on ice cores, fossil evidence and ocean deposits.

“If AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system”

These suggest that AMOC can exist in a stable state, or a weak one: more to the point, as it weakens, it could suddenly shift or tip into a new circulation mode. And what could be one of the agents of sudden change might be the increasing flow of cold fresh water from the warming Arctic.

This is consistent with many of the observations of the last decade. What isn’t certain is whether a sudden change is imminent. Is the seeming weakening of the flow part of a long-term natural pattern, or does it herald a dramatic loss of stability? What is the Gulf Stream really up to?

“The difference is crucial, because the loss of dynamical stability would imply that AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition to the weak mode could occur,” said Niklas Boers of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, the author of the research.

“I wouldn’t have expected that the excessive amounts of fresh water added in the course of the last century would already produce such a response in the overturning circulation.”

Winners and losers

Dr Boers calls for more and more detailed research, and for better climate models that would allow climate scientists to make a more precise judgment of the consequences of what could be a shutdown of ocean circulation. The case is not closed, and Professor Tim Palmer of the University of Oxford, UK, points out that the study is based on indirect evidence.

Direct observations of the deep ocean current do not, he says, suggest that the Atlantic conveyor belt could be close to collapse or shutdown. But he too has argued for a concerted international effort to build better computer simulations of the planetary climate system. This could help to show what is happening to the Gulf Stream.

“The Gulf Stream is forced by atmospheric winds and these will continue to blow. If the AMOC does shut down, the Gulf Stream will flow a little further south than where it flows now. This will lead to cooler temperatures over the North Atlantic and hence over Northern Europe. This may help offset the effects of climate change in these regions (and potentially help stabilise Greenland ice loss − which would be a good thing),” Professor Palmer said.

“On the other hand, if AMOC shuts down, this could negatively impact the climate further afield, such as the West African monsoon system and the moisture flow into the Amazon.” − Climate News Network

Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies

A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets fill up.

LONDON, 5 August, 2021 − In a world of climate change, the flood risk will be more intense and more frequent, presenting higher danger to ever more people in a greater number of countries.

In this century alone, the global population has increased by 18%. But the number of people exposed to damage and death by rising waters has increased by more than 34%.

This finding is not based on mathematical simulations powered by weather data. It is based on direct and detailed observation. Researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at more than 12,700 satellite images, at a resolution of 250 metres, of 913 large flood events between the years 2000 and 2015.

During those years, and those floods, water spilled from the rivers to inundate a total of 2.23 million square kilometres. This, considered as one event, would cover a total area larger than Saudi Arabia. And during those first 15 years of the century, the number of people directly affected by the floods was at least 255m, and possibly 290m.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need”

In those 15 years, the numbers of people in the way of the ever more devastating floods rose by at least 58m, and possibly as many as 86m. That’s a rise of as much as 24%.

It will get worse. According to the researchers, climate change and the multiplication of human numbers will extend the reach of flood risk: 32 nations already experience ever more flooding. By 2030, another 25 countries will have joined them.

The humans caught up in the sickening flow of mud, sewage and silt spilling from the rising rivers will mostly be in south and south-east Asia − think of the Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers − and many of them will have migrated to the danger zones: poverty and population pressure will leave them no choice.

None of this should come as a surprise. In the past 50 years, according to a new compilation by the World Meteorological Organisation, weather, climate and water were implicated in 50% of all disasters of any kind; in 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all economic losses. Floods have claimed 58,700 lives in the last five decades. Between them, floods and storms − the two are often linked − cost Europe at least US$377bn in economic losses.

Higher flooding frequency

And things will certainly get much worse for Europe as global average temperatures continue to rise in response to ever higher greenhouse gas emissions from ever greater use of fossil fuels. That is because what had once been relatively rare events will grow in force and frequency.

More heat means more evaporation, and a warmer atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour. So it will rain harder. And the arrival, say researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, of intense, slow-moving storms that precipitate devastating flash floods of the kind that swept Belgium and Germany this summer will by the close of the century become 14 times more frequent.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace,” said Hayley Fowler, a climate scientist at Newcastle University in the UK, and one of the researchers.

“This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe. This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need.” − Climate News Network

A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets fill up.

LONDON, 5 August, 2021 − In a world of climate change, the flood risk will be more intense and more frequent, presenting higher danger to ever more people in a greater number of countries.

In this century alone, the global population has increased by 18%. But the number of people exposed to damage and death by rising waters has increased by more than 34%.

This finding is not based on mathematical simulations powered by weather data. It is based on direct and detailed observation. Researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at more than 12,700 satellite images, at a resolution of 250 metres, of 913 large flood events between the years 2000 and 2015.

During those years, and those floods, water spilled from the rivers to inundate a total of 2.23 million square kilometres. This, considered as one event, would cover a total area larger than Saudi Arabia. And during those first 15 years of the century, the number of people directly affected by the floods was at least 255m, and possibly 290m.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need”

In those 15 years, the numbers of people in the way of the ever more devastating floods rose by at least 58m, and possibly as many as 86m. That’s a rise of as much as 24%.

It will get worse. According to the researchers, climate change and the multiplication of human numbers will extend the reach of flood risk: 32 nations already experience ever more flooding. By 2030, another 25 countries will have joined them.

The humans caught up in the sickening flow of mud, sewage and silt spilling from the rising rivers will mostly be in south and south-east Asia − think of the Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers − and many of them will have migrated to the danger zones: poverty and population pressure will leave them no choice.

None of this should come as a surprise. In the past 50 years, according to a new compilation by the World Meteorological Organisation, weather, climate and water were implicated in 50% of all disasters of any kind; in 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all economic losses. Floods have claimed 58,700 lives in the last five decades. Between them, floods and storms − the two are often linked − cost Europe at least US$377bn in economic losses.

Higher flooding frequency

And things will certainly get much worse for Europe as global average temperatures continue to rise in response to ever higher greenhouse gas emissions from ever greater use of fossil fuels. That is because what had once been relatively rare events will grow in force and frequency.

More heat means more evaporation, and a warmer atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour. So it will rain harder. And the arrival, say researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, of intense, slow-moving storms that precipitate devastating flash floods of the kind that swept Belgium and Germany this summer will by the close of the century become 14 times more frequent.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace,” said Hayley Fowler, a climate scientist at Newcastle University in the UK, and one of the researchers.

“This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe. This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need.” − Climate News Network

Livestock’s harmful climate impact is growing fast

Lobbyists are trying to downplay livestock’s harmful climate impact, which adds large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

DUBLIN, 13 July, 2021 − A summer’s day, the sky is blue and the cattle are quietly meandering about in the meadow, grazing on lush grass. But this idyllic country scene hides a serious problem: livestock’s harmful climate impact.

The flatulence of cattle results in enormous amounts of methane, one of the most potent climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs), being released into the atmosphere. And these emissions, which contribute to the danger of global warming on a catastrophic scale, are growing.

According to the latest report on the worldwide outlook for agriculture by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), global carbon emissions from the sector are set to rise by 4% over the next 10 years, mostly as a result of expanding livestock production.

Buoyed by rising meat and dairy demand from what are referred to as middle income countries such as China, farmers are increasing the size of their herds. Giant meat and dairy companies, which farm cattle on an industrial scale, are also upping production.

Livestock – a large proportion of them cattle – are responsible for an estimated 14% of the total annual amount of greenhouse gases discharged worldwide.

“The industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook”

Here in Ireland – a country which entices tourists with images of its green, pastoral environment – there are seven million cattle, with the country’s dairy herd increasing in size by almost 30% over the past six years.

The OECD says the adoption of new greener technologies across the world’s agricultural sector means that emissions per unit of output – the carbon intensity of production – will decrease significantly in coming years. But a big expansion in livestock production would wipe out those benefits.

“Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in GHG emissions as set in the Paris Agreement,” says the OECD.

Bringing about changes in agricultural policies – whether in Ireland or elsewhere – is a tough task. Farming organisations and lobby groups wield considerable political and financial clout, particularly in countries such as Ireland where agriculture plays a big role in the economy.

Other powerful forces are at work. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University who has studied the lobbying methods of the big US meat and dairy companies.

US Republican support

Writing in the Washington Post, Jacquet says the giants of the livestock industry have been seeking to call into question the dangers of global warming.

“Since at least 2006, when the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization  published a report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, cataloguing the sector’s global environmental impacts, the industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook,” says Jacquet.

“While meat and dairy producers have not claimed that climate change is a liberal hoax, as oil and gas producers did starting in the 1990s, companies have been downplaying the industry’s environmental footprint and undermining climate policy.”

The political and financial lobbying efforts of “big meat” in the US have been successful, particularly among Republican Party officials.

Calls to eat less meat were, said a Republican governor, “a direct attack on our way of life”. Another Republican official had a blunt warming for those seeking to downsize the livestock industry. “Stay out of my kitchen”, he said. − Climate News Network

Lobbyists are trying to downplay livestock’s harmful climate impact, which adds large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

DUBLIN, 13 July, 2021 − A summer’s day, the sky is blue and the cattle are quietly meandering about in the meadow, grazing on lush grass. But this idyllic country scene hides a serious problem: livestock’s harmful climate impact.

The flatulence of cattle results in enormous amounts of methane, one of the most potent climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs), being released into the atmosphere. And these emissions, which contribute to the danger of global warming on a catastrophic scale, are growing.

According to the latest report on the worldwide outlook for agriculture by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), global carbon emissions from the sector are set to rise by 4% over the next 10 years, mostly as a result of expanding livestock production.

Buoyed by rising meat and dairy demand from what are referred to as middle income countries such as China, farmers are increasing the size of their herds. Giant meat and dairy companies, which farm cattle on an industrial scale, are also upping production.

Livestock – a large proportion of them cattle – are responsible for an estimated 14% of the total annual amount of greenhouse gases discharged worldwide.

“The industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook”

Here in Ireland – a country which entices tourists with images of its green, pastoral environment – there are seven million cattle, with the country’s dairy herd increasing in size by almost 30% over the past six years.

The OECD says the adoption of new greener technologies across the world’s agricultural sector means that emissions per unit of output – the carbon intensity of production – will decrease significantly in coming years. But a big expansion in livestock production would wipe out those benefits.

“Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in GHG emissions as set in the Paris Agreement,” says the OECD.

Bringing about changes in agricultural policies – whether in Ireland or elsewhere – is a tough task. Farming organisations and lobby groups wield considerable political and financial clout, particularly in countries such as Ireland where agriculture plays a big role in the economy.

Other powerful forces are at work. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University who has studied the lobbying methods of the big US meat and dairy companies.

US Republican support

Writing in the Washington Post, Jacquet says the giants of the livestock industry have been seeking to call into question the dangers of global warming.

“Since at least 2006, when the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization  published a report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, cataloguing the sector’s global environmental impacts, the industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook,” says Jacquet.

“While meat and dairy producers have not claimed that climate change is a liberal hoax, as oil and gas producers did starting in the 1990s, companies have been downplaying the industry’s environmental footprint and undermining climate policy.”

The political and financial lobbying efforts of “big meat” in the US have been successful, particularly among Republican Party officials.

Calls to eat less meat were, said a Republican governor, “a direct attack on our way of life”. Another Republican official had a blunt warming for those seeking to downsize the livestock industry. “Stay out of my kitchen”, he said. − Climate News Network