Category Archives: Emissions

Ireland looks forward to a greener future

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Less rain will fall during Mediterranean winters

Mediterranean winters could bring 40% less rain, hurting farmers in what’s called the cradle of agriculture – and not only farmers.

LONDON, 2 July, 2020 – A warmer world should also be a wetter one, but not for the cockpit of much of human history: Mediterranean winters will become increasingly parched. Winter rainfall – and winter is the rainy season – could see a 40% fall in precipitation.

Agriculture and human civilisation began in the Fertile Crescent that runs from eastern Turkey to Iraq: cattle, sheep and goats were domesticated there; the first figs, almonds, grapes and pulses were planted there; the progenitors of wheat were sown there.

Cities were built, irrigation schemes devised, empires rose and fell. Greece colonised the Mediterranean, Rome later controlled it and set the pattern of law and civic government for the next 2000 years in Northern Europe.

Islamic forces brought a different civilisation to the Balkans, North Africa and almost all of Spain. The grain fields of the Nile Valley underwrote the expansion of the Roman Empire.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean is the geography. You have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world”

But the pressure of history is likely to be affected by the high pressure of summers to come. In a world of rapid climate change, the already dry and sunny enclosed sea will become sunnier and drier, according to two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They report in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate that the winter rains that are normally expected to fill the reservoirs and nourish the rich annual harvest from the orchards, vineyards and wheat fields can be expected to diminish significantly, as atmospheric pressures rise, to reduce rainfall by somewhere between 10% and 60%.

Ordinarily, a warmer world should be a wetter one. More water evaporates, and with each degree-rise in temperature the capacity of the air to hold water vapour increases by 7%, to fall inevitably as rain, somewhere.

But episodes of low pressure associated with rain clouds over the Mediterranean become less likely, according to climate simulations. The topography of the landscape and sea determines the probable pattern of the winds.

High pressure grows

“It just happened that the geography of where the Mediterranean is, and where the mountains are, impacts the pattern of air flow high in the atmosphere in a way that creates a high-pressure area over the Mediterranean,” said Alexandre Tuel, one of the authors.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean compared to other regions is the geography. Basically, you have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world.”

Another factor is the rate of warming: land warms faster than sea. The North African seaboard and the southern fringe of Europe will become 3 to 4°C hotter over the next hundred years. The sea will warm by only 2°C. The difference between land and sea will become smaller, to add to the pattern of high pressure circulation.

“Basically, the difference between the water and the land becomes smaller with time,” Tuel says.

Frequent warnings

Once again, the finding is no surprise: Europe has a long history of drought and flood, but drought tends to leave the more permanent mark. The eastern Mediterranean has already experienced its harshest drought for 900 years and this has been linked to the bitter conflict in Syria.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that the pattern of drought on the continent is likely to intensify, and at considerable economic and human cost.

What is different is that the latest research offers detailed predictions of the nature of change, and identifies the regions likeliest to be worst hit. These include Morocco in north-west Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean of Turkey and the Levant.

“These are areas where we already detect declines in precipitation,” said Elfatih Eltahir, the senior author. “We document from the observed record of precipitation that this eastern part has already experienced a significant decline of precipitation.” – Climate News Network

Mediterranean winters could bring 40% less rain, hurting farmers in what’s called the cradle of agriculture – and not only farmers.

LONDON, 2 July, 2020 – A warmer world should also be a wetter one, but not for the cockpit of much of human history: Mediterranean winters will become increasingly parched. Winter rainfall – and winter is the rainy season – could see a 40% fall in precipitation.

Agriculture and human civilisation began in the Fertile Crescent that runs from eastern Turkey to Iraq: cattle, sheep and goats were domesticated there; the first figs, almonds, grapes and pulses were planted there; the progenitors of wheat were sown there.

Cities were built, irrigation schemes devised, empires rose and fell. Greece colonised the Mediterranean, Rome later controlled it and set the pattern of law and civic government for the next 2000 years in Northern Europe.

Islamic forces brought a different civilisation to the Balkans, North Africa and almost all of Spain. The grain fields of the Nile Valley underwrote the expansion of the Roman Empire.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean is the geography. You have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world”

But the pressure of history is likely to be affected by the high pressure of summers to come. In a world of rapid climate change, the already dry and sunny enclosed sea will become sunnier and drier, according to two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They report in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate that the winter rains that are normally expected to fill the reservoirs and nourish the rich annual harvest from the orchards, vineyards and wheat fields can be expected to diminish significantly, as atmospheric pressures rise, to reduce rainfall by somewhere between 10% and 60%.

Ordinarily, a warmer world should be a wetter one. More water evaporates, and with each degree-rise in temperature the capacity of the air to hold water vapour increases by 7%, to fall inevitably as rain, somewhere.

But episodes of low pressure associated with rain clouds over the Mediterranean become less likely, according to climate simulations. The topography of the landscape and sea determines the probable pattern of the winds.

High pressure grows

“It just happened that the geography of where the Mediterranean is, and where the mountains are, impacts the pattern of air flow high in the atmosphere in a way that creates a high-pressure area over the Mediterranean,” said Alexandre Tuel, one of the authors.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean compared to other regions is the geography. Basically, you have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world.”

Another factor is the rate of warming: land warms faster than sea. The North African seaboard and the southern fringe of Europe will become 3 to 4°C hotter over the next hundred years. The sea will warm by only 2°C. The difference between land and sea will become smaller, to add to the pattern of high pressure circulation.

“Basically, the difference between the water and the land becomes smaller with time,” Tuel says.

Frequent warnings

Once again, the finding is no surprise: Europe has a long history of drought and flood, but drought tends to leave the more permanent mark. The eastern Mediterranean has already experienced its harshest drought for 900 years and this has been linked to the bitter conflict in Syria.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that the pattern of drought on the continent is likely to intensify, and at considerable economic and human cost.

What is different is that the latest research offers detailed predictions of the nature of change, and identifies the regions likeliest to be worst hit. These include Morocco in north-west Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean of Turkey and the Levant.

“These are areas where we already detect declines in precipitation,” said Elfatih Eltahir, the senior author. “We document from the observed record of precipitation that this eastern part has already experienced a significant decline of precipitation.” – Climate News Network

Ocean sensitivity may lower carbon emissions cuts

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

Clean ships needed now to cut polluting emissions

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

‘Climate progressives’ fail on Paris carbon target

Even states seen as “climate progressives” are far from meeting their global commitments to avert dangerous climate change.

LONDON, 19 June, 2020 − Nations which pride themselves on their zeal in tackling climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions as they have promised, the so-called “climate progressives”, are a long way from living up to their promises, scientists say.

They say the annual rate that emissions are expected to be cut is less than half of that needed, and suggest the UK should reduce them by 10% each year, starting this year. It also needs to achieve a fully zero-carbon energy system by around 2035, they say, not 2050 as UK law requires.

The study was led by Kevin Anderson from the University of Manchester,  and is published in the journal Climate Policy.

Research focusing on the United Kingdom and Sweden concluded that despite both countries claiming to have world-leading climate legislation, their planned reductions in emissions will still be two to three times greater than their fair share of a global carbon budget which complies with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Under the Agreement, reached in Paris in 2015, 195 countries accepted a commitment to reduce emissions in line with holding the increase in global temperature above historic levels to “well below 2°C and to pursue 1.5°C.”

“We have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users”

Global modelling studies, the researchers say, have repeatedly concluded that such commitments can be delivered through national governments making adjustments to contemporary society, mainly based on price mechanisms to drive technical change.

But as emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to rise, these models have come to rely increasingly on the extensive deployment of what the authors judiciously call “highly speculative negative emissions technologies” (NETs), often known under the umbrella title of carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration.

That may prove necessary, although many experts harbour doubts and are not convinced NETs can cut emissions fast enough, even assuming they work on the scale needed.

Professor Anderson said the study showed how experts had underestimated the difficulty of tackling the climate crisis: “Academics have done an excellent job in understanding and communicating climate science, but the same cannot be said in relation to reducing emissions.

“Here we have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users. Our paper brings this failure into sharp focus.”

Misleading belief

The research team of climate scientists asked how close the UK and Sweden are to meeting the UN’s climate commitments if the “safe” quantity of emissions, the global carbon budget, is shared fairly between “developing” and “developed” countries.

John Broderick, a co-author from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said: “This work makes clear just how important issues of fairness are when dividing the global carbon budget between wealthier and poorer nations.

“It also draws attention to how a belief in the delivery of untested technologies has undermined the depth of mitigation required today.”

Isak Stoddard, the Swedish author of the paper, said: “Our conservative analysis demonstrates just how far removed the rhetoric on climate change is from our Paris-compliant carbon budgets.

“For almost two decades we have deluded ourselves that ongoing small adjustments to business as usual will deliver a timely zero-carbon future for our children.” − Climate News Network

Even states seen as “climate progressives” are far from meeting their global commitments to avert dangerous climate change.

LONDON, 19 June, 2020 − Nations which pride themselves on their zeal in tackling climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions as they have promised, the so-called “climate progressives”, are a long way from living up to their promises, scientists say.

They say the annual rate that emissions are expected to be cut is less than half of that needed, and suggest the UK should reduce them by 10% each year, starting this year. It also needs to achieve a fully zero-carbon energy system by around 2035, they say, not 2050 as UK law requires.

The study was led by Kevin Anderson from the University of Manchester,  and is published in the journal Climate Policy.

Research focusing on the United Kingdom and Sweden concluded that despite both countries claiming to have world-leading climate legislation, their planned reductions in emissions will still be two to three times greater than their fair share of a global carbon budget which complies with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Under the Agreement, reached in Paris in 2015, 195 countries accepted a commitment to reduce emissions in line with holding the increase in global temperature above historic levels to “well below 2°C and to pursue 1.5°C.”

“We have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users”

Global modelling studies, the researchers say, have repeatedly concluded that such commitments can be delivered through national governments making adjustments to contemporary society, mainly based on price mechanisms to drive technical change.

But as emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to rise, these models have come to rely increasingly on the extensive deployment of what the authors judiciously call “highly speculative negative emissions technologies” (NETs), often known under the umbrella title of carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration.

That may prove necessary, although many experts harbour doubts and are not convinced NETs can cut emissions fast enough, even assuming they work on the scale needed.

Professor Anderson said the study showed how experts had underestimated the difficulty of tackling the climate crisis: “Academics have done an excellent job in understanding and communicating climate science, but the same cannot be said in relation to reducing emissions.

“Here we have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users. Our paper brings this failure into sharp focus.”

Misleading belief

The research team of climate scientists asked how close the UK and Sweden are to meeting the UN’s climate commitments if the “safe” quantity of emissions, the global carbon budget, is shared fairly between “developing” and “developed” countries.

John Broderick, a co-author from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said: “This work makes clear just how important issues of fairness are when dividing the global carbon budget between wealthier and poorer nations.

“It also draws attention to how a belief in the delivery of untested technologies has undermined the depth of mitigation required today.”

Isak Stoddard, the Swedish author of the paper, said: “Our conservative analysis demonstrates just how far removed the rhetoric on climate change is from our Paris-compliant carbon budgets.

“For almost two decades we have deluded ourselves that ongoing small adjustments to business as usual will deliver a timely zero-carbon future for our children.” − Climate News Network

Ocean warming spurs marine life to rapid migration

Far from the sunlight and even at the lowest temperatures, ocean warming is making marine life uncomfortable.

LONDON, 15 June, 2020 – Scientists have taken the temperature of the deep seas and found alarming signs of change: ocean warming is prompting many creatures to migrate fast.

The species that live in the deep and the dark are moving towards the poles at twice to almost four times the speed of surface creatures.

The implication is that – even though conditions in the abyssal plain are far more stable than surface currents – the creatures of the abyss are feeling the heat.

The oceans of the world cover almost three-fourths of the globe and, from surface to seafloor, provide at least 90% of the planet’s living space.

And although there has been repeated attention to the health of the waters that define the Blue Planet, it remains immensely difficult to arrive at a consistent, global figure for rates of change in temperature of the planet’s largest habitat.

“Marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now”

Oceanographers are fond of complaining that humankind knows more about the surface of Mars and Venus than it does about the bedrock and marine sediments at depth.

This may still be true, but repeated studies have confirmed that the ocean floor ecosystem is surprisingly rich, varied and potentially at risk.

Now researchers from Australia, Europe, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines report in the journal Nature Climate Change that although they could not deliver thermometer readings, they had found an indirect measure: the rate at which marine creatures move on because they don’t care for their local temperature shifts.

They call this “climate velocity”. They had data for 20,000 marine species. And they found that overall, at depths greater than 1000 metres, marine creatures have been on the move much faster than their fellow citizens near the surface, over the second half of the 20th century.

Computer simulations tell an even more alarming story: by the end of this century, creatures in the mesopelagic layer – from 200 metres down to 1000 metres – will be moving away between four and 11 times faster than those at the surface do now.

Faster migrants

The finding is indirectly supported by a second and unrelated study on the same day in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. French scientists looked at studies of more than 12,000 kinds of the migrations of bacteria, plant, fungus and animal to find that sea creatures are already floating, swimming or crawling towards the poles six times faster than those on land, as a response to global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels.

So shifts in range can be interpreted as an indicator of the stress on the ocean habitats. This creates complications for conservationists arguing for internationally protected zones – protected from fishing trawl nets, and from submarine mining operations – because, if for no other reason, not only are ocean creatures moving at different speeds at different depths; some of the shifts are in different directions.

“Significantly reducing carbon emissions is vital to control warming and help take control of climate velocities in the surface layers of the ocean by 2100”, said Anthony Richardson of the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the authors.

“But because of the immense size and depth of the ocean, warming already observed at the ocean surface will mix into deeper waters. This means that marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now.

“This leaves only one option – act urgently to alleviate other human-generated threats to deep sea life, including seabed mining and deep-sea bottom-fishing.” – Climate News Network

Far from the sunlight and even at the lowest temperatures, ocean warming is making marine life uncomfortable.

LONDON, 15 June, 2020 – Scientists have taken the temperature of the deep seas and found alarming signs of change: ocean warming is prompting many creatures to migrate fast.

The species that live in the deep and the dark are moving towards the poles at twice to almost four times the speed of surface creatures.

The implication is that – even though conditions in the abyssal plain are far more stable than surface currents – the creatures of the abyss are feeling the heat.

The oceans of the world cover almost three-fourths of the globe and, from surface to seafloor, provide at least 90% of the planet’s living space.

And although there has been repeated attention to the health of the waters that define the Blue Planet, it remains immensely difficult to arrive at a consistent, global figure for rates of change in temperature of the planet’s largest habitat.

“Marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now”

Oceanographers are fond of complaining that humankind knows more about the surface of Mars and Venus than it does about the bedrock and marine sediments at depth.

This may still be true, but repeated studies have confirmed that the ocean floor ecosystem is surprisingly rich, varied and potentially at risk.

Now researchers from Australia, Europe, Japan, South Africa and the Philippines report in the journal Nature Climate Change that although they could not deliver thermometer readings, they had found an indirect measure: the rate at which marine creatures move on because they don’t care for their local temperature shifts.

They call this “climate velocity”. They had data for 20,000 marine species. And they found that overall, at depths greater than 1000 metres, marine creatures have been on the move much faster than their fellow citizens near the surface, over the second half of the 20th century.

Computer simulations tell an even more alarming story: by the end of this century, creatures in the mesopelagic layer – from 200 metres down to 1000 metres – will be moving away between four and 11 times faster than those at the surface do now.

Faster migrants

The finding is indirectly supported by a second and unrelated study on the same day in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. French scientists looked at studies of more than 12,000 kinds of the migrations of bacteria, plant, fungus and animal to find that sea creatures are already floating, swimming or crawling towards the poles six times faster than those on land, as a response to global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels.

So shifts in range can be interpreted as an indicator of the stress on the ocean habitats. This creates complications for conservationists arguing for internationally protected zones – protected from fishing trawl nets, and from submarine mining operations – because, if for no other reason, not only are ocean creatures moving at different speeds at different depths; some of the shifts are in different directions.

“Significantly reducing carbon emissions is vital to control warming and help take control of climate velocities in the surface layers of the ocean by 2100”, said Anthony Richardson of the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the authors.

“But because of the immense size and depth of the ocean, warming already observed at the ocean surface will mix into deeper waters. This means that marine life in the deep ocean will face escalating threats from ocean warming until the end of the century, no matter what we do now.

“This leaves only one option – act urgently to alleviate other human-generated threats to deep sea life, including seabed mining and deep-sea bottom-fishing.” – Climate News Network

Fewer blizzards for North America as snow lessens

A warming world means milder winters and softer springs. It will also mean fewer blizzards, with milder impacts.

LONDON, 12 June, 2020 – It could soon be safe to think with nostalgia of the snows of yesteryear. Snowstorms in the future in the US could happen less often, with less intensity. And they would be of a smaller size.

This is on the assumption that humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to release ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to fuel global heating.

Although winters – especially in the central US and on the Eastern Seaboard – will continue to bring snowfall, ice storms and cold snaps, by the end of the century there will be, on average, 28% fewer snowstorms. And with this drop will come a fall of a third in the precipitation of snow or frozen sleet, and the area covered by snowfall will have been reduced by 38%.

A White Christmas will also begin to seem like a happy memory, as winters begin later and spring happens ever earlier.

“If we do little to mitigate climate change, the winter season will lose much of its punch in the future,” said Walker Ashley, of Northern Illinois University.

“Annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming”

“The snow season will start later and end earlier. Generally, what we consider an abnormally mild winter now, in terms of the number and intensity of snowstorms, will be the harshest of winters late this century.

“There will be fewer snowstorms, with less overall precipitation that falls as snow, and almost a complete removal of snow events in the southern tier of the United States.”

Severe winters are part of the natural pattern of life in much of North America, and for nearly two centuries meteorologists have observed a pattern of very severe blizzards indeed: sudden calamitous snowfalls that have claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions in damage.

And although temperatures have on average risen, researchers have also repeatedly pointed out that with a rise in average warming comes a greater frequency and intensity of “extreme events”. In a continental winter, any extreme event is usually likely to be harsh. Even if there is less snow over a shorter cold season, blizzards will still happen.

Global impacts

Professor Ashley and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they tracked snowstorms for 12 winters earlier in this century: they then used supercomputer simulations to see what would happen to their sample of actual events in a climate that had warmed by around 5°C, the predicted rise if greenhouse emissions go on unchecked.

They ended with a tally of 2,200 snowstorms across central and eastern North America over a map with a grid space of about 4kms, over a period of 24 years – a sequence that embraces the past and the future.

The simulations told a clear story. There would be less snow, across smaller snowstorm tracks, and dramatically fewer falls in the months of October, November and April.

Chicago, Boston and New York will continue to see snowstorms, but the probability of vast snowdrifts and silent streets continues to decrease. Winter travel will become safer and easier, but agriculture and other industries that depend on freshwater delivered by melting snow will feel the cost. So could the rest of the world.

“There are also climate feedbacks to consider,” said Professor Ashley. “Snow cover reflects solar radiation and helps cool the environment. So annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming.” – Climate News Network

A warming world means milder winters and softer springs. It will also mean fewer blizzards, with milder impacts.

LONDON, 12 June, 2020 – It could soon be safe to think with nostalgia of the snows of yesteryear. Snowstorms in the future in the US could happen less often, with less intensity. And they would be of a smaller size.

This is on the assumption that humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to release ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to fuel global heating.

Although winters – especially in the central US and on the Eastern Seaboard – will continue to bring snowfall, ice storms and cold snaps, by the end of the century there will be, on average, 28% fewer snowstorms. And with this drop will come a fall of a third in the precipitation of snow or frozen sleet, and the area covered by snowfall will have been reduced by 38%.

A White Christmas will also begin to seem like a happy memory, as winters begin later and spring happens ever earlier.

“If we do little to mitigate climate change, the winter season will lose much of its punch in the future,” said Walker Ashley, of Northern Illinois University.

“Annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming”

“The snow season will start later and end earlier. Generally, what we consider an abnormally mild winter now, in terms of the number and intensity of snowstorms, will be the harshest of winters late this century.

“There will be fewer snowstorms, with less overall precipitation that falls as snow, and almost a complete removal of snow events in the southern tier of the United States.”

Severe winters are part of the natural pattern of life in much of North America, and for nearly two centuries meteorologists have observed a pattern of very severe blizzards indeed: sudden calamitous snowfalls that have claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions in damage.

And although temperatures have on average risen, researchers have also repeatedly pointed out that with a rise in average warming comes a greater frequency and intensity of “extreme events”. In a continental winter, any extreme event is usually likely to be harsh. Even if there is less snow over a shorter cold season, blizzards will still happen.

Global impacts

Professor Ashley and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they tracked snowstorms for 12 winters earlier in this century: they then used supercomputer simulations to see what would happen to their sample of actual events in a climate that had warmed by around 5°C, the predicted rise if greenhouse emissions go on unchecked.

They ended with a tally of 2,200 snowstorms across central and eastern North America over a map with a grid space of about 4kms, over a period of 24 years – a sequence that embraces the past and the future.

The simulations told a clear story. There would be less snow, across smaller snowstorm tracks, and dramatically fewer falls in the months of October, November and April.

Chicago, Boston and New York will continue to see snowstorms, but the probability of vast snowdrifts and silent streets continues to decrease. Winter travel will become safer and easier, but agriculture and other industries that depend on freshwater delivered by melting snow will feel the cost. So could the rest of the world.

“There are also climate feedbacks to consider,” said Professor Ashley. “Snow cover reflects solar radiation and helps cool the environment. So annual reductions in snowfall and snow cover could amplify potential warming.” – Climate News Network

Carbon-neutral aircraft might work with ion drive

Ion drive works in outer space. Just possibly, plasma power could fill the skies with carbon-neutral aircraft.

LONDON, 10 June, 2020 − Chinese engineers may have designed the basis for the first carbon-neutral aircraft, perhaps a commercial jet airliner powered entirely by very hot air through an ion drive. If it works on that scale, there would be no high-octane aviation spirit, no greenhouse gas emissions and no contribution to long-term global warming.

Nor would such planes be fuelled by anything defined as ordinary matter. The driving force that delivers the thrust and overcomes gravitational pull and air friction would be plasma, the fourth state of matter, and the power source of the sun and all the stars.

Think of a jet stream of ionised atoms − dismantled atomic particles − roaring through the engines to take the vehicle to take-off speeds. That’s the ambition.

Right now, according to scientists at Wuhan University, writing in the American Institute of Physics journal AIP Advances, what they have is a propulsion thruster that utilises air plasma induced by microwave ionisation. It would simply need air and electricity to produce high temperature and pressurised plasma.

They have already assembled an experimental apparatus and used it to lift a one kilogram steel ball over a 24mm-diameter quartz tube, at half a litre per second of airflow at 400 watts to produce just 10 newtons of thrust.

“A carbon emission-free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere”

A newton is a unit of force that will accelerate one kg of mass at one metre per second, every second. The Wuhan achievement, they say, corresponds to a jet pressure of 24,000 newtons per square metre,

That is: with higher microwave power or greater airflow, they could achieve propulsion forces and jet pressures of the kind seen every minute of every day at commercial airports.

The journey from the laboratory equipment now – a one kilowatt magnetron, a circulator, a flattened wave guide, an igniter and a quartz tube – to a set of jet engines that can carry hundreds of passengers across half the world with complete confidence is going to be a long one: right now, the experiment is an indicator simply of the astonishing ingenuity being displayed in laboratories in Asia, Europe and America to find ways of reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

And aircraft – and particularly jet aircraft – present almost intractable challenges. Until now, no tested power source other than high-quality liquid fossil fuel can deliver what is needed to fly very heavy aircraft to the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Rocket needed first

Relatively light all-electric planes with a short range are being tested now.  The US Space Agency Nasa has already deployed plasma power – science fiction fans have long known it as ion drive – in spacecraft, but at the low thrust levels needed to change the course of a spacecraft already in very high orbit and far from the planet’s gravitational drag.

But these first space probes had to be lifted into high orbit aboard a rocket. A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has tested, using a different approach, a plasma-powered glider: it flew 55 metres in 12 seconds before touching down again. But the driving force would never be enough to lift a cargo or passenger plane.

Swiss scientists have explored the idea of a solar-powered plane: in effect
however this would deploy solar energy to split carbon dioxide and water and turn them into synthetic natural gas.

The Wuhan experiment has the potential for a much bigger force. For the moment, that is all it has: potential. The researchers call their prototype “a home-made device”, and they add: “Given the same power consumption, its propulsion pressure is comparable to that of conventional airplane jet engines using fossil fuels.

“Therefore, such a carbon-emission free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Ion drive works in outer space. Just possibly, plasma power could fill the skies with carbon-neutral aircraft.

LONDON, 10 June, 2020 − Chinese engineers may have designed the basis for the first carbon-neutral aircraft, perhaps a commercial jet airliner powered entirely by very hot air through an ion drive. If it works on that scale, there would be no high-octane aviation spirit, no greenhouse gas emissions and no contribution to long-term global warming.

Nor would such planes be fuelled by anything defined as ordinary matter. The driving force that delivers the thrust and overcomes gravitational pull and air friction would be plasma, the fourth state of matter, and the power source of the sun and all the stars.

Think of a jet stream of ionised atoms − dismantled atomic particles − roaring through the engines to take the vehicle to take-off speeds. That’s the ambition.

Right now, according to scientists at Wuhan University, writing in the American Institute of Physics journal AIP Advances, what they have is a propulsion thruster that utilises air plasma induced by microwave ionisation. It would simply need air and electricity to produce high temperature and pressurised plasma.

They have already assembled an experimental apparatus and used it to lift a one kilogram steel ball over a 24mm-diameter quartz tube, at half a litre per second of airflow at 400 watts to produce just 10 newtons of thrust.

“A carbon emission-free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere”

A newton is a unit of force that will accelerate one kg of mass at one metre per second, every second. The Wuhan achievement, they say, corresponds to a jet pressure of 24,000 newtons per square metre,

That is: with higher microwave power or greater airflow, they could achieve propulsion forces and jet pressures of the kind seen every minute of every day at commercial airports.

The journey from the laboratory equipment now – a one kilowatt magnetron, a circulator, a flattened wave guide, an igniter and a quartz tube – to a set of jet engines that can carry hundreds of passengers across half the world with complete confidence is going to be a long one: right now, the experiment is an indicator simply of the astonishing ingenuity being displayed in laboratories in Asia, Europe and America to find ways of reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

And aircraft – and particularly jet aircraft – present almost intractable challenges. Until now, no tested power source other than high-quality liquid fossil fuel can deliver what is needed to fly very heavy aircraft to the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Rocket needed first

Relatively light all-electric planes with a short range are being tested now.  The US Space Agency Nasa has already deployed plasma power – science fiction fans have long known it as ion drive – in spacecraft, but at the low thrust levels needed to change the course of a spacecraft already in very high orbit and far from the planet’s gravitational drag.

But these first space probes had to be lifted into high orbit aboard a rocket. A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has tested, using a different approach, a plasma-powered glider: it flew 55 metres in 12 seconds before touching down again. But the driving force would never be enough to lift a cargo or passenger plane.

Swiss scientists have explored the idea of a solar-powered plane: in effect
however this would deploy solar energy to split carbon dioxide and water and turn them into synthetic natural gas.

The Wuhan experiment has the potential for a much bigger force. For the moment, that is all it has: potential. The researchers call their prototype “a home-made device”, and they add: “Given the same power consumption, its propulsion pressure is comparable to that of conventional airplane jet engines using fossil fuels.

“Therefore, such a carbon-emission free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

3 bn people may face Saharan heat levels by 2070

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network