Category Archives: Emissions

Asia’s cities are worst hit in warming world

Climate change, water shortage and pollution are worst for Asia’s cities, researchers say. The rest of us have a lucky escape.

LONDON, 17 May, 2021 – It’s bad news for residents of Jakarta. People living in Delhi, Chennai or Wuhan do not fare much better. A new study has found that a wide range of environmental and climate change threats are worst for Asia’s cities, with the rest of the planet getting off more lightly.

The study, by the analysis and forecasting group Verisk Maplecroft, looks primarily at the risks posed to businesses operating and investing in various urban centres.

Based on such factors as pollution, a lack of water, extreme heat and general vulnerability to climate change, 99 of the 100 most risk-prone cities in the world are in Asia, with the Indonesian capital Jakarta topping the list and cities in India close behind.

Jakarta, with a population of more than 10.5 million people, is sinking. Like many coastal cities round the world, it is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Built on what was once a swamp, the city has serious water supply problems as well, and the air is severely polluted.

“The reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”

Little can be done: the Indonesian government plans to shut up shop and move the capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Air and water pollution are particularly acute problems in India’s cities. In its risk index, the study ranks Delhi, Chennai, Agra and Kanpur in the top ten of the world’s cities most at risk of environmental disaster and climate change.

Several cities in China, along with Manila in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Karachi in Pakistan score badly. Nor are cities outside Asia immune from the growing environmental and climate crisis.

“Londoners might envisage warm days in the park and an Italian café culture, but the reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”, says the study.

Clean Cairo?

The business sector has to be aware of what’s happening and assess the risks of locating and investing in various urban centres. “How well global organisations manage the escalating environmental and climate crisis is now one of the most critical factors determining their long-term resilience”, says Verisk Maplecroft.

Legal issues have to be considered. “As the pace picks up on carbon regulations, legal liabilities related to climate are also becoming more mainstream”, the study says.

Cities in Canada and New Zealand generally perform well on the Verisk Maplecroft index. Many European cities also achieve a good rating.

Istanbul in Turkey and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia perform badly while, perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian capital Cairo – a city of nearly 10 million – performs better, mainly due to its cleaner air and greater access to water supplies.

Northern attraction

Elsewhere In Africa, the teeming metropolises of Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a low rating. In South America, the desert city of Lima, the Peruvian capital, is facing severe water shortages and other environmental problems.

There is more and more evidence that fish and many other creatures are moving north as ocean and land temperatures rise. Plant life is also trying to adjust to global warming.

One of the overall messages of the study seems to be that, however grim the problems of Asia’s cities, when it comes to looking for cities to live in, we humans should also be moving northwards.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, scores well on the study’s index. Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada would not be a bad bet. Krasnoyarsk in Siberia looks OK.

And there’s good news for those heading for Glasgow for the big COP-26 climate conference later this year. The Scottish city – not renowned for warm, moisture-free days – is among those in the world least exposed to the dangers of climate change, says the study. – Climate News Network

Climate change, water shortage and pollution are worst for Asia’s cities, researchers say. The rest of us have a lucky escape.

LONDON, 17 May, 2021 – It’s bad news for residents of Jakarta. People living in Delhi, Chennai or Wuhan do not fare much better. A new study has found that a wide range of environmental and climate change threats are worst for Asia’s cities, with the rest of the planet getting off more lightly.

The study, by the analysis and forecasting group Verisk Maplecroft, looks primarily at the risks posed to businesses operating and investing in various urban centres.

Based on such factors as pollution, a lack of water, extreme heat and general vulnerability to climate change, 99 of the 100 most risk-prone cities in the world are in Asia, with the Indonesian capital Jakarta topping the list and cities in India close behind.

Jakarta, with a population of more than 10.5 million people, is sinking. Like many coastal cities round the world, it is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Built on what was once a swamp, the city has serious water supply problems as well, and the air is severely polluted.

“The reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”

Little can be done: the Indonesian government plans to shut up shop and move the capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Air and water pollution are particularly acute problems in India’s cities. In its risk index, the study ranks Delhi, Chennai, Agra and Kanpur in the top ten of the world’s cities most at risk of environmental disaster and climate change.

Several cities in China, along with Manila in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Karachi in Pakistan score badly. Nor are cities outside Asia immune from the growing environmental and climate crisis.

“Londoners might envisage warm days in the park and an Italian café culture, but the reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”, says the study.

Clean Cairo?

The business sector has to be aware of what’s happening and assess the risks of locating and investing in various urban centres. “How well global organisations manage the escalating environmental and climate crisis is now one of the most critical factors determining their long-term resilience”, says Verisk Maplecroft.

Legal issues have to be considered. “As the pace picks up on carbon regulations, legal liabilities related to climate are also becoming more mainstream”, the study says.

Cities in Canada and New Zealand generally perform well on the Verisk Maplecroft index. Many European cities also achieve a good rating.

Istanbul in Turkey and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia perform badly while, perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian capital Cairo – a city of nearly 10 million – performs better, mainly due to its cleaner air and greater access to water supplies.

Northern attraction

Elsewhere In Africa, the teeming metropolises of Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a low rating. In South America, the desert city of Lima, the Peruvian capital, is facing severe water shortages and other environmental problems.

There is more and more evidence that fish and many other creatures are moving north as ocean and land temperatures rise. Plant life is also trying to adjust to global warming.

One of the overall messages of the study seems to be that, however grim the problems of Asia’s cities, when it comes to looking for cities to live in, we humans should also be moving northwards.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, scores well on the study’s index. Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada would not be a bad bet. Krasnoyarsk in Siberia looks OK.

And there’s good news for those heading for Glasgow for the big COP-26 climate conference later this year. The Scottish city – not renowned for warm, moisture-free days – is among those in the world least exposed to the dangers of climate change, says the study. – Climate News Network

Drastic methane cuts are both urgent and possible

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

Tide of climate refugees swells as Earth heats up

Prepare for the arrival of more displaced persons, climate refugees driven from their homes by global heating.

LONDON, 11 May, 2021 − Natural hazards − most of them driven by climate change − have forced an estimated 288 million people from their homes since 2008. That is three times the numbers displaced by war and conflict. These people have become, however briefly, climate refugees.

And the number will grow. A new study has found that for every 1°C rise in global average temperatures, the chance of displacement from river flooding alone will rise by 50%. And that calculation is based on population numbers right now. As human numbers rise, so will the risk − by 110%.

Another study makes an even more precise prediction: thanks to rising sea levels and more intense cyclonic storms, an estimated 1.3 million people in Bangladesh will be forced into migration by 2050. Many will move further inland − but many are likely to be forced across national borders, to trigger more displacement.

Drought and famine are climate-related natural disasters. So are forest fires, extreme heat waves, catastrophic windstorms and devastating floods, driven either by torrential rainfall or rising sea levels, or both.

Climate scientists, environmentalists and geographers have been warning for years that the numbers of people driven from their homes by climate change is on the increase: even in the US, as many as 13 million people could be forced from their coastal settlements by sea level rise.

“It is imperative that we have a better understanding of how the risks are changing”

Swiss scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that even if the world keeps to an agreement to limit global warming to no more than 2°C, because the global population is rising, the average risk of displacement by river flooding is likely to rise by 110% by the end of the century.

If however nations take no drastic action, and go on burning ever more fossil fuels, the global average risk of being forced from home by swirling waters could rise by up to 350%.

“Because floods are a major driver of displacement, and due to the fact that they are influenced by climate change, it is imperative that we have a better understanding of how the risks are changing,” said Pui Man Kam of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who led the study.

An estimated 680 million people worldwide live in low-lying coastal zones. Spanish, Italian and US scientists report in the journal Earth’s Future that they had developed a data model to predict the numbers likely to be displaced by any natural hazard to become climate refugees.

They tested it in the context of sea level rise, storms and floods in one low-lying country laced with rivers: Bangladesh. It is home to 163 million people, of whom 41% live at elevations lower than 10 metres above sea level.

Countrywide unrest likely

Their research found that although people in the coastal districts along the Bay of Bengal would be flooded, a surge of migration would ripple across the landscape and impact all 64 districts, including the capital, Dhaka.

Thanks to climate migration, numbers in the city should grow and eventually decline, as people moved to get away from the new arrivals. That is, flood events at the coast could ultimately trigger human unrest in the entire country.
“Droughts, desertification, floods, earthquakes, and wildfire threaten livelihoods worldwide; from wealthy to developing economies, every country is vulnerable to environmental change,” said Maurizio Porfiri of New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

“Mathematical models can assist in providing reliable predictions of environmental migration, which are critical for devising effective policy initiatives and improving our preparedness for future migration patterns.” − Climate News Network

Prepare for the arrival of more displaced persons, climate refugees driven from their homes by global heating.

LONDON, 11 May, 2021 − Natural hazards − most of them driven by climate change − have forced an estimated 288 million people from their homes since 2008. That is three times the numbers displaced by war and conflict. These people have become, however briefly, climate refugees.

And the number will grow. A new study has found that for every 1°C rise in global average temperatures, the chance of displacement from river flooding alone will rise by 50%. And that calculation is based on population numbers right now. As human numbers rise, so will the risk − by 110%.

Another study makes an even more precise prediction: thanks to rising sea levels and more intense cyclonic storms, an estimated 1.3 million people in Bangladesh will be forced into migration by 2050. Many will move further inland − but many are likely to be forced across national borders, to trigger more displacement.

Drought and famine are climate-related natural disasters. So are forest fires, extreme heat waves, catastrophic windstorms and devastating floods, driven either by torrential rainfall or rising sea levels, or both.

Climate scientists, environmentalists and geographers have been warning for years that the numbers of people driven from their homes by climate change is on the increase: even in the US, as many as 13 million people could be forced from their coastal settlements by sea level rise.

“It is imperative that we have a better understanding of how the risks are changing”

Swiss scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that even if the world keeps to an agreement to limit global warming to no more than 2°C, because the global population is rising, the average risk of displacement by river flooding is likely to rise by 110% by the end of the century.

If however nations take no drastic action, and go on burning ever more fossil fuels, the global average risk of being forced from home by swirling waters could rise by up to 350%.

“Because floods are a major driver of displacement, and due to the fact that they are influenced by climate change, it is imperative that we have a better understanding of how the risks are changing,” said Pui Man Kam of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who led the study.

An estimated 680 million people worldwide live in low-lying coastal zones. Spanish, Italian and US scientists report in the journal Earth’s Future that they had developed a data model to predict the numbers likely to be displaced by any natural hazard to become climate refugees.

They tested it in the context of sea level rise, storms and floods in one low-lying country laced with rivers: Bangladesh. It is home to 163 million people, of whom 41% live at elevations lower than 10 metres above sea level.

Countrywide unrest likely

Their research found that although people in the coastal districts along the Bay of Bengal would be flooded, a surge of migration would ripple across the landscape and impact all 64 districts, including the capital, Dhaka.

Thanks to climate migration, numbers in the city should grow and eventually decline, as people moved to get away from the new arrivals. That is, flood events at the coast could ultimately trigger human unrest in the entire country.
“Droughts, desertification, floods, earthquakes, and wildfire threaten livelihoods worldwide; from wealthy to developing economies, every country is vulnerable to environmental change,” said Maurizio Porfiri of New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

“Mathematical models can assist in providing reliable predictions of environmental migration, which are critical for devising effective policy initiatives and improving our preparedness for future migration patterns.” − Climate News Network

Funeral smoke adds to South Asia’s woes

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

With the sub-continent battling a vicious Covid onslaught, the worst fires in years are adding to South Asia’s woes.

LONDON, 10 May, 2021 − A thick pall of smoke hangs over much of northern India. For weeks residents of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, have not seen the sun. Smoke blankets areas of Bangladesh and the mountain kingdom of Bhutan. The pandemic has spread South Asia’s woes far and wide.

Forest fires sweep across the north Indian states of Uttarakhand – the country’s most forested state – and Himachal Pradesh. Further north in Nepal, fire is destroying thousands of hectares of forest. The fires, most of them out of control, are blamed in part on farmers burning stubble in their fields in order to plant crops.

But climate change is also a factor: over the past two years the level of rainfall across northern India has been considerably less than usual, while average temperatures have increased. Snowfall in the Himalayas has been well below average. As a result, say officials, much of the area has become tinder dry and fires have been spreading at lightning speed, leaving several people dead.

The conflagrations lead to the release of vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases, the air pollution causes widespread health problems, and biodiversity is lost.

“On average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India”

Smoke from the fires also causes fundamental changes high up in the Himalayas. Glaciers in the world’s highest mountain range are melting at considerable speed. This can lead to flooding in the short term and, in the long term, water shortages.

Higher temperatures are one reason for the melting, but soot from fires and other pollution is another important factor. When smoke particles fall on snow and ice they form a dark blanket which causes the absorption of more sunlight which, in turn, leads to further melting.

The Himalayas are particularly prone to such soot pollution. The Indo-Gangetic Plain to the south of the world’s highest and biggest mountain range is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

Winds carry the smoke from millions of household fires – many of them burning animal dung – high up into the mountains. Particulates from industrial pollution are also deposited on the snow and ice. Hindus burn the bodies of their dead on funeral pyres, and the smoke from these fires is also carried up into the Himalayas.

Role of rituals

Shamsh Pervez, a researcher at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in India, says that on average about 10 million funeral pyres are lit each year in South Asia, the majority in India.

Organic carbon released during funerals and in the course of other religious rituals contains a number of light-absorbing compounds, many of them toxic, Pervez says.

In a study carried out some years ago by academics in India and at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, it was found that smoke from various religious rituals makes a significant contribution to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: it also causes further melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

In the present Covid pandemic – hitting India and Nepal in particular – the number of such funerals is increasing. It’s estimated that wood from more than 50 million trees is used to fuel funeral pyres in South Asia each year. − Climate News Network

Faster glacier melting raises hunger threat

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

Human activity alters Earth’s spin on its axis

The planet may not catch fire, but climate change really has altered the Earth’s spin on its axis as it rounds the sun.

LONDON, 29 April, 2021 − Human action has altered Earth’s spin on its axis. Climate change since 1990 has altered both the rate and the direction of the drift of the north and south poles.

Chinese researchers report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that on the basis of their calculations, the dramatic melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps and the Andean glaciers of South America has shifted the weight of the global water storage system and affected the planetary drift of the poles.

This glacial loss has been compounded by massive increases in the use of groundwater − most of the planet’s fresh water is in fact stored in subterranean aquifers − which have helped to accelerate the rate of change.

It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film. It was in fact the plot of a British 1961 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In that fantasia, Cold War superpower nuclear tests unintentionally alter the planet’s axis of rotation and trigger dramatic changes in climate.

In fact, in the real-life, here-and-now version of planetary rotational shift, climate change driven by economic growth powered by profligate fossil fuel use is the cause. And the superpowers have yet to decide upon a course correction.

Polar speed-up

There is a second difference: the axis of the rotational poles has always shifted, from year to year, in response to the distribution of ice and groundwater, and the oceanic currents; and from aeon to aeon in response to the movements of the continents, and the sloshing of molten iron at the Earth’s core.

What has happened since 1990 is that water loss from both the glaciated land surface and the soil beneath the inhabited surface has been so pronounced that it has tilted the North Pole away from Canada and towards Russia, and accelerated the rate at which this is happening.

Since 1990, geographic North has been tilting, in geodetic language, towards longitude 26°E at the rate of 3.28 milliseconds of arc per year. One millisecond of arc is about 3 cms.

The story has been pieced together by data from a US-German satellite system known as GRACE (short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which has been recording ice loss and water storage for most of this century.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s”

The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, already had access to 176 years of precision measurement of the polar axial shift. In fact, the loss of ice from both the north and south polar regions has been colossal, and has been happening at speed.

Groundwater, too, has been abstracted at accelerating rates and the study notes that while in 1989 India pumped 194 billion cubic metres from the soil, by 2010 this had reached 351 billion cubic metres. There had, too, been dramatic changes in the water levels of vast inland lakes such as the Aral Sea.

The planet is always in a state of change: the magnetic poles are on the move and scientists have confirmed that climate over very long periods is affected by changes in planetary orbit.

Other teams of researchers had separately confirmed that climate change − and the redistribution of water around the planet − must have altered the length of the day by millionths of a second in the course of a year. But the new research has established something more immediately measurable: the alteration of the pattern of rotational tilt.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

The planet may not catch fire, but climate change really has altered the Earth’s spin on its axis as it rounds the sun.

LONDON, 29 April, 2021 − Human action has altered Earth’s spin on its axis. Climate change since 1990 has altered both the rate and the direction of the drift of the north and south poles.

Chinese researchers report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that on the basis of their calculations, the dramatic melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps and the Andean glaciers of South America has shifted the weight of the global water storage system and affected the planetary drift of the poles.

This glacial loss has been compounded by massive increases in the use of groundwater − most of the planet’s fresh water is in fact stored in subterranean aquifers − which have helped to accelerate the rate of change.

It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film. It was in fact the plot of a British 1961 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire. In that fantasia, Cold War superpower nuclear tests unintentionally alter the planet’s axis of rotation and trigger dramatic changes in climate.

In fact, in the real-life, here-and-now version of planetary rotational shift, climate change driven by economic growth powered by profligate fossil fuel use is the cause. And the superpowers have yet to decide upon a course correction.

Polar speed-up

There is a second difference: the axis of the rotational poles has always shifted, from year to year, in response to the distribution of ice and groundwater, and the oceanic currents; and from aeon to aeon in response to the movements of the continents, and the sloshing of molten iron at the Earth’s core.

What has happened since 1990 is that water loss from both the glaciated land surface and the soil beneath the inhabited surface has been so pronounced that it has tilted the North Pole away from Canada and towards Russia, and accelerated the rate at which this is happening.

Since 1990, geographic North has been tilting, in geodetic language, towards longitude 26°E at the rate of 3.28 milliseconds of arc per year. One millisecond of arc is about 3 cms.

The story has been pieced together by data from a US-German satellite system known as GRACE (short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which has been recording ice loss and water storage for most of this century.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s”

The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, already had access to 176 years of precision measurement of the polar axial shift. In fact, the loss of ice from both the north and south polar regions has been colossal, and has been happening at speed.

Groundwater, too, has been abstracted at accelerating rates and the study notes that while in 1989 India pumped 194 billion cubic metres from the soil, by 2010 this had reached 351 billion cubic metres. There had, too, been dramatic changes in the water levels of vast inland lakes such as the Aral Sea.

The planet is always in a state of change: the magnetic poles are on the move and scientists have confirmed that climate over very long periods is affected by changes in planetary orbit.

Other teams of researchers had separately confirmed that climate change − and the redistribution of water around the planet − must have altered the length of the day by millionths of a second in the course of a year. But the new research has established something more immediately measurable: the alteration of the pattern of rotational tilt.

“The faster ice-melting under global warming was the most likely cause of the directional change of the polar drift in the 1990s,” the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

Nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it survive

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

A warmer, drier world’s deeper wells spell trouble

A warmer world could for billions be drier. The resultant deeper wells spell trouble for those reliant on groundwater.

LONDON, 26 April, 2021 − As many as one fifth of the world’s wells could be about to run dry, as levels of the subterranean water table continue to fall. And if they do, the resultant deeper wells spell trouble for billions of people who will face diminishing supplies of clean water, and water for their crops.

Most of the world’s freshwater is truly out of sight: 96% of all available water is held in aquifers, rock and sediment layers just below, and sometimes well below, the Earth’s surface. It sustains almost half of global agriculture. The world’s drylands are also home to more than a third of all humanity.

All this is at risk because in many places water tables are falling. According to a new study in the journal Science, if groundwater levels decline a few metres more, then the wells will run dry. Somewhere between 6% and 20% of the world’s wells are no more than five metres deeper than the water table.

And water levels almost certainly will decline. Researchers have for years been warning about global demand for groundwater. In urban areas the demand has been so great that many cities are literally going downhill: throughout the 20th century Tokyo sank by four metres, Shanghai in China and New Orleans in the US by two to three metres.

“Wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines”

Climate change − which promises to distort global rainfall patterns still further − is steadily scorching the world’s already parched regions and as a consequence groundwater is being extracted at an accelerated rate.

And that means more water stress for millions. All the evidence is that, as greenhouse gas emissions rise as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use, things could get a lot worse.

Californian scientists report that they compiled 39 million records of groundwater well locations, along with their depths, the reasons they were sunk, and the dates they were dug, in 40 countries that collectively make up 40% of all the lands free of ice. This landscape accounts for probably half of all groundwater extraction.

To test their simulations of overall groundwater availability, they compiled and analysed 100 million measurements made in a million wells monitored individually, and they found that in half of these there were seasonal fluctuations of around a metre or more.

Newer means deeper

They checked the big picture of water table decline against 15 years of data from the US space agency Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites.

They also looked at the age data of their sample, to find that in many areas, the newer the well, the more likely it was to be deeper than an old well. That alone was evidence of gradually falling water tables.

“From India to the United States, wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines,” the authors write. “In California’s Central Valley and several other agricultural hubs around the globe, typical agricultural wells are deeper than domestic wells; as a result, domestic wells are running dry…”

Where wells are already running dry, that decline will continue, and even expand into areas that have not yet seen any depletion. And, they warn, it may not help to simply sink even deeper wells: the costs would become prohibitive and the water quality at greater depth might anyway be not good enough. − Climate News Network

A warmer world could for billions be drier. The resultant deeper wells spell trouble for those reliant on groundwater.

LONDON, 26 April, 2021 − As many as one fifth of the world’s wells could be about to run dry, as levels of the subterranean water table continue to fall. And if they do, the resultant deeper wells spell trouble for billions of people who will face diminishing supplies of clean water, and water for their crops.

Most of the world’s freshwater is truly out of sight: 96% of all available water is held in aquifers, rock and sediment layers just below, and sometimes well below, the Earth’s surface. It sustains almost half of global agriculture. The world’s drylands are also home to more than a third of all humanity.

All this is at risk because in many places water tables are falling. According to a new study in the journal Science, if groundwater levels decline a few metres more, then the wells will run dry. Somewhere between 6% and 20% of the world’s wells are no more than five metres deeper than the water table.

And water levels almost certainly will decline. Researchers have for years been warning about global demand for groundwater. In urban areas the demand has been so great that many cities are literally going downhill: throughout the 20th century Tokyo sank by four metres, Shanghai in China and New Orleans in the US by two to three metres.

“Wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines”

Climate change − which promises to distort global rainfall patterns still further − is steadily scorching the world’s already parched regions and as a consequence groundwater is being extracted at an accelerated rate.

And that means more water stress for millions. All the evidence is that, as greenhouse gas emissions rise as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use, things could get a lot worse.

Californian scientists report that they compiled 39 million records of groundwater well locations, along with their depths, the reasons they were sunk, and the dates they were dug, in 40 countries that collectively make up 40% of all the lands free of ice. This landscape accounts for probably half of all groundwater extraction.

To test their simulations of overall groundwater availability, they compiled and analysed 100 million measurements made in a million wells monitored individually, and they found that in half of these there were seasonal fluctuations of around a metre or more.

Newer means deeper

They checked the big picture of water table decline against 15 years of data from the US space agency Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites.

They also looked at the age data of their sample, to find that in many areas, the newer the well, the more likely it was to be deeper than an old well. That alone was evidence of gradually falling water tables.

“From India to the United States, wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines,” the authors write. “In California’s Central Valley and several other agricultural hubs around the globe, typical agricultural wells are deeper than domestic wells; as a result, domestic wells are running dry…”

Where wells are already running dry, that decline will continue, and even expand into areas that have not yet seen any depletion. And, they warn, it may not help to simply sink even deeper wells: the costs would become prohibitive and the water quality at greater depth might anyway be not good enough. − Climate News Network

UN declares 2021 is ‘year for action’ on climate

The year of plague and fire, record heat, melting ice and rising seas: who’s surprised 2021 is UN’s “year for action”?

LONDON, 23 April, 2021 − The world’s most authoritative global forecasters have soberly confirmed conclusions first outlined in January. The year 2020, the year of Covid-19, of planet-wide economic slowdown, did almost nothing to damp global heating, which is why the UN says 2021 must be a “year of action”.

Even at a point in the natural weather cycle in which tropical conditions should have been cooler, it was hotter: one of the three warmest years on record.

The decade 2011-2020 is now the hottest on record. Global average temperatures reached 1.2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere − for most of human history around 285 parts per million − have now reached 410 ppm. This year they could reach 414 ppm, thanks to ever-greater use of fossil fuels.

Relentless change

Six years after the nations of the world vowed, in Paris in 2015, to act to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2°C, and ideally at 1.5°C, the last six years have all been the warmest since records began.

All this is catalogued in the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report State of the Global Climate 2020. It is the 28th such report since 1993. It simply confirms and underscores provisional conclusions published in January.

“The basic message remains the same, and we now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea as well as other changes like sea level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and changes in precipitation patterns,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general.

“All key climate indicators and associated impact information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies.”

“The bottom line? The way we are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences”

The report appeared as US President Biden convened a virtual summit on climate. It showed, said UN secretary-general António Guterres, that there is no time to waste: “The climate is changing and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This is the year for action.”

In the 2020 summer, the Arctic sea ice dwindled, for only the second time in recorded history, to below below 4 million square kilometres. The Greenland ice sheet lost 152 billion tonnes of ice between September 2019 and August 2020. The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing between 175 and 225 billion tonnes of ice a year in meltwater.

Because such loses are difficult to imagine, the report helpfully points out that 200 billion tonnes is about twice the annual discharge of the river Rhine into the North Sea.

It was a year of record temperatures: the mercury reached 38°C in the town of Verkhoyansk in the Siberian Arctic. Death Valley in California recorded an all-time global record of 54.4°C. Cuba, Dominica, Grenada and Puerto Rico all experienced record national temperatures. In a suburb of Australia’s city Sydney, the thermometer tipped 48.9°C.

Same but worse

Heavy rain and floods in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa triggered destructive swarms of the desert locust. An estimated 690 million people − 9% of humankind − were undernourished. The US saw its largest wildfires ever. Until 2020, the record number of hurricanes to hit the US coasts had stood at nine. Last year there were 12: one of these, Hurricane Laura, caused $19bn in losses.

Scientists have greeted the report with weary resignation and impatience. “Here we go again: 28 issues since the annual exercise began, the message is the same, yet incrementally worse. More floods, fires, heatwaves, storms, melting ice, and natural and human impacts,” said Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London.

“Especially worrisome is that, despite the societal impact of Covid, the signals − atmospheric greenhouse concentrations, ocean heat content, decadal temperature − continued to rise, in some cases with clear acceleration. With estimates of the global mean temperature rise since pre-industrial times now in the range 1.15-1.28°C, the 1.5°C Paris guard-rail is close to being breached.

“The bottom line? The way we have organised and are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences.” − Climate News Network

The year of plague and fire, record heat, melting ice and rising seas: who’s surprised 2021 is UN’s “year for action”?

LONDON, 23 April, 2021 − The world’s most authoritative global forecasters have soberly confirmed conclusions first outlined in January. The year 2020, the year of Covid-19, of planet-wide economic slowdown, did almost nothing to damp global heating, which is why the UN says 2021 must be a “year of action”.

Even at a point in the natural weather cycle in which tropical conditions should have been cooler, it was hotter: one of the three warmest years on record.

The decade 2011-2020 is now the hottest on record. Global average temperatures reached 1.2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere − for most of human history around 285 parts per million − have now reached 410 ppm. This year they could reach 414 ppm, thanks to ever-greater use of fossil fuels.

Relentless change

Six years after the nations of the world vowed, in Paris in 2015, to act to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2°C, and ideally at 1.5°C, the last six years have all been the warmest since records began.

All this is catalogued in the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report State of the Global Climate 2020. It is the 28th such report since 1993. It simply confirms and underscores provisional conclusions published in January.

“The basic message remains the same, and we now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea as well as other changes like sea level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and changes in precipitation patterns,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general.

“All key climate indicators and associated impact information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies.”

“The bottom line? The way we are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences”

The report appeared as US President Biden convened a virtual summit on climate. It showed, said UN secretary-general António Guterres, that there is no time to waste: “The climate is changing and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This is the year for action.”

In the 2020 summer, the Arctic sea ice dwindled, for only the second time in recorded history, to below below 4 million square kilometres. The Greenland ice sheet lost 152 billion tonnes of ice between September 2019 and August 2020. The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing between 175 and 225 billion tonnes of ice a year in meltwater.

Because such loses are difficult to imagine, the report helpfully points out that 200 billion tonnes is about twice the annual discharge of the river Rhine into the North Sea.

It was a year of record temperatures: the mercury reached 38°C in the town of Verkhoyansk in the Siberian Arctic. Death Valley in California recorded an all-time global record of 54.4°C. Cuba, Dominica, Grenada and Puerto Rico all experienced record national temperatures. In a suburb of Australia’s city Sydney, the thermometer tipped 48.9°C.

Same but worse

Heavy rain and floods in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa triggered destructive swarms of the desert locust. An estimated 690 million people − 9% of humankind − were undernourished. The US saw its largest wildfires ever. Until 2020, the record number of hurricanes to hit the US coasts had stood at nine. Last year there were 12: one of these, Hurricane Laura, caused $19bn in losses.

Scientists have greeted the report with weary resignation and impatience. “Here we go again: 28 issues since the annual exercise began, the message is the same, yet incrementally worse. More floods, fires, heatwaves, storms, melting ice, and natural and human impacts,” said Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London.

“Especially worrisome is that, despite the societal impact of Covid, the signals − atmospheric greenhouse concentrations, ocean heat content, decadal temperature − continued to rise, in some cases with clear acceleration. With estimates of the global mean temperature rise since pre-industrial times now in the range 1.15-1.28°C, the 1.5°C Paris guard-rail is close to being breached.

“The bottom line? The way we have organised and are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences.” − Climate News Network

Monsoon changes threaten Asia and warn the world

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network