Category Archives: Emissions

Greenhouse gases have a puzzling double effect

Lustier plant growth as greenhouse gases climb should counter global heating and atmospheric carbon build-up. But it’s not quite so simple.

LONDON, 21 February, 2020 – The Arctic is getting greener as greenhouse gases abound and the global thermometer rises. The vegetation of the high latitudes is moving further north, growing taller, becoming more substantial, more abundant and budding earlier, according to new studies by 40 scientists from 36 European and US institutions.

And the whole planet is getting greener too, according to a separate study in a second journal, as more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the chief cause of global heating – also acts as a fertiliser to stimulate plant growth.

It is as if researchers have finally identified a genuine negative feedback effect: as the world warms because of higher levels of greenhouse gases, the plant world responds by absorbing more of the carbon in the atmosphere and modifying the overall impact.

But both studies identify problems with what might be a comforting conclusion: it isn’t clear why in some Arctic regions the green things are getting greener, while in others the vegetation cover is becoming poorer.

And worldwide, it might be that much of the global greening can be attributed to human action – the advance of industrial-scale agriculture and commercial forest plantation – in which case most of the absorbed carbon dioxide will be returned to the atmosphere sooner or later.

“It is ironic that the very same carbon emissions responsible for harmful changes to climate are also fertilising plant growth, which in turn is somewhat moderating global warming”

Both studies confirm the value of a closer look at the evidence so far – and the need for further study.

In the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists report that they checked the big picture of polar greening based on four decades of data from large-scale satellite observation against more detailed evidence over smaller sample regions collected by sensors mounted on drones and on aircraft, as well as direct examination on the once-frozen ground.

The Arctic is the fastest-warming region of the planet: it is warming twice as fast as the globe as a whole. Snow melts earlier, plants leaf sooner. Shrubs that once stayed close to the slushy snow surface are now taller, and new species are colonising once hostile terrain.

This is expected to destabilise the Arctic tundra, the region of year-round permafrost that masks a vast reservoir of carbon buried in the frozen soils.

Natural response

So botanists and climate scientists in the high latitudes now have to begin some tricky calculations in their pursuit of reliable estimates of the global carbon budget. How much carbon will the new green growth absorb and store? And how much carbon buried for the last 100,000 years or so will escape into the atmosphere with the advance of the northern greenery and the thawing of the soils?

But at least, according to a paper in the journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, the observed greening of the Arctic is a natural response to rising average temperatures and greater carbon dioxide fertilisation as a consequence of ever-higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions and consequent climate change.

Svalbard in the high Arctic is almost 2°C warmer in summer than it was in 1986, and at least 30% greener. But the Arctic is a region with limited human settlement and low industrial investment.

A team of researchers from China, the US, France and Norway combed through 250 earlier studies, and revisited satellite data, climate models and field observations, to make sense of the evidence of a planet that has grown a lot greener: half of all the world’s vegetated lands are leafier than they once were.

And they concluded that it was possible that the growth of global greening in the last 40 years may have slowed the rate of global heating by as much as 0.25°C.

Human footprint

But the same greening can be seen as evidence of rapid human impact on the planet as a whole: much of it can be explained by more intensive use of farmland and forest plantation, especially in the world’s most populous countries, India and China.

“It is ironic that the very same carbon emissions responsible for harmful changes to climate are also fertilising plant growth, which in turn is somewhat moderating global warming,” said one author, Jarle Bjerke of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.

And his co-author Phillipe Ciais, of France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences, said: “Plants are actively defending against the dangers of carbon pollution by not only sequestering carbon on land but also by wetting the atmosphere through transpiration of ground water and evaporation of precipitation intercepted by their bodies.

“Stopping deforestation and promoting sustainable, ecologically sensible afforestation could be one of the simplest and most cost-effective, though not sufficient, defences against climate change.” – Climate News Network

Lustier plant growth as greenhouse gases climb should counter global heating and atmospheric carbon build-up. But it’s not quite so simple.

LONDON, 21 February, 2020 – The Arctic is getting greener as greenhouse gases abound and the global thermometer rises. The vegetation of the high latitudes is moving further north, growing taller, becoming more substantial, more abundant and budding earlier, according to new studies by 40 scientists from 36 European and US institutions.

And the whole planet is getting greener too, according to a separate study in a second journal, as more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the chief cause of global heating – also acts as a fertiliser to stimulate plant growth.

It is as if researchers have finally identified a genuine negative feedback effect: as the world warms because of higher levels of greenhouse gases, the plant world responds by absorbing more of the carbon in the atmosphere and modifying the overall impact.

But both studies identify problems with what might be a comforting conclusion: it isn’t clear why in some Arctic regions the green things are getting greener, while in others the vegetation cover is becoming poorer.

And worldwide, it might be that much of the global greening can be attributed to human action – the advance of industrial-scale agriculture and commercial forest plantation – in which case most of the absorbed carbon dioxide will be returned to the atmosphere sooner or later.

“It is ironic that the very same carbon emissions responsible for harmful changes to climate are also fertilising plant growth, which in turn is somewhat moderating global warming”

Both studies confirm the value of a closer look at the evidence so far – and the need for further study.

In the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists report that they checked the big picture of polar greening based on four decades of data from large-scale satellite observation against more detailed evidence over smaller sample regions collected by sensors mounted on drones and on aircraft, as well as direct examination on the once-frozen ground.

The Arctic is the fastest-warming region of the planet: it is warming twice as fast as the globe as a whole. Snow melts earlier, plants leaf sooner. Shrubs that once stayed close to the slushy snow surface are now taller, and new species are colonising once hostile terrain.

This is expected to destabilise the Arctic tundra, the region of year-round permafrost that masks a vast reservoir of carbon buried in the frozen soils.

Natural response

So botanists and climate scientists in the high latitudes now have to begin some tricky calculations in their pursuit of reliable estimates of the global carbon budget. How much carbon will the new green growth absorb and store? And how much carbon buried for the last 100,000 years or so will escape into the atmosphere with the advance of the northern greenery and the thawing of the soils?

But at least, according to a paper in the journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, the observed greening of the Arctic is a natural response to rising average temperatures and greater carbon dioxide fertilisation as a consequence of ever-higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions and consequent climate change.

Svalbard in the high Arctic is almost 2°C warmer in summer than it was in 1986, and at least 30% greener. But the Arctic is a region with limited human settlement and low industrial investment.

A team of researchers from China, the US, France and Norway combed through 250 earlier studies, and revisited satellite data, climate models and field observations, to make sense of the evidence of a planet that has grown a lot greener: half of all the world’s vegetated lands are leafier than they once were.

And they concluded that it was possible that the growth of global greening in the last 40 years may have slowed the rate of global heating by as much as 0.25°C.

Human footprint

But the same greening can be seen as evidence of rapid human impact on the planet as a whole: much of it can be explained by more intensive use of farmland and forest plantation, especially in the world’s most populous countries, India and China.

“It is ironic that the very same carbon emissions responsible for harmful changes to climate are also fertilising plant growth, which in turn is somewhat moderating global warming,” said one author, Jarle Bjerke of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.

And his co-author Phillipe Ciais, of France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences, said: “Plants are actively defending against the dangers of carbon pollution by not only sequestering carbon on land but also by wetting the atmosphere through transpiration of ground water and evaporation of precipitation intercepted by their bodies.

“Stopping deforestation and promoting sustainable, ecologically sensible afforestation could be one of the simplest and most cost-effective, though not sufficient, defences against climate change.” – Climate News Network

UK airports must shut to reach 2050 climate target

All UK airports must close by 2050 for the country to reach its target of net zero climate emissions by then, scientists say.

LONDON, 18 February, 2020 − If it is to achieve its target of net zero climate emissions by 2050, all UK airports must close by mid-century and the country will have to make other drastic and fundamental lifestyle changes, says a report from a research group backed by the government in London.

With the UK due to host this year’s round of crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow in November, a group of academics has embarrassed the British government by showing it has currently no chance of meeting its own legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to nothing within 30 years.

Their report, Absolute Zero, published by the University of Cambridge, says no amount of government or public wishful thinking will hide the fact that the country will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without barely conceivable changes to policies, industrial processes and lifestyles. Its authors include colleagues from five other British universities.

All are members of a group from UK Fires, a research programme sponsored by the UK government, aiming to support a 20% cut in the country’s true emissions by 2050 by placing resource efficiency at the heart of its future industrial strategy. The report was paid for under the UK Fires programme.

As well as a temporary halt to flying, the report also says British people cannot go on driving heavier cars and turning up the heating in their homes.

“The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping”

The government, industry and the public, it says, cannot continue to indulge themselves in these ways in the belief that new technologies will somehow save them – everyone will have to work together change their way of life.

Because electric or zero-emission aircraft cannot be developed in time, most British airports will need to close by the end of this decade, and all flying will have to stop by 2050 until non-polluting versions are available.

Electrification of surface transport, rail and road, needs to be rapid, with the phasing out of all development of petrol and diesel cars immediately. Even if all private cars are electric, the amount of traffic will have to fall to 60% of 2020 levels by 2050, and all cars will have to be smaller.

The report also suggests that ships, currently heavy users of fossil fuels, need to convert to electric propulsion in order to allow for necessary imports and exports.

Not enough time

The reasoning behind the report is that technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon capture and storage, will not be developed in time and on a large enough scale to make a difference to emission reductions by 2050.

Nor is it any use exporting energy-intensive industries like steel-making, because the emissions will still take place abroad.

Instead, homegrown industries need to be developed that use no fossil fuels but are powered by electricity. The report says blast furnaces need to be phased out and replaced by existing technologies that recycle steel using renewable electricity.

It calls for public debate and discussion about the lifestyle changes that will be essential. Although such luxuries as flying away on holiday and driving large cars will have to be foregone, and eating beef and lamb curtailed, the scientists say that life could be just as rich as today.

They say: “… sports, social life, eating, hobbies, games, computing, reading, TV, music, radio, volunteering (and sleeping!) We can all do more of these without any impact on emissions”.

Offsets won’t work

They want the public to help by lobbying for airport closures, more trains, no new roads and more renewable electricity.

The report insists that the government should not try to hide any of its emissions by importing goods: “The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping.”

Nor can there be any meaningful “carbon offsets.” The only short-term option we have of reducing emissions – at least by 2050 – is to plant trees. “Even a massive increase in forestry would only have a small effect compared to today’s emissions.”

The authors comment: “There are no invisible solutions to climate change. We urgently need to engage everyone in the process of delivering the changes that will lead to zero emissions.” − Climate News Network

All UK airports must close by 2050 for the country to reach its target of net zero climate emissions by then, scientists say.

LONDON, 18 February, 2020 − If it is to achieve its target of net zero climate emissions by 2050, all UK airports must close by mid-century and the country will have to make other drastic and fundamental lifestyle changes, says a report from a research group backed by the government in London.

With the UK due to host this year’s round of crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow in November, a group of academics has embarrassed the British government by showing it has currently no chance of meeting its own legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to nothing within 30 years.

Their report, Absolute Zero, published by the University of Cambridge, says no amount of government or public wishful thinking will hide the fact that the country will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without barely conceivable changes to policies, industrial processes and lifestyles. Its authors include colleagues from five other British universities.

All are members of a group from UK Fires, a research programme sponsored by the UK government, aiming to support a 20% cut in the country’s true emissions by 2050 by placing resource efficiency at the heart of its future industrial strategy. The report was paid for under the UK Fires programme.

As well as a temporary halt to flying, the report also says British people cannot go on driving heavier cars and turning up the heating in their homes.

“The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping”

The government, industry and the public, it says, cannot continue to indulge themselves in these ways in the belief that new technologies will somehow save them – everyone will have to work together change their way of life.

Because electric or zero-emission aircraft cannot be developed in time, most British airports will need to close by the end of this decade, and all flying will have to stop by 2050 until non-polluting versions are available.

Electrification of surface transport, rail and road, needs to be rapid, with the phasing out of all development of petrol and diesel cars immediately. Even if all private cars are electric, the amount of traffic will have to fall to 60% of 2020 levels by 2050, and all cars will have to be smaller.

The report also suggests that ships, currently heavy users of fossil fuels, need to convert to electric propulsion in order to allow for necessary imports and exports.

Not enough time

The reasoning behind the report is that technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon capture and storage, will not be developed in time and on a large enough scale to make a difference to emission reductions by 2050.

Nor is it any use exporting energy-intensive industries like steel-making, because the emissions will still take place abroad.

Instead, homegrown industries need to be developed that use no fossil fuels but are powered by electricity. The report says blast furnaces need to be phased out and replaced by existing technologies that recycle steel using renewable electricity.

It calls for public debate and discussion about the lifestyle changes that will be essential. Although such luxuries as flying away on holiday and driving large cars will have to be foregone, and eating beef and lamb curtailed, the scientists say that life could be just as rich as today.

They say: “… sports, social life, eating, hobbies, games, computing, reading, TV, music, radio, volunteering (and sleeping!) We can all do more of these without any impact on emissions”.

Offsets won’t work

They want the public to help by lobbying for airport closures, more trains, no new roads and more renewable electricity.

The report insists that the government should not try to hide any of its emissions by importing goods: “The UK is responsible for all emissions caused by its purchasing, including imported goods, international flights and shipping.”

Nor can there be any meaningful “carbon offsets.” The only short-term option we have of reducing emissions – at least by 2050 – is to plant trees. “Even a massive increase in forestry would only have a small effect compared to today’s emissions.”

The authors comment: “There are no invisible solutions to climate change. We urgently need to engage everyone in the process of delivering the changes that will lead to zero emissions.” − Climate News Network

Cities turn to freewheeling public transport

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

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

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

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

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

A stark climate warning from the green swan

The green swan brings a clear message from people who should know: bankers say the climate crisis means major change lies ahead.

LONDON, 10 February, 2020 − There’s more than a touch of déjà-vu about The green swan, another alarm call from the serious world of senior bankers about what the future is likely to hold.

Way back in 2006 the British economist Lord Nicholas Stern wrote his review warning of the serious impacts of climate change, in particular its effect on the global economy and the world’s financial systems.

For a brief period it seemed people were listening. Then, in 2008, the global financial crisis came along – a crisis caused, not by climate change but primarily by reckless bank lending, weak regulation and a sustained bout of greed.

World leaders panicked as the financial sector went into meltdown. Multi-billion dollar rescue packages were thrown about like confetti. Amid the panic, Stern’s warnings were largely forgotten.

It’s only recently that bankers and financiers have been revisiting his work and waving their own red flags about the dire consequences of a warming world.

The publisher of this book – the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) – is the central bank to the world’s central banks, its goal to preserve overall global monetary and financial stability. It is a conservative, some might say staid, institution, its utterances normally carefully calibrated and moderate in tone.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets”

The green swan is different: it graphically describes the sense of urgency now evident in banking boardrooms about global warming, the dire state of the planet and the consequent effects on the finance sector.

“Exceeding climate tipping points could lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts that would make quantifying financial damages impossible”, say the authors.

“Avoiding this requires immediate and ambitious action towards a structural transformation of our economies, involving technological innovations that can be scaled, but also major changes in regulations and social norms.”

In other words, in non-banking terminology, expect the unexpected. Unless major international action is taken, climate change is going to cause lasting damage to the global economic and financial systems.

The “green swan” in the book’s title is a mutation of the concept of the “black swan” made famous by Nicholas Taleb in a 2007 book of the same name.

Key differences

Taleb used the term black swan to characterise random, unexpected events such as terrorist attacks or natural catastrophes and their impact on economies and financial systems. Uncertainty becomes a major factor: calculating risk in such circumstances is a very difficult, if not impossible, business.

This book’s authors characterise climate change in a similar way, talking of green swan events. But they draw some important distinctions.

Though the effects of global warming are highly uncertain, there is a high degree of certainty that major change is on the way. There is also certainty about the need for urgent action.

“Climate catastrophes are even more serious than most systemic financial crises”, say the authors.

“The complex chain reactions and cascade effects associated with both physical and transition risks could generate fundamentally unpredictable environmental, geopolitical, social and economic dynamics.”

The authors warn about central banks being caught in what they refer to as the uncharted waters of climate change. If government and other agencies don’t take action, the world’s central banks might not be able to ensure financial and price stability.

Ending fossil fuel

Fossil fuel companies could go to the wall. While this might be good for the climate, it would create financial turmoil.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets, to save the financial system once more.”

The warnings from the BIS are only the latest broadside from central bank authorities on the dangers of a warming world. Late last year the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, announced it would be subjecting the country’s banks and insurance companies to a climate change-related stress test.

In recent days Singapore’s central monetary authority has introduced similar measures to test finance institutions’ preparedness in the face of global warming.

The overall message is clear: if you see a green swan, beware. A big climate change event is happening, and turmoil is on the way. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The green swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change

An ebook by Patrick Bolton et al. published by the Bank of International Settlements/Banque de France

The green swan brings a clear message from people who should know: bankers say the climate crisis means major change lies ahead.

LONDON, 10 February, 2020 − There’s more than a touch of déjà-vu about The green swan, another alarm call from the serious world of senior bankers about what the future is likely to hold.

Way back in 2006 the British economist Lord Nicholas Stern wrote his review warning of the serious impacts of climate change, in particular its effect on the global economy and the world’s financial systems.

For a brief period it seemed people were listening. Then, in 2008, the global financial crisis came along – a crisis caused, not by climate change but primarily by reckless bank lending, weak regulation and a sustained bout of greed.

World leaders panicked as the financial sector went into meltdown. Multi-billion dollar rescue packages were thrown about like confetti. Amid the panic, Stern’s warnings were largely forgotten.

It’s only recently that bankers and financiers have been revisiting his work and waving their own red flags about the dire consequences of a warming world.

The publisher of this book – the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) – is the central bank to the world’s central banks, its goal to preserve overall global monetary and financial stability. It is a conservative, some might say staid, institution, its utterances normally carefully calibrated and moderate in tone.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets”

The green swan is different: it graphically describes the sense of urgency now evident in banking boardrooms about global warming, the dire state of the planet and the consequent effects on the finance sector.

“Exceeding climate tipping points could lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts that would make quantifying financial damages impossible”, say the authors.

“Avoiding this requires immediate and ambitious action towards a structural transformation of our economies, involving technological innovations that can be scaled, but also major changes in regulations and social norms.”

In other words, in non-banking terminology, expect the unexpected. Unless major international action is taken, climate change is going to cause lasting damage to the global economic and financial systems.

The “green swan” in the book’s title is a mutation of the concept of the “black swan” made famous by Nicholas Taleb in a 2007 book of the same name.

Key differences

Taleb used the term black swan to characterise random, unexpected events such as terrorist attacks or natural catastrophes and their impact on economies and financial systems. Uncertainty becomes a major factor: calculating risk in such circumstances is a very difficult, if not impossible, business.

This book’s authors characterise climate change in a similar way, talking of green swan events. But they draw some important distinctions.

Though the effects of global warming are highly uncertain, there is a high degree of certainty that major change is on the way. There is also certainty about the need for urgent action.

“Climate catastrophes are even more serious than most systemic financial crises”, say the authors.

“The complex chain reactions and cascade effects associated with both physical and transition risks could generate fundamentally unpredictable environmental, geopolitical, social and economic dynamics.”

The authors warn about central banks being caught in what they refer to as the uncharted waters of climate change. If government and other agencies don’t take action, the world’s central banks might not be able to ensure financial and price stability.

Ending fossil fuel

Fossil fuel companies could go to the wall. While this might be good for the climate, it would create financial turmoil.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets, to save the financial system once more.”

The warnings from the BIS are only the latest broadside from central bank authorities on the dangers of a warming world. Late last year the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, announced it would be subjecting the country’s banks and insurance companies to a climate change-related stress test.

In recent days Singapore’s central monetary authority has introduced similar measures to test finance institutions’ preparedness in the face of global warming.

The overall message is clear: if you see a green swan, beware. A big climate change event is happening, and turmoil is on the way. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The green swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change

An ebook by Patrick Bolton et al. published by the Bank of International Settlements/Banque de France

Reliance on coal divides European states

Two European states with a traditional reliance on coal are taking radically different paths as the climate crisis worsens.

LONDON, 3 February, 2020 − Both countries are in the European Union, both have for years been known for their reliance on coal. But now their policies could not differ more: one is turning away from coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, while the other is enthusiastically developing it.

At one end of the spectrum is Spain: it plans to close its last operating coal mine by the end of 2021. Not so long ago the country was heavily dependent on coal for its power: last year coal generated less than 5% of Spain’s electricity.

At the other extreme is Poland. Despite EU-wide commitments to phase out the use of coal over the coming years, Poland is still opening new coal pits and coal-fired power plants.

In recent days the government in Warsaw granted POLSKA PGE, the state-owned energy company, a permit to expand a lignite mine at Turów, on Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

According to campaign groups, the permit was rushed through without an environmental impact assessment being completed and before an appeals process was allowed to start.

Both Germany and the Czech Republic have protested about the mine.

“There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal”

Belchatow power station in central Poland is Europe’s biggest coal-burning power station. Emitting an estimated 30 million tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases each year, it is also the most polluting. More than 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal.

In Spain, more than 50,000 people were employed in coal mining in the mid-1990s, mainly in the northern province of Asturias. Mining communities formed an integral part of the country’s social fabric and played an important role in its history, having launched attacks against the forces of the dictator General Franco during Spain’s bitter civil war.

Over recent years the Spanish government has inaugurated a series of initiatives with mining communities, promising early retirement packages, money, and jobs in renewable power industries.

Analysts say a number of additional factors have helped Spain wean itself off coal. State subsidies to the industry have been cut.

Renewables flourish

The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) has, after many years of inactivity and failed policy objectives, finally managed to set a price on carbon emissions which discourages large users of fossil fuels.

Falling prices for gas – a fossil fuel, but one with far lower emissions than coal – have helped Spain’s power turnaround. Spain has also made big investments in renewables such as wind and solar power.

But all is not rosy in Spain on the emissions front. While coal-burning emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and other sectors have risen by well above the EU average.

Poland does not have the solar advantages of sunny Spain. It also requires far more energy for heating purposes. Like Spain, Poland has a long coal-mining tradition and, despite many mine closures following the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, mining unions remain strong and exert considerable political influence.

Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party has consistently backed the country’s coal lobby and the mining unions: large subsidies are still granted to the sector and legislation has recently come into force making it easier for operators to open new mines.

Independence cherished

There are wider political and security issues at play: historically, coal has been seen in Poland as vital, ensuring the country’s independence. Warsaw is acutely suspicious of any form of reliance on gas supplies from Russia for its energy needs.

But change could be on the way. There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal. Protests have been held in several towns and cities about the impact of coal-mining on air quality and water supplies.

The EU is exerting more pressure on states to cut back on fossil fuel use and meet emission reduction targets.

In the end finance – or the lack of it – could be the key to reducing coal use. Financial institutions and insurers are becoming increasingly wary about investing or supporting coal projects.

Coal, within the EU and worldwide, is rapidly running out of friends. – Climate News Network

Two European states with a traditional reliance on coal are taking radically different paths as the climate crisis worsens.

LONDON, 3 February, 2020 − Both countries are in the European Union, both have for years been known for their reliance on coal. But now their policies could not differ more: one is turning away from coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, while the other is enthusiastically developing it.

At one end of the spectrum is Spain: it plans to close its last operating coal mine by the end of 2021. Not so long ago the country was heavily dependent on coal for its power: last year coal generated less than 5% of Spain’s electricity.

At the other extreme is Poland. Despite EU-wide commitments to phase out the use of coal over the coming years, Poland is still opening new coal pits and coal-fired power plants.

In recent days the government in Warsaw granted POLSKA PGE, the state-owned energy company, a permit to expand a lignite mine at Turów, on Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

According to campaign groups, the permit was rushed through without an environmental impact assessment being completed and before an appeals process was allowed to start.

Both Germany and the Czech Republic have protested about the mine.

“There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal”

Belchatow power station in central Poland is Europe’s biggest coal-burning power station. Emitting an estimated 30 million tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases each year, it is also the most polluting. More than 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal.

In Spain, more than 50,000 people were employed in coal mining in the mid-1990s, mainly in the northern province of Asturias. Mining communities formed an integral part of the country’s social fabric and played an important role in its history, having launched attacks against the forces of the dictator General Franco during Spain’s bitter civil war.

Over recent years the Spanish government has inaugurated a series of initiatives with mining communities, promising early retirement packages, money, and jobs in renewable power industries.

Analysts say a number of additional factors have helped Spain wean itself off coal. State subsidies to the industry have been cut.

Renewables flourish

The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) has, after many years of inactivity and failed policy objectives, finally managed to set a price on carbon emissions which discourages large users of fossil fuels.

Falling prices for gas – a fossil fuel, but one with far lower emissions than coal – have helped Spain’s power turnaround. Spain has also made big investments in renewables such as wind and solar power.

But all is not rosy in Spain on the emissions front. While coal-burning emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and other sectors have risen by well above the EU average.

Poland does not have the solar advantages of sunny Spain. It also requires far more energy for heating purposes. Like Spain, Poland has a long coal-mining tradition and, despite many mine closures following the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, mining unions remain strong and exert considerable political influence.

Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party has consistently backed the country’s coal lobby and the mining unions: large subsidies are still granted to the sector and legislation has recently come into force making it easier for operators to open new mines.

Independence cherished

There are wider political and security issues at play: historically, coal has been seen in Poland as vital, ensuring the country’s independence. Warsaw is acutely suspicious of any form of reliance on gas supplies from Russia for its energy needs.

But change could be on the way. There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal. Protests have been held in several towns and cities about the impact of coal-mining on air quality and water supplies.

The EU is exerting more pressure on states to cut back on fossil fuel use and meet emission reduction targets.

In the end finance – or the lack of it – could be the key to reducing coal use. Financial institutions and insurers are becoming increasingly wary about investing or supporting coal projects.

Coal, within the EU and worldwide, is rapidly running out of friends. – Climate News Network

2020 starts with the plain prospect of rising heat

Emissions will climb further. Each decade is warmer than the last. The oceans are feeling the rising heat. The economy is threatened. And that’s just January.

LONDON, 24 January, 2020 – The year is less than four weeks old, but scientists already know that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to head upwards – as they have every year since measurements began leading to a continuation of the Earth’s rising heat.

And they warn that the rise will be steeper than usual, partly because of the devastating bush fires in Australia.

The warning is a reminder that global heating and climate change create their own positive feedbacks: more numerous and calamitous forest fires surrender more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which helps raise temperatures, accentuate droughts and heat extremes, and create conditions for even more catastrophic forest fires.

The news is that the proportion of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere will peak at 417 parts per million (ppm) in the next 11 months, but settle to an average of just over 414 ppm. This represents a predicted 10% increase on the previous year’s rise, and a fifth of that can be pinned on blazing eucalypts in New South Wales.

Atmospheric scientists began keeping meticulous records of CO2 levels in the atmosphere in 1958. The average for most of human history – until the Industrial Revolution and the mass exploitation of coal, oil and gas – was no higher than 285 ppm.

The warning, from the British Met Office, comes hard on the heels of an address by America’s President Trump – who has previously claimed that climate change is a hoax – at Davos in Switzerland. He told the World Economic Forum (WEF) to disregard those he dismissed as “prophets of doom”.

“The amount of heat we have put into the world’s oceans in the last 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions”

In fact he was addressing an organisation that had only recently issued its own warning that “severe threats to our climate” accounted for all the identified top long-term risks that face the modern world.

The WEF Global Risks Report warned of extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life. It also pointed to other hazards: among them the failure of attempts to mitigate or adapt to climate change by governments and industry; human-induced environmental damage; and to biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, all of which are inseparable from the climate crisis.

Even the fifth set of global risks was environmental: these included earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms.

And, the WEF said, time to address these threats was running out. “The political landscape is polarised, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning. This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and invigorate our systems of co-operation, not just for short-term benefit, but for tackling our deep-rooted risks,” said Borge Brende, president of the WEF.

And as the WEF issued its own doom-laden warnings, scientists at two great US research agencies confirmed those fears. The space agency NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration examined their separate datasets to pronounce 2019 the second warmest year since global records began, and to confirm that the decade just ended was also the warmest since records began.

Relentless increase

“Every decade since the 1960s has been warmer than the one before,” said Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The British Met Office – working from yet another set of data – agreed that 2019 had been 1.05°C above the average for most of human history, and that the last five years were the warmest since records began in 1850.

And only days beforehand, Chinese scientists had taken the temperature of the world’s oceans to find them warmer than at any time in recorded history. The past 10 years had been the warmest decade for ocean temperatures worldwide.

In 2019, they write in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, a partnership of 14 researchers from 11 institutes around the world had measured from the surface to a depth of 2000 metres to find that the global ocean – and 70% of the planet is covered in blue water – is now 0.075°C warmer on average than it was between 1981 and 2010.

Measured in the basic units of heat-energy, this means that the seas have soaked up 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules of heat.

100 seconds to midnight

“That’s a lot of zeros indeed. To make it easier to understand, I did a calculation,” said Lijing Cheng, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who led the study.

“The amount of heat we have put into the world’s oceans in the last 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions. This measured ocean warming is irrefutable and is further proof of global warming. There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat-trapping gases to explain this heating.”

On 23 January the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that it had moved the hands of its symbolic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds from midnight the closest they have ever been to the time chosen to represent apocalypse.

The reason? “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers nuclear war and climate change that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond”, say the scientists.

“World leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.” – Climate News Network

Emissions will climb further. Each decade is warmer than the last. The oceans are feeling the rising heat. The economy is threatened. And that’s just January.

LONDON, 24 January, 2020 – The year is less than four weeks old, but scientists already know that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to head upwards – as they have every year since measurements began leading to a continuation of the Earth’s rising heat.

And they warn that the rise will be steeper than usual, partly because of the devastating bush fires in Australia.

The warning is a reminder that global heating and climate change create their own positive feedbacks: more numerous and calamitous forest fires surrender more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which helps raise temperatures, accentuate droughts and heat extremes, and create conditions for even more catastrophic forest fires.

The news is that the proportion of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere will peak at 417 parts per million (ppm) in the next 11 months, but settle to an average of just over 414 ppm. This represents a predicted 10% increase on the previous year’s rise, and a fifth of that can be pinned on blazing eucalypts in New South Wales.

Atmospheric scientists began keeping meticulous records of CO2 levels in the atmosphere in 1958. The average for most of human history – until the Industrial Revolution and the mass exploitation of coal, oil and gas – was no higher than 285 ppm.

The warning, from the British Met Office, comes hard on the heels of an address by America’s President Trump – who has previously claimed that climate change is a hoax – at Davos in Switzerland. He told the World Economic Forum (WEF) to disregard those he dismissed as “prophets of doom”.

“The amount of heat we have put into the world’s oceans in the last 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions”

In fact he was addressing an organisation that had only recently issued its own warning that “severe threats to our climate” accounted for all the identified top long-term risks that face the modern world.

The WEF Global Risks Report warned of extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life. It also pointed to other hazards: among them the failure of attempts to mitigate or adapt to climate change by governments and industry; human-induced environmental damage; and to biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, all of which are inseparable from the climate crisis.

Even the fifth set of global risks was environmental: these included earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms.

And, the WEF said, time to address these threats was running out. “The political landscape is polarised, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning. This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and invigorate our systems of co-operation, not just for short-term benefit, but for tackling our deep-rooted risks,” said Borge Brende, president of the WEF.

And as the WEF issued its own doom-laden warnings, scientists at two great US research agencies confirmed those fears. The space agency NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration examined their separate datasets to pronounce 2019 the second warmest year since global records began, and to confirm that the decade just ended was also the warmest since records began.

Relentless increase

“Every decade since the 1960s has been warmer than the one before,” said Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The British Met Office – working from yet another set of data – agreed that 2019 had been 1.05°C above the average for most of human history, and that the last five years were the warmest since records began in 1850.

And only days beforehand, Chinese scientists had taken the temperature of the world’s oceans to find them warmer than at any time in recorded history. The past 10 years had been the warmest decade for ocean temperatures worldwide.

In 2019, they write in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, a partnership of 14 researchers from 11 institutes around the world had measured from the surface to a depth of 2000 metres to find that the global ocean – and 70% of the planet is covered in blue water – is now 0.075°C warmer on average than it was between 1981 and 2010.

Measured in the basic units of heat-energy, this means that the seas have soaked up 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules of heat.

100 seconds to midnight

“That’s a lot of zeros indeed. To make it easier to understand, I did a calculation,” said Lijing Cheng, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who led the study.

“The amount of heat we have put into the world’s oceans in the last 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions. This measured ocean warming is irrefutable and is further proof of global warming. There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat-trapping gases to explain this heating.”

On 23 January the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that it had moved the hands of its symbolic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds from midnight the closest they have ever been to the time chosen to represent apocalypse.

The reason? “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers nuclear war and climate change that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond”, say the scientists.

“World leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.” – Climate News Network

Paris climate goals may be beyond reach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impacts already evident

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

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

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

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

Serious science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impacts already evident

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

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

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

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

Serious science

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

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

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

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

Australia’s sunshine could spare its blazing forests

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

Geo-engineering could make poor countries richer

There is still no certainty that geo-engineering could save the world. But, paradoxically, if it did work it might repair climate injustice.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 – Californian scientists have just made a case for geo-engineering as a solution to the climate crisis. One stratospheric technology – the reflection of incoming sunlight back into space – could do more than just lower global average temperatures.

It could also enhance the economic performance of some of the world’s poorest countries and reduce global income inequality by 50%.

“We find hotter, more populous countries are more sensitive to changes in temperature – whether it is an increase or a decrease,” said Anthony Harding, of Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California at San Diego.

“With solar geo-engineering, we find that poorer countries benefit more than richer countries from reductions in temperature, reducing inequalities. Together, the overall global economy grows.”

Uneven benefits possible

Harding and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they simply applied climate models to the consequences of a successful international collaboration to systematically reduce or reflect incoming sunlight, to compensate for the consequences of a steady increase in global average temperatures as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Geo-engineering requires technologies that are not yet proven and that many scientists think may never work in any way that helps all nations evenly.

The authors acknowledge that many climate scientists are “reluctant to pursue one global climate intervention to correct for another” – a tacit recognition that humans have already inadvertently geo-engineered the climate crisis driven by global heating simply by burning fossil fuels and destroying forests. Nor do they specify a preferred version of any technology that puts sulphate aerosols or other reflecting particles into the stratosphere to reduce incoming radiation.

They simply consider the economic impacts of global temperature reductions under four different climate scenarios: if climates stabilised naturally; if temperatures went on soaring; if they were stabilised by geo-engineering; and if geo-engineering worked too well and lowered the planet’s temperature.

“A robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit”

They identified historical connections between the heat of the day and the wealth of a nation. Rainfall didn’t seem to matter so much. What was important was the temperature. And in the models, temperature seemed to make all the difference.

If tomorrow’s world, thanks to geo-engineering, cooled by 3.5°C – and right now the planetary temperature seems set to rise by about that much – average incomes in countries such as Niger, Chad and Mali would rise by more than 100% in a century.

In southern Europe and the US, gains would be a more modest 20%. Impacts from country to country might vary according to each scenario. But changes in temperature driven by solar geo-engineering consistently translated, they say, into a 50% cut in global income inequality.

“We find that if temperatures cooled, there would be gains in gross domestic product per capita,” Harding said. “For some models, these gains are up to 1000% over the course of the century and are largest for countries in the tropics, which historically tend to be poorer.”

Poorest hit hardest

Researchers have consistently found that global heating brings yet more economic hardship, and even social conflict, to the world’s least developed nations: these are the countries that have benefited least from the exploitation of oil, coal and natural gas to drive wealth, and therefore contributed least to the creation of a climate crisis.

The latest study suggests that although the best way to confront the challenge is to reduce and eventually reverse greenhouse gas emissions, concerted global action – carefully agreed and executed – might in theory cool the globe and limit the losses of everybody, but especially the poorest.

There is a catch: nobody has yet agreed on the technology that would work best. And nobody knows how to achieve the other prerequisite: international co-operation.

“Our findings underscore that a robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit,” the authors write. – Climate News Network

There is still no certainty that geo-engineering could save the world. But, paradoxically, if it did work it might repair climate injustice.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 – Californian scientists have just made a case for geo-engineering as a solution to the climate crisis. One stratospheric technology – the reflection of incoming sunlight back into space – could do more than just lower global average temperatures.

It could also enhance the economic performance of some of the world’s poorest countries and reduce global income inequality by 50%.

“We find hotter, more populous countries are more sensitive to changes in temperature – whether it is an increase or a decrease,” said Anthony Harding, of Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California at San Diego.

“With solar geo-engineering, we find that poorer countries benefit more than richer countries from reductions in temperature, reducing inequalities. Together, the overall global economy grows.”

Uneven benefits possible

Harding and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they simply applied climate models to the consequences of a successful international collaboration to systematically reduce or reflect incoming sunlight, to compensate for the consequences of a steady increase in global average temperatures as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Geo-engineering requires technologies that are not yet proven and that many scientists think may never work in any way that helps all nations evenly.

The authors acknowledge that many climate scientists are “reluctant to pursue one global climate intervention to correct for another” – a tacit recognition that humans have already inadvertently geo-engineered the climate crisis driven by global heating simply by burning fossil fuels and destroying forests. Nor do they specify a preferred version of any technology that puts sulphate aerosols or other reflecting particles into the stratosphere to reduce incoming radiation.

They simply consider the economic impacts of global temperature reductions under four different climate scenarios: if climates stabilised naturally; if temperatures went on soaring; if they were stabilised by geo-engineering; and if geo-engineering worked too well and lowered the planet’s temperature.

“A robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit”

They identified historical connections between the heat of the day and the wealth of a nation. Rainfall didn’t seem to matter so much. What was important was the temperature. And in the models, temperature seemed to make all the difference.

If tomorrow’s world, thanks to geo-engineering, cooled by 3.5°C – and right now the planetary temperature seems set to rise by about that much – average incomes in countries such as Niger, Chad and Mali would rise by more than 100% in a century.

In southern Europe and the US, gains would be a more modest 20%. Impacts from country to country might vary according to each scenario. But changes in temperature driven by solar geo-engineering consistently translated, they say, into a 50% cut in global income inequality.

“We find that if temperatures cooled, there would be gains in gross domestic product per capita,” Harding said. “For some models, these gains are up to 1000% over the course of the century and are largest for countries in the tropics, which historically tend to be poorer.”

Poorest hit hardest

Researchers have consistently found that global heating brings yet more economic hardship, and even social conflict, to the world’s least developed nations: these are the countries that have benefited least from the exploitation of oil, coal and natural gas to drive wealth, and therefore contributed least to the creation of a climate crisis.

The latest study suggests that although the best way to confront the challenge is to reduce and eventually reverse greenhouse gas emissions, concerted global action – carefully agreed and executed – might in theory cool the globe and limit the losses of everybody, but especially the poorest.

There is a catch: nobody has yet agreed on the technology that would work best. And nobody knows how to achieve the other prerequisite: international co-operation.

“Our findings underscore that a robust system of global governance will be necessary to ensure any future decisions about solar geo-engineering are made for collective benefit,” the authors write. – Climate News Network

Australia ablaze: Up close and in your face

13 January, 2020: One of today’s most respected climate scientists is Michael Mann. On 1 January The Guardian published his eyewitness account of what Australia’s catastrophic bushfires are doing, and why. This is what he wrote.

SYDNEY, 1 January, 2020 − I am a climate scientist on holiday in the Blue Mountains, watching climate change in action. After years studying the climate, my work has brought me to Sydney where I’m studying the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.

Prior to beginning my sabbatical stay in Sydney, I took the opportunity this holiday season to vacation in Australia with my family. We went to see the Great Barrier Reef – one of the great wonders of this planet – while we still can.

Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions.

We also travelled to the Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It too is now threatened by climate change.

I witnessed this firsthand.

I did not see vast expanses of rainforest framed by distant blue-tinged mountain ranges. Instead I looked out into smoke-filled valleys, with only the faintest ghosts of distant ridges and peaks in the background.

The iconic blue tint (which derives from a haze formed from “terpenes” emitted by the Eucalyptus trees that are so plentiful here) was replaced by a brown haze. The blue sky, too, had been replaced by that brown haze.

The locals, whom I found to be friendly and outgoing, would volunteer that they have never seen anything like this before. Some even uttered the words “climate change” without any prompting.

The songs of Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil I first enjoyed decades ago have taken on a whole new meaning for me now. They seem disturbingly prescient in light of what we are witnessing unfold in Australia.

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

The warming of our planet – and the changes in climate associated with it – are due to the fossil fuels we’re burning: oil, whether at midnight or any other hour of the day, natural gas, and the biggest culprit of all, coal. That’s not complicated either.

When we mine for coal, like the controversial planned Adani coalmine, which would more than double Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions, we are literally mining away at our blue skies. The Adani coalmine could rightly be renamed the Blue Sky mine.

In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns and irreplaceable forests. Endangered and precious animal species such as the koala (arguably the world’s only living plush toy) are perishing in massive numbers due to the unprecedented bushfires.

The continent of Australia is figuratively – and in some sense literally – on fire.

Yet the prime minister, Scott Morrison, appears remarkably indifferent to the climate emergency Australia is suffering, having chosen to vacation in Hawaii as Australians are left to contend with unprecedented heat and bushfires.

Morrison has shown himself to be beholden to coal interests and his administration is considered to have conspired with a small number of petrostates to sabotage the recent UN climate conference in Madrid (COP-25), seen as a last ditch effort to keep planetary warming below a level (1.5°C) considered by many to constitute “dangerous” planetary warming.

But Australians need only wake up in the morning, turn on the television, read the newspaper or look out the window to see what is increasingly obvious to many – for Australia, dangerous climate change is already here. It’s simply a matter of how much worse we’re willing to allow it to get.

Australia is experiencing a climate emergency. It is literally burning. It needs leadership that is able to recognise that and act. And it needs voters to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box.

Australians must vote out fossil-fuelled politicians who have chosen to be part of the problem and vote in climate champions who are willing to solve it.

* * * * *

Michael E Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. His most recent book, with Tom Toles, is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (Columbia University Press, 2016).

This story (entitled Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now) originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. − Climate News Network

13 January, 2020: One of today’s most respected climate scientists is Michael Mann. On 1 January The Guardian published his eyewitness account of what Australia’s catastrophic bushfires are doing, and why. This is what he wrote.

SYDNEY, 1 January, 2020 − I am a climate scientist on holiday in the Blue Mountains, watching climate change in action. After years studying the climate, my work has brought me to Sydney where I’m studying the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.

Prior to beginning my sabbatical stay in Sydney, I took the opportunity this holiday season to vacation in Australia with my family. We went to see the Great Barrier Reef – one of the great wonders of this planet – while we still can.

Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions.

We also travelled to the Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It too is now threatened by climate change.

I witnessed this firsthand.

I did not see vast expanses of rainforest framed by distant blue-tinged mountain ranges. Instead I looked out into smoke-filled valleys, with only the faintest ghosts of distant ridges and peaks in the background.

The iconic blue tint (which derives from a haze formed from “terpenes” emitted by the Eucalyptus trees that are so plentiful here) was replaced by a brown haze. The blue sky, too, had been replaced by that brown haze.

The locals, whom I found to be friendly and outgoing, would volunteer that they have never seen anything like this before. Some even uttered the words “climate change” without any prompting.

The songs of Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil I first enjoyed decades ago have taken on a whole new meaning for me now. They seem disturbingly prescient in light of what we are witnessing unfold in Australia.

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

The warming of our planet – and the changes in climate associated with it – are due to the fossil fuels we’re burning: oil, whether at midnight or any other hour of the day, natural gas, and the biggest culprit of all, coal. That’s not complicated either.

When we mine for coal, like the controversial planned Adani coalmine, which would more than double Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions, we are literally mining away at our blue skies. The Adani coalmine could rightly be renamed the Blue Sky mine.

In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns and irreplaceable forests. Endangered and precious animal species such as the koala (arguably the world’s only living plush toy) are perishing in massive numbers due to the unprecedented bushfires.

The continent of Australia is figuratively – and in some sense literally – on fire.

Yet the prime minister, Scott Morrison, appears remarkably indifferent to the climate emergency Australia is suffering, having chosen to vacation in Hawaii as Australians are left to contend with unprecedented heat and bushfires.

Morrison has shown himself to be beholden to coal interests and his administration is considered to have conspired with a small number of petrostates to sabotage the recent UN climate conference in Madrid (COP-25), seen as a last ditch effort to keep planetary warming below a level (1.5°C) considered by many to constitute “dangerous” planetary warming.

But Australians need only wake up in the morning, turn on the television, read the newspaper or look out the window to see what is increasingly obvious to many – for Australia, dangerous climate change is already here. It’s simply a matter of how much worse we’re willing to allow it to get.

Australia is experiencing a climate emergency. It is literally burning. It needs leadership that is able to recognise that and act. And it needs voters to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box.

Australians must vote out fossil-fuelled politicians who have chosen to be part of the problem and vote in climate champions who are willing to solve it.

* * * * *

Michael E Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. His most recent book, with Tom Toles, is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (Columbia University Press, 2016).

This story (entitled Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now) originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story. − Climate News Network