Category Archives: Emissions

Scientists say world’s huge ice loss is speeding up

The frozen world is shrinking at a “staggering” rate. New research takes a measure of the world’s huge ice loss.

LONDON, 27 January, 2021 − Planet Earth is losing its frozen mantle faster than ever as the world’s huge ice loss intensifies. Between 1994 and 2017, the polar regions and the mountain glaciers said farewell to a total of 28 million million tonnes of ice. This is a quantity large enough to conceal the entire United Kingdom under an ice sheet 100 metres thick.

More alarmingly, scientists warn, the rate of loss has been accelerating. Over the course of the 23-year survey of the planet’s ice budget, there has been a 65% increase in the flow of meltwater from the glaciers, ice shelves and ice sheets.

Early in the last decade of the last century, ice loss was counted at 0.8 trillion tonnes a year. By 2017, this had increased to 1.3 trillion tonnes a year, says a new study in the journal The Cryosphere.

The finding should come as no great surprise. Thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of forests and grasslands, the planet is warming: 2020 has been awarded the unwelcome title of equal place as warmest year ever recorded, and the last six years have been the six warmest since records began.

“The vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.”

Researchers warned last year that the melting rate of Greenland’s ice sheet − the biggest in the northern hemisphere − would soon hit a 12,000 year high. A second group warned in the same month that ice loss from Antarctica would soon become irreversible.

The latest research, based on satellite data, confirms all fears. “Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” said Thomas Slater, of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst case climate warning scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

The scientists measured loss from the land-based ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, from the shelf ice around Antarctica and from the drifting sea ice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans, as well as the retreat of 215,000 mountain glaciers worldwide.

‘Staggering’ loss

During the 23-year-survey, thanks to rising air and ocean temperatures, the Arctic Ocean lost 7.6 trillion tonnes, the Antarctic ice shelves 6.5 trillion tonnes. Melting sea ice will not affect sea levels, but it will expose greater areas of ocean to radiation, which would otherwise be reflected back into space. So the loss of sea ice can only lead to even more warming.

The researchers claim theirs is the first full global survey, but they also concede it can only be incomplete: they did not take the measure of fallen snow on land, nor of the icy soils of the permafrost, and they did not try to measure the loss of winter ice on lakes and rivers − but they note that the duration of ice on lakes has fallen by 12 days in the last two centuries, thanks to atmospheric warming.

However, they could put a measure on ice losses from land − 6.1 trillion tonnes from mountain glaciers worldwide, 3.8 trillion tonnes from the Greenland ice sheet, 2.5 trillion tonnes from the Antarctic surface − enough to raise global sea levels by 35mm.

Scientific studies tend to be presented without emotive language. But the researchers call their total of lost ice “staggering”. And they warn: “There can be little doubt that the vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.” − Climate News Network

The frozen world is shrinking at a “staggering” rate. New research takes a measure of the world’s huge ice loss.

LONDON, 27 January, 2021 − Planet Earth is losing its frozen mantle faster than ever as the world’s huge ice loss intensifies. Between 1994 and 2017, the polar regions and the mountain glaciers said farewell to a total of 28 million million tonnes of ice. This is a quantity large enough to conceal the entire United Kingdom under an ice sheet 100 metres thick.

More alarmingly, scientists warn, the rate of loss has been accelerating. Over the course of the 23-year survey of the planet’s ice budget, there has been a 65% increase in the flow of meltwater from the glaciers, ice shelves and ice sheets.

Early in the last decade of the last century, ice loss was counted at 0.8 trillion tonnes a year. By 2017, this had increased to 1.3 trillion tonnes a year, says a new study in the journal The Cryosphere.

The finding should come as no great surprise. Thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of forests and grasslands, the planet is warming: 2020 has been awarded the unwelcome title of equal place as warmest year ever recorded, and the last six years have been the six warmest since records began.

“The vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.”

Researchers warned last year that the melting rate of Greenland’s ice sheet − the biggest in the northern hemisphere − would soon hit a 12,000 year high. A second group warned in the same month that ice loss from Antarctica would soon become irreversible.

The latest research, based on satellite data, confirms all fears. “Although every region we studied lost ice, losses from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have accelerated the most,” said Thomas Slater, of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research.

“The ice sheets are now following the worst case climate warning scenarios set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea level rise on this scale will have very serious impacts on coastal communities this century.”

The scientists measured loss from the land-based ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, from the shelf ice around Antarctica and from the drifting sea ice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans, as well as the retreat of 215,000 mountain glaciers worldwide.

‘Staggering’ loss

During the 23-year-survey, thanks to rising air and ocean temperatures, the Arctic Ocean lost 7.6 trillion tonnes, the Antarctic ice shelves 6.5 trillion tonnes. Melting sea ice will not affect sea levels, but it will expose greater areas of ocean to radiation, which would otherwise be reflected back into space. So the loss of sea ice can only lead to even more warming.

The researchers claim theirs is the first full global survey, but they also concede it can only be incomplete: they did not take the measure of fallen snow on land, nor of the icy soils of the permafrost, and they did not try to measure the loss of winter ice on lakes and rivers − but they note that the duration of ice on lakes has fallen by 12 days in the last two centuries, thanks to atmospheric warming.

However, they could put a measure on ice losses from land − 6.1 trillion tonnes from mountain glaciers worldwide, 3.8 trillion tonnes from the Greenland ice sheet, 2.5 trillion tonnes from the Antarctic surface − enough to raise global sea levels by 35mm.

Scientific studies tend to be presented without emotive language. But the researchers call their total of lost ice “staggering”. And they warn: “There can be little doubt that the vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming.” − Climate News Network

Extreme drought and fire risk may double by 2060

Climate change may soon double the impact of extreme drought and fire. And it’s a two-way traffic.

LONDON, 25 January, 2021 − As climate change threatens a doubling of the impact of extreme drought and fire within a generation, researchers are uncovering the influence of human activity on both these growing risks.

One study has found that human numbers exposed to the hazard of extreme drought are likely to double in the decades to come, as global heating bakes away the groundwater and limits annual snowfall.

Another team of researchers says the risks of extreme wildfire could also rise twofold in the next 40 years in the Mediterranean, southern Africa, eastern North America and the Amazon. In those places already severely scorched by frequent fire − western North America, equatorial Africa, south-east Asia and Australia − hazards could rise by 50%.

And a third, separate study warns that global temperature rise will shift the patterns of rainfall around the tropics − with the consequent risks to tropical crop harvests and to equatorial ecosystems such as rainforest and savannah.

All three studies are reminders of the intricacies of the planetary climate system and the impact of human action in the last hundred years.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

An international research team reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that it looked at the simple problem of global terrestrial water storage: all the moisture in the canopies of forest trees, in the mountain snows and ice, in the lakes, rivers, wetlands, and in the soil itself.

This wealth of stored water is a big player in the patterns of global flooding and drought in the monsoon climates and the arid lands alike. But, the researchers say, there has so far been no study of the potential impact of global climate change on global terrestrial water storage overall.

So researchers from the US, China, Japan and Europe began modelling tomorrow’s world. And they found that, while 3% of the planet’s people were vulnerable to extreme drought in the timespan from 1976 to 2005, later in the century this proportion could increase to 7% or even 8%.

“More and more people will suffer from extreme droughts if a medium-to-high level of global warming continues and water management is maintained in its present state,” warned Yadu Pokhrel, an engineer at Michigan State University, who led the research.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

Fire chances increased

Australia is a southern hemisphere country that knows about water scarcity: its wildfires in 2019 broke all records and sent a vast cloud of smoke to an altitude of 35 kms.

And, on the evidence of a new study in the journal Nature Communications, it won’t be the last such extreme event. Californian scientists, struck by the scale and intensity of Californian wildfires in 2017 and 2018, report that they took a closer look at the way greenhouse gas emissions and human land use change have played into the risks of extreme fire weather.

The simple act of setting forests afire to clear land for farm use has amplified the risk of extreme blazes in the Amazon and North America by 30% in the last century. Fires create aerosols that could, by absorbing sunlight, help cool the terrain beneath them − in some zones. But they could also affect rainfall levels and raise the chances of fire. The nature of such impacts varies from place to place.

“South-east Asia relies on the monsoon, but aerosols cause so much cooling on land that they can actually suppress a monsoon,” said Danielle Touma of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s not just whether you have aerosols or not, it’s the way the regional climate interacts with aerosols.”

Aerosols − with other forces − cannot just suppress a monsoon, they can shift rain patterns permanently. The tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat of the moment.

Drought stress rises

The footprint of extreme drought and fire is massive. Californian researchers report in Nature Climate Change that, across two thirds of the globe, the tropical rainbelt is likely to shift north over eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to cause more drought stress in south-eastern Africa and Madagascar and intensified flooding in south Asia.

In the western hemisphere, however, as the Gulf Stream current and the North Atlantic deep water formation weaken, the rain belt could move south to bring greater drought stress to Central America.

And once again, climate change driven by global heating is at work with other human influences to alter what had for most of human history been a stable pattern of climate.

“In Asia, projected reductions in aerosol emissions, glacier melting in the Himalayas and loss of snow cover in northern areas brought on by climate change will cause the atmosphere to heat up faster than in other regions,” said James Randerson of the University of California, Irvine, one of the authors.

“We know the rainbelt shifts towards this heating, and that its northward movement in the eastern hemisphere is consistent with these expected impacts of climate change.” − Climate News Network

Climate change may soon double the impact of extreme drought and fire. And it’s a two-way traffic.

LONDON, 25 January, 2021 − As climate change threatens a doubling of the impact of extreme drought and fire within a generation, researchers are uncovering the influence of human activity on both these growing risks.

One study has found that human numbers exposed to the hazard of extreme drought are likely to double in the decades to come, as global heating bakes away the groundwater and limits annual snowfall.

Another team of researchers says the risks of extreme wildfire could also rise twofold in the next 40 years in the Mediterranean, southern Africa, eastern North America and the Amazon. In those places already severely scorched by frequent fire − western North America, equatorial Africa, south-east Asia and Australia − hazards could rise by 50%.

And a third, separate study warns that global temperature rise will shift the patterns of rainfall around the tropics − with the consequent risks to tropical crop harvests and to equatorial ecosystems such as rainforest and savannah.

All three studies are reminders of the intricacies of the planetary climate system and the impact of human action in the last hundred years.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

An international research team reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that it looked at the simple problem of global terrestrial water storage: all the moisture in the canopies of forest trees, in the mountain snows and ice, in the lakes, rivers, wetlands, and in the soil itself.

This wealth of stored water is a big player in the patterns of global flooding and drought in the monsoon climates and the arid lands alike. But, the researchers say, there has so far been no study of the potential impact of global climate change on global terrestrial water storage overall.

So researchers from the US, China, Japan and Europe began modelling tomorrow’s world. And they found that, while 3% of the planet’s people were vulnerable to extreme drought in the timespan from 1976 to 2005, later in the century this proportion could increase to 7% or even 8%.

“More and more people will suffer from extreme droughts if a medium-to-high level of global warming continues and water management is maintained in its present state,” warned Yadu Pokhrel, an engineer at Michigan State University, who led the research.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

Fire chances increased

Australia is a southern hemisphere country that knows about water scarcity: its wildfires in 2019 broke all records and sent a vast cloud of smoke to an altitude of 35 kms.

And, on the evidence of a new study in the journal Nature Communications, it won’t be the last such extreme event. Californian scientists, struck by the scale and intensity of Californian wildfires in 2017 and 2018, report that they took a closer look at the way greenhouse gas emissions and human land use change have played into the risks of extreme fire weather.

The simple act of setting forests afire to clear land for farm use has amplified the risk of extreme blazes in the Amazon and North America by 30% in the last century. Fires create aerosols that could, by absorbing sunlight, help cool the terrain beneath them − in some zones. But they could also affect rainfall levels and raise the chances of fire. The nature of such impacts varies from place to place.

“South-east Asia relies on the monsoon, but aerosols cause so much cooling on land that they can actually suppress a monsoon,” said Danielle Touma of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s not just whether you have aerosols or not, it’s the way the regional climate interacts with aerosols.”

Aerosols − with other forces − cannot just suppress a monsoon, they can shift rain patterns permanently. The tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat of the moment.

Drought stress rises

The footprint of extreme drought and fire is massive. Californian researchers report in Nature Climate Change that, across two thirds of the globe, the tropical rainbelt is likely to shift north over eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to cause more drought stress in south-eastern Africa and Madagascar and intensified flooding in south Asia.

In the western hemisphere, however, as the Gulf Stream current and the North Atlantic deep water formation weaken, the rain belt could move south to bring greater drought stress to Central America.

And once again, climate change driven by global heating is at work with other human influences to alter what had for most of human history been a stable pattern of climate.

“In Asia, projected reductions in aerosol emissions, glacier melting in the Himalayas and loss of snow cover in northern areas brought on by climate change will cause the atmosphere to heat up faster than in other regions,” said James Randerson of the University of California, Irvine, one of the authors.

“We know the rainbelt shifts towards this heating, and that its northward movement in the eastern hemisphere is consistent with these expected impacts of climate change.” − Climate News Network

US pays rising costs for climate’s flood damage

America’s rainfall patterns are changing with the global climate − and making catastrophic flood damage even more costly.

LONDON, 21 January, 2021 − Climate change alone has cost the United States a total of $73 billion in flood damage in the last 30 years.

The figure is significant: floods are an expensive fact of life. But Californian scientists are now sure that more than one-third of the costs of US floods must be attributed to the global heating driven by human use of fossil fuels.

The news comes hard on the heels of a second finding: that over the last century, the count of what hydrologists call “extreme streamflow” events in Canada and the US has increased significantly. This confirms that droughts are on the increase − and so are floods.

Such findings matter to engineers and city planners, and to insurers, and each resolves some long-standing uncertainties.

Because floods and droughts are part of the challenge of living close to a constant flow of water, researchers have never been too sure whether costly floods are on the increase or are just more obvious because population growth and urban spread mean that more people with more expensive property are increasingly at risk.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads”

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences settles the matter of rising costs: researchers looked at 6,600 reports of flood damage and rainfall data between 1988 and 2017 and then applied sophisticated mathematical techniques to tease out the contribution from higher precipitation driven by higher average temperatures, driven in turn by ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They decided that of the $199bn flood damage costs during those years, human-triggered climate change could account for 36%.

“The fact that extreme precipitation has been increasing and will likely increase is well-known, but what effect that has had on financial damages has been uncertain,” said Frances Davenport, of Stanford University.

“What we find is that, even in states where long-term mean precipitation hasn’t changed, in most cases the wettest events have intensified, increasing the financial damages relative to what would have occurred without the changes in precipitation.”

Higher temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher temperatures mean a bigger burden of water vapour in the atmosphere. So higher rainfall is inevitable.

Variable impacts

But repeated studies have found this will happen unevenly: those places already rainy will see more rain. Other regions can expect longer, more intense dry spells.

A second team of US researchers reports in the journal Science Advances that they looked at streamflow data from 541 North American stations since 1910.

They found that in the US west and south-east, the frequency of “extreme low-flow events” has been on the increase, particularly during summer and autumn. In zones where rivers were likely to be fed by melting snow, there was a discernible rise in flood events. Once again, this is a finding with practical consequences.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads,” said Evan Dethier, of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “The changes to river flows that we found are important for those who manage or depend on this type of infrastructure.” − Climate News Network

America’s rainfall patterns are changing with the global climate − and making catastrophic flood damage even more costly.

LONDON, 21 January, 2021 − Climate change alone has cost the United States a total of $73 billion in flood damage in the last 30 years.

The figure is significant: floods are an expensive fact of life. But Californian scientists are now sure that more than one-third of the costs of US floods must be attributed to the global heating driven by human use of fossil fuels.

The news comes hard on the heels of a second finding: that over the last century, the count of what hydrologists call “extreme streamflow” events in Canada and the US has increased significantly. This confirms that droughts are on the increase − and so are floods.

Such findings matter to engineers and city planners, and to insurers, and each resolves some long-standing uncertainties.

Because floods and droughts are part of the challenge of living close to a constant flow of water, researchers have never been too sure whether costly floods are on the increase or are just more obvious because population growth and urban spread mean that more people with more expensive property are increasingly at risk.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads”

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences settles the matter of rising costs: researchers looked at 6,600 reports of flood damage and rainfall data between 1988 and 2017 and then applied sophisticated mathematical techniques to tease out the contribution from higher precipitation driven by higher average temperatures, driven in turn by ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They decided that of the $199bn flood damage costs during those years, human-triggered climate change could account for 36%.

“The fact that extreme precipitation has been increasing and will likely increase is well-known, but what effect that has had on financial damages has been uncertain,” said Frances Davenport, of Stanford University.

“What we find is that, even in states where long-term mean precipitation hasn’t changed, in most cases the wettest events have intensified, increasing the financial damages relative to what would have occurred without the changes in precipitation.”

Higher temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher temperatures mean a bigger burden of water vapour in the atmosphere. So higher rainfall is inevitable.

Variable impacts

But repeated studies have found this will happen unevenly: those places already rainy will see more rain. Other regions can expect longer, more intense dry spells.

A second team of US researchers reports in the journal Science Advances that they looked at streamflow data from 541 North American stations since 1910.

They found that in the US west and south-east, the frequency of “extreme low-flow events” has been on the increase, particularly during summer and autumn. In zones where rivers were likely to be fed by melting snow, there was a discernible rise in flood events. Once again, this is a finding with practical consequences.

“The shifts towards more extreme events are especially important given the age of our dams, bridges and roads,” said Evan Dethier, of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “The changes to river flows that we found are important for those who manage or depend on this type of infrastructure.” − Climate News Network

A new city rises in the desert, under a fake moon

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

Overheated Earth can slow plants’ carbon storage

For vast tracts of forest and savannah, the heat could rise too far for plants’ carbon storage abilities to go on working.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 − Climate change could be about to slowly shut down the planet’s most vital life-support ability: the functioning of plants’ carbon storage system, which protects the Earth by absorbing the greenhouse gas before it can enter the atmosphere.

Green things driven by photosynthesis right now soak up around one-third of all the greenhouse gas emitted from vehicle exhausts and power station chimneys. But in the next two or three decades, their capacity to do this could be halved, because rapidly rising atmospheric temperatures will set a limit.

At that limiting point, the ability of forests, grasslands and even crops to capture and hold atmospheric carbon, the nourishment for all life on Earth, will start to diminish.

For one important group of plants − these include rice, soy, pulses, grasses, oaks, pines and so on − photosynthesis happens at a peak rate at 18°C. At higher temperatures, the process becomes less efficient and the plant begins to respire: that is, gulp oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

For a second, smaller group − one that includes maize and sugar cane and just one group of trees − that temperature tipping point is 28°C. And researchers report in the journal Science Advances that, by 2050, temperatures will have risen in ways that will limit the efficiency of photosynthesis by around 45%.

“The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years”

The finding is based not just on computer simulation and theoretical models, but on direct observation. Researchers used directly measured data of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide action from 1991 to 2015 at a network of scientific instruments placed in every major ecosystem around the globe to identify these temperature tipping points.

And they warn that the mean or average temperature for the warmest three months of the year had already passed the thermal maximum for photosynthesis “some time in the last decade.”

Right now, only about a tenth of the forests and grasslands are exposed to temperatures beyond such thresholds, and then only for a short period. But greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and global temperatures continue to soar. In time, half the planet could start to experience such temperatures.

The scientists warn that if humans go on clearing natural forests and burning fossil fuels at the present rates − climate scientists call this the “business-as-usual scenario” − then the capacity of the vegetable world to absorb atmospheric carbon could be almost halved as early as 2040.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change in one way or another was likely to compromise the capacity of some natural ecosystems to go on doing what they have done for the last 10,000 years. But this study is one of the first to consider the green world as a whole.

Capacity halved

“The Earth has a steadily growing fever and, much like the human body, we know every biological process has a range of temperatures at which it performs optimally, and ones above which function deteriorates,” said Katharyn Duffy, of Northern Arizona University, who led the study. “So, we wanted to ask, how much can plants withstand?”

The US scientists and colleagues from New Zealand give their answer to the conundrum of plants’ carbon storage with a clarity and simplicity rare in scientific papers. “The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years,” they warn.

“Without mitigating warming, we will cross the temperature threshold of the most productive biomes by mid-century, after which the land sink will degrade.”

And if the plant world does not adapt, the capacity of the land to absorb surplus atmospheric carbon will drop to around 50% of its present range. And, the scientists warn, the process may not be a smooth, barely-perceptible decline: disturbance in a lot of landscapes could be rapid and precipitous.

They conclude: “Failure to implement agreements that meet or exceed limits in the Paris Accord could quantitatively alter the large and persistent terrestrial carbon sink, on which we currently depend to mitigate anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and therefore global environmental change.” − Climate News Network

For vast tracts of forest and savannah, the heat could rise too far for plants’ carbon storage abilities to go on working.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 − Climate change could be about to slowly shut down the planet’s most vital life-support ability: the functioning of plants’ carbon storage system, which protects the Earth by absorbing the greenhouse gas before it can enter the atmosphere.

Green things driven by photosynthesis right now soak up around one-third of all the greenhouse gas emitted from vehicle exhausts and power station chimneys. But in the next two or three decades, their capacity to do this could be halved, because rapidly rising atmospheric temperatures will set a limit.

At that limiting point, the ability of forests, grasslands and even crops to capture and hold atmospheric carbon, the nourishment for all life on Earth, will start to diminish.

For one important group of plants − these include rice, soy, pulses, grasses, oaks, pines and so on − photosynthesis happens at a peak rate at 18°C. At higher temperatures, the process becomes less efficient and the plant begins to respire: that is, gulp oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

For a second, smaller group − one that includes maize and sugar cane and just one group of trees − that temperature tipping point is 28°C. And researchers report in the journal Science Advances that, by 2050, temperatures will have risen in ways that will limit the efficiency of photosynthesis by around 45%.

“The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years”

The finding is based not just on computer simulation and theoretical models, but on direct observation. Researchers used directly measured data of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide action from 1991 to 2015 at a network of scientific instruments placed in every major ecosystem around the globe to identify these temperature tipping points.

And they warn that the mean or average temperature for the warmest three months of the year had already passed the thermal maximum for photosynthesis “some time in the last decade.”

Right now, only about a tenth of the forests and grasslands are exposed to temperatures beyond such thresholds, and then only for a short period. But greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and global temperatures continue to soar. In time, half the planet could start to experience such temperatures.

The scientists warn that if humans go on clearing natural forests and burning fossil fuels at the present rates − climate scientists call this the “business-as-usual scenario” − then the capacity of the vegetable world to absorb atmospheric carbon could be almost halved as early as 2040.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change in one way or another was likely to compromise the capacity of some natural ecosystems to go on doing what they have done for the last 10,000 years. But this study is one of the first to consider the green world as a whole.

Capacity halved

“The Earth has a steadily growing fever and, much like the human body, we know every biological process has a range of temperatures at which it performs optimally, and ones above which function deteriorates,” said Katharyn Duffy, of Northern Arizona University, who led the study. “So, we wanted to ask, how much can plants withstand?”

The US scientists and colleagues from New Zealand give their answer to the conundrum of plants’ carbon storage with a clarity and simplicity rare in scientific papers. “The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years,” they warn.

“Without mitigating warming, we will cross the temperature threshold of the most productive biomes by mid-century, after which the land sink will degrade.”

And if the plant world does not adapt, the capacity of the land to absorb surplus atmospheric carbon will drop to around 50% of its present range. And, the scientists warn, the process may not be a smooth, barely-perceptible decline: disturbance in a lot of landscapes could be rapid and precipitous.

They conclude: “Failure to implement agreements that meet or exceed limits in the Paris Accord could quantitatively alter the large and persistent terrestrial carbon sink, on which we currently depend to mitigate anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and therefore global environmental change.” − Climate News Network

Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say

Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.

LONDON, 14 January, 2021 − One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

Attempts abandoned

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.

“The technology would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering”

The report also makes clear that the technology has not lived up to expectations. Instead of capturing up to 95% of the carbon from any industrial process, rates have been as low as 65% when they begin and have only gradually improved.

Despite these drawbacks and a number of failed CCS developments in the UK, the British government has just ploughed another £1 billion (US$1.36bn) into more research and development of the technology, and to provide infrastructure. The report says this reliance by government on CCS means it is unlikely to reach its target of zero emissions by 2050.

The report says that CCS features prominently in many energy and climate change scenarios, and in strategies for meeting climate change mitigation targets. These include the approaches backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission, the International Energy Agency and the UK Committee on Climate Change.

But it is apparent that the current trend of CCS deployment worldwide has yet to reach the pace of development necessary for these scenarios to be realised.

If CCS is to have a meaningful role in mitigation, deployment would need to accelerate markedly, the report says.

Policy change needed

Friends of the Earth and Global Witness say that because of the clear failure of the technology to live up to expectations there should be a change of emphasis by governments. Policy should be directed towards renewables, particularly solar, onshore and offshore wind, because they have by contrast exceeded all targets in both cost and deployment and provide real hope of solving the carbon dioxide problem.

These now proven renewable technologies, plus battery and other storage ideas and a much-needed energy efficiency drive, will deliver carbon reductions far more quickly and cheaply, the writers say.

The two organisations add: “It is the cumulative emissions from each year between now and 2030 that will determine whether we are to achieve the Paris 1.5°C goal. With carbon budgets increasingly constrained, the report shows that we cannot expect carbon capture and storage to make a meaningful contribution to 2030 climate targets.

“In this context, fossil fuel CCS is a distraction from the growth of renewable energy, storage and energy efficiency that will be critical to rapidly reducing emissions over the next decade.” − Climate News Network

Carbon capture and storage, trapping carbon before it enters the atmosphere, sounds neat. But many doubt it can ever work.

LONDON, 14 January, 2021 − One of the key technologies that governments hope will help save the planet from dangerous heating, carbon capture and storage, will not work as planned and is a dangerous distraction, a new report says.

Instead of financing a technology they can neither develop in time nor make to work as claimed, governments should concentrate on scaling up proven technologies like renewable energies and energy efficiency, it says.

The report, from Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness, was commissioned by the two groups from researchers at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

CCS, as the technology is known, is designed to strip out carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of industrial processes. These include gas- and coal-fired electricity generating plants, steel-making, and industries including the conversion of natural gas to hydrogen, so that the gas can then be re-classified as a clean fuel.

The CO2 that is removed is converted into a liquid and pumped underground into geological formations that can be sealed for generations to prevent the carbon escaping back into the atmosphere.

Attempts abandoned

It is a complex and expensive process, and many of the schemes proposed in the 1990s have been abandoned as too expensive or too technically difficult.

An overview of the report says: “The technology still faces many barriers, would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale at a scarcely credible rate and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering.”

Currently there are only 26 CCS plants operating globally, capturing about 0.1% of the annual global emissions from fossil fuels.

Ironically, 81% of the carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil from existing wells by pumping the captured carbon into the ground to force more oil out. This means that captured carbon is being used to extract oil that would otherwise have had to be left in the ground.

“The technology would only start to deliver too late, would have to be deployed on a massive scale and has a history of over-promising and under-delivering”

The report also makes clear that the technology has not lived up to expectations. Instead of capturing up to 95% of the carbon from any industrial process, rates have been as low as 65% when they begin and have only gradually improved.

Despite these drawbacks and a number of failed CCS developments in the UK, the British government has just ploughed another £1 billion (US$1.36bn) into more research and development of the technology, and to provide infrastructure. The report says this reliance by government on CCS means it is unlikely to reach its target of zero emissions by 2050.

The report says that CCS features prominently in many energy and climate change scenarios, and in strategies for meeting climate change mitigation targets. These include the approaches backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the European Commission, the International Energy Agency and the UK Committee on Climate Change.

But it is apparent that the current trend of CCS deployment worldwide has yet to reach the pace of development necessary for these scenarios to be realised.

If CCS is to have a meaningful role in mitigation, deployment would need to accelerate markedly, the report says.

Policy change needed

Friends of the Earth and Global Witness say that because of the clear failure of the technology to live up to expectations there should be a change of emphasis by governments. Policy should be directed towards renewables, particularly solar, onshore and offshore wind, because they have by contrast exceeded all targets in both cost and deployment and provide real hope of solving the carbon dioxide problem.

These now proven renewable technologies, plus battery and other storage ideas and a much-needed energy efficiency drive, will deliver carbon reductions far more quickly and cheaply, the writers say.

The two organisations add: “It is the cumulative emissions from each year between now and 2030 that will determine whether we are to achieve the Paris 1.5°C goal. With carbon budgets increasingly constrained, the report shows that we cannot expect carbon capture and storage to make a meaningful contribution to 2030 climate targets.

“In this context, fossil fuel CCS is a distraction from the growth of renewable energy, storage and energy efficiency that will be critical to rapidly reducing emissions over the next decade.” − Climate News Network

Earth is now committed to a 2°C hotter future

2020 matched all global heating records. In 2021 carbon releases will reach a milestone. Soon we face a 2°C hotter future.

LONDON, 12 January, 2021 − We Earthlings are now unmistakably on our way to the global climate we promised barely six years ago we’d never reach − a 2°C hotter future.

Some time this year, thanks to fossil fuel combustion and the destruction of natural ecosystems, the levels of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere will be half as high again as the average for most of human history. That is, they will be more than half-way to doubling.

And the warming already driven by this extra charge of greenhouse gas has reached new heights: 2020, according to one calculation, shares with 2016 the grim accolade of the hottest year in history, at the end of the hottest decade since systematic records began.

A third study warns that yet more warming is now inevitable: the greenhouse gases already released must take average planetary temperatures from the present rise of more than 1°C to beyond 2°C − the limit that 195 nations vowed not to exceed when they met in Paris in 2015.

All three studies are simply progress reports on climate change itself. It is more than a century since scientists began to link carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with planetary temperatures, and more than 50 years since researchers began systematically monitoring atmospheric CO2 at an observatory in Hawaii, and since the first warnings that rising greenhouse gas levels could precipitate potentially catastrophic climate change.

“Our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2°C”

And this year, says the British Met Office, the ratio will creep up by more than 2 parts per million on last year. That will take the average to beyond 417 ppm for a number of weeks this northern hemisphere spring. And that will be 50% higher than the 278 ppm that was the norm at the close of the 18th century, when humans began to exploit coal, oil and gas as global sources of energy.

“The human-caused build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere is accelerating,” said Richard Betts, of the Met Office. “It took over 200 years for levels to increase by 25%, but now, just 30 years later, we are approaching a 50% increase.”

The last six years have all been in the hottest six years ever recorded, European scientists say in their calculations of the planetary pecking order of annual temperatures. It was 0.6°C warmer than the average for the years 1981-2010. And it is fully 1.25°C above the average for 1850 to 1900.

Europe in particular felt the heat: an average of 1.6° higher than the average for 1981 to 2010. And in the Arctic and in Siberia, temperatures were up to 6°C above the average for the same period.

“It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future,” said Carlo Buontempo, who directs Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Delay possible

Carbon dioxide is durable: it stays in the air, and each year’s emissions are added to those of the previous year. To keep the planet’s average temperature to a rise of no more than 1.5°C the ideal of the Paris Accord in 2015 − then nations must bring global emissions to zero within the next 30 years. In fact the limit of 2°C explicit in the Accord must now, and inevitably, be exceeded at some point: there is already enough greenhouse gas in the mix to guarantee that. The big question is: when.

Chinese and US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they looked more closely at the pattern of changes in the planet’s surface temperatures, and the impact of low-level clouds that normally reflect heat back into space. And they see regions that have yet to warm, but must do so sooner or later to raise average global temperatures to levels so far not accounted for.

“The important thing to realise is that this has not happened − it is not in the historical record,” said Chen Zhou of Nanjing University, the lead author. “After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates.”

And his co-author Andrew Dessler, of Texas A&M University, said: “The bad news is that our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2C.”

But this could be delayed by urgent action. “If we can get emissions to net zero soon, it may take centuries to exceed 2°C.” − Climate News Network

2020 matched all global heating records. In 2021 carbon releases will reach a milestone. Soon we face a 2°C hotter future.

LONDON, 12 January, 2021 − We Earthlings are now unmistakably on our way to the global climate we promised barely six years ago we’d never reach − a 2°C hotter future.

Some time this year, thanks to fossil fuel combustion and the destruction of natural ecosystems, the levels of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere will be half as high again as the average for most of human history. That is, they will be more than half-way to doubling.

And the warming already driven by this extra charge of greenhouse gas has reached new heights: 2020, according to one calculation, shares with 2016 the grim accolade of the hottest year in history, at the end of the hottest decade since systematic records began.

A third study warns that yet more warming is now inevitable: the greenhouse gases already released must take average planetary temperatures from the present rise of more than 1°C to beyond 2°C − the limit that 195 nations vowed not to exceed when they met in Paris in 2015.

All three studies are simply progress reports on climate change itself. It is more than a century since scientists began to link carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with planetary temperatures, and more than 50 years since researchers began systematically monitoring atmospheric CO2 at an observatory in Hawaii, and since the first warnings that rising greenhouse gas levels could precipitate potentially catastrophic climate change.

“Our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2°C”

And this year, says the British Met Office, the ratio will creep up by more than 2 parts per million on last year. That will take the average to beyond 417 ppm for a number of weeks this northern hemisphere spring. And that will be 50% higher than the 278 ppm that was the norm at the close of the 18th century, when humans began to exploit coal, oil and gas as global sources of energy.

“The human-caused build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere is accelerating,” said Richard Betts, of the Met Office. “It took over 200 years for levels to increase by 25%, but now, just 30 years later, we are approaching a 50% increase.”

The last six years have all been in the hottest six years ever recorded, European scientists say in their calculations of the planetary pecking order of annual temperatures. It was 0.6°C warmer than the average for the years 1981-2010. And it is fully 1.25°C above the average for 1850 to 1900.

Europe in particular felt the heat: an average of 1.6° higher than the average for 1981 to 2010. And in the Arctic and in Siberia, temperatures were up to 6°C above the average for the same period.

“It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future,” said Carlo Buontempo, who directs Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Delay possible

Carbon dioxide is durable: it stays in the air, and each year’s emissions are added to those of the previous year. To keep the planet’s average temperature to a rise of no more than 1.5°C the ideal of the Paris Accord in 2015 − then nations must bring global emissions to zero within the next 30 years. In fact the limit of 2°C explicit in the Accord must now, and inevitably, be exceeded at some point: there is already enough greenhouse gas in the mix to guarantee that. The big question is: when.

Chinese and US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they looked more closely at the pattern of changes in the planet’s surface temperatures, and the impact of low-level clouds that normally reflect heat back into space. And they see regions that have yet to warm, but must do so sooner or later to raise average global temperatures to levels so far not accounted for.

“The important thing to realise is that this has not happened − it is not in the historical record,” said Chen Zhou of Nanjing University, the lead author. “After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates.”

And his co-author Andrew Dessler, of Texas A&M University, said: “The bad news is that our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2C.”

But this could be delayed by urgent action. “If we can get emissions to net zero soon, it may take centuries to exceed 2°C.” − Climate News Network

Caspian Sea loss puts Asian water supplies at risk

The Caspian Sea’s decline means a climate-led water crisis for at least five Asian nations as inland seas dry up.

LONDON, 7 January, 2021 − The Caspian Sea − the world’s largest lake − is about to go down in the world. And with it could go the fortunes of some of the people of at least five nations. New research suggests that the Caspian Sea, already getting lower at the rate of several centimetres a year, is to go into even faster decline: later this century, it could be nine metres lower than it is now. Or even 18 metres lower.

In the paradoxical world of climate change, sea levels will rise to threaten coastal settlements, but many of the great inland lakes could be doomed to dwindle.

Dutch and German scientists report in the journal Communications Earth & Environment that because more water will evaporate each summer, and less ice will form each winter, the area of the Caspian − it covers 371,000 square kilometres, an area greater than Japan, or Germany − is doomed to shrink at an accelerating rate.

Lakeside communities, ports and industries in Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, all of which border the Caspian, could be left high and dry.

Change required

“If the North Sea were to drop two or three metres, access to ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg and London would be impeded. Fishing boats and container giants alike would struggle, and all the countries of the North Sea would have a huge problem,” said Frank Wesselingh, of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, one of the authors. “Here we are talking about a decrease of no less than nine metres, in the best case scenario.”

His co-author Matthias Prange of the University of Bremen in Germany warned that what happens to the Caspian could and will happen to the great land-locked lakes on other continents. “This has to change. We need more studies and a better understanding of the consequences of global warming in this region.”

This is not the first such warning: although much of the world’s concern has been with the dramatic loss of water from the Aral Sea, researchers have worried about the impact of evaporation on the Caspian too. It may be salty, but it is one of the world’s great inland reservoirs of water for industry, agriculture and human settlement.

It is also host to a vast range of species, including the Caspian seal, an endangered creature that depends on winter ice to protect and rear its pups. Its shallow waters provide food for migrating birds, and serve as spawning grounds for its fish, including the sturgeon endemic to the region.

“If the North Sea were to drop two or three metres, access to ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg and London would be impeded, and all the countries of the North Sea would have a huge problem”

The Caspian Sea’s chief source of water is the Volga River: it has no connection with the ocean. So its water levels depend entirely on rainfall, evaporation and inflow. And in a world of global heating, evaporation is on the increase.

The level of rainfall, on the other hand, is likely to decline: in a world of climate change, those already semi-arid regions can expect to become more parched.

The authors expect these challenges will confront not only the dwellers by the Caspian Sea but also those hundreds of millions who live by, and depend upon, other lakes in Asia, and in Africa and North America. The consequences for these people could be just as devastating as global sea level rise will be for others. They call for higher levels of awareness, and an international task force to help address the problem.

“Immediate and co-ordinated action is needed to make up for valuable time lost,” they write. “The shrinking Caspian Sea might serve as a poster child that will help galvanise such actions.” − Climate News Network

The Caspian Sea’s decline means a climate-led water crisis for at least five Asian nations as inland seas dry up.

LONDON, 7 January, 2021 − The Caspian Sea − the world’s largest lake − is about to go down in the world. And with it could go the fortunes of some of the people of at least five nations. New research suggests that the Caspian Sea, already getting lower at the rate of several centimetres a year, is to go into even faster decline: later this century, it could be nine metres lower than it is now. Or even 18 metres lower.

In the paradoxical world of climate change, sea levels will rise to threaten coastal settlements, but many of the great inland lakes could be doomed to dwindle.

Dutch and German scientists report in the journal Communications Earth & Environment that because more water will evaporate each summer, and less ice will form each winter, the area of the Caspian − it covers 371,000 square kilometres, an area greater than Japan, or Germany − is doomed to shrink at an accelerating rate.

Lakeside communities, ports and industries in Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, all of which border the Caspian, could be left high and dry.

Change required

“If the North Sea were to drop two or three metres, access to ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg and London would be impeded. Fishing boats and container giants alike would struggle, and all the countries of the North Sea would have a huge problem,” said Frank Wesselingh, of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, one of the authors. “Here we are talking about a decrease of no less than nine metres, in the best case scenario.”

His co-author Matthias Prange of the University of Bremen in Germany warned that what happens to the Caspian could and will happen to the great land-locked lakes on other continents. “This has to change. We need more studies and a better understanding of the consequences of global warming in this region.”

This is not the first such warning: although much of the world’s concern has been with the dramatic loss of water from the Aral Sea, researchers have worried about the impact of evaporation on the Caspian too. It may be salty, but it is one of the world’s great inland reservoirs of water for industry, agriculture and human settlement.

It is also host to a vast range of species, including the Caspian seal, an endangered creature that depends on winter ice to protect and rear its pups. Its shallow waters provide food for migrating birds, and serve as spawning grounds for its fish, including the sturgeon endemic to the region.

“If the North Sea were to drop two or three metres, access to ports like Rotterdam, Hamburg and London would be impeded, and all the countries of the North Sea would have a huge problem”

The Caspian Sea’s chief source of water is the Volga River: it has no connection with the ocean. So its water levels depend entirely on rainfall, evaporation and inflow. And in a world of global heating, evaporation is on the increase.

The level of rainfall, on the other hand, is likely to decline: in a world of climate change, those already semi-arid regions can expect to become more parched.

The authors expect these challenges will confront not only the dwellers by the Caspian Sea but also those hundreds of millions who live by, and depend upon, other lakes in Asia, and in Africa and North America. The consequences for these people could be just as devastating as global sea level rise will be for others. They call for higher levels of awareness, and an international task force to help address the problem.

“Immediate and co-ordinated action is needed to make up for valuable time lost,” they write. “The shrinking Caspian Sea might serve as a poster child that will help galvanise such actions.” − Climate News Network

Seven years to ground zero for the climate crisis?

The Earth could cross an ominous temperature threshold in just seven years. A new study cuts the time for drastic action.

LONDON, 4 January, 2021 − Within the next seven years, the world could undergo irretrievable change. It could emit enough greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion to cross the threshold for dangerous global heating in the year 2027.

Or it could exceed what is supposed to be the globally-agreed target for containing catastrophic climate change − just 1.5°C above the average level for most of the last 10,000 years − a little later, in the year 2042.

But on present trends, according to new research, the world is committed, whatever happens, to the crossing of its own threshold for irreversible climate change within that 15-year window.

If that happens, then there is a high probability that some of the politicians and world leaders who, in Paris, in 2015, agreed an almost global accord to contain climate change to “well below” 2°C, will have to address their own failure to make it happen.

For the past forty or more years, campaigners, climate scientists and environmental researchers have repeatedly warned that inaction or sluggish responses to the increasingly ominous threat of climate change would present an increasingly urgent threat to the world, to be inherited by their children and grandchildren.

“With our new climate model and its next generation improvements, there’s less wiggle room”

And over the last decade or so, researchers have stressed the need for more urgent action: one study seven years ago predicted that some regions could be experiencing irreversible climate change by 2020.

Again and again, last year alone, scientists found that conditions initially proposed as the unlikely “worst case outcome” are already taking shape.

On the evidence of the latest study in the journal Climate Dynamics, however, they now have even less time in which to enforce dramatic cuts to fossil fuel use.

The new study is based on a new approach to climate simulation based on computer modelling, claimed by its authors to reduce the ranges of uncertainty that inevitably accompany all predictions of the future.

This uncertainty is a consequence of an as-yet unsolved riddle called climate sensitivity − climate science shorthand for a burning question: how much extra carbon dioxide has to build up in the atmosphere to raise global temperatures by a single degree, or half a degree Celsius?

Direct observations used

The climate models that underlie predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assume that if the atmospheric ratios of carbon dioxide double − historically, these have been at around 285 parts per million, but have now passed 400 ppm − then the world is committed, by the year 2100, to a global temperature increase of at least 1.9°C, and possibly 4.5°C.

But three Canadian scientists suggest another way of modelling the near future: they based their simulation not on the theoretical relationships suggested by atmospheric physics but on historical climate data.

“Our approach allows climate sensitivity and its uncertainty to be estimated from direct observations with few assumptions,” said Raphaël Hébert, once of McGill University in Montreal and now at the Alfred-Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

And a co-author, Shaun Lovejoy of McGill University, warned: “Now that our governments have finally decided to act on climate change, we must avoid situations where leaders can claim that even the weakest policies can avert dangerous consequences.

“With our new climate model and its next generation improvements, there’s less wiggle room.” − Climate News Network

The Earth could cross an ominous temperature threshold in just seven years. A new study cuts the time for drastic action.

LONDON, 4 January, 2021 − Within the next seven years, the world could undergo irretrievable change. It could emit enough greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion to cross the threshold for dangerous global heating in the year 2027.

Or it could exceed what is supposed to be the globally-agreed target for containing catastrophic climate change − just 1.5°C above the average level for most of the last 10,000 years − a little later, in the year 2042.

But on present trends, according to new research, the world is committed, whatever happens, to the crossing of its own threshold for irreversible climate change within that 15-year window.

If that happens, then there is a high probability that some of the politicians and world leaders who, in Paris, in 2015, agreed an almost global accord to contain climate change to “well below” 2°C, will have to address their own failure to make it happen.

For the past forty or more years, campaigners, climate scientists and environmental researchers have repeatedly warned that inaction or sluggish responses to the increasingly ominous threat of climate change would present an increasingly urgent threat to the world, to be inherited by their children and grandchildren.

“With our new climate model and its next generation improvements, there’s less wiggle room”

And over the last decade or so, researchers have stressed the need for more urgent action: one study seven years ago predicted that some regions could be experiencing irreversible climate change by 2020.

Again and again, last year alone, scientists found that conditions initially proposed as the unlikely “worst case outcome” are already taking shape.

On the evidence of the latest study in the journal Climate Dynamics, however, they now have even less time in which to enforce dramatic cuts to fossil fuel use.

The new study is based on a new approach to climate simulation based on computer modelling, claimed by its authors to reduce the ranges of uncertainty that inevitably accompany all predictions of the future.

This uncertainty is a consequence of an as-yet unsolved riddle called climate sensitivity − climate science shorthand for a burning question: how much extra carbon dioxide has to build up in the atmosphere to raise global temperatures by a single degree, or half a degree Celsius?

Direct observations used

The climate models that underlie predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assume that if the atmospheric ratios of carbon dioxide double − historically, these have been at around 285 parts per million, but have now passed 400 ppm − then the world is committed, by the year 2100, to a global temperature increase of at least 1.9°C, and possibly 4.5°C.

But three Canadian scientists suggest another way of modelling the near future: they based their simulation not on the theoretical relationships suggested by atmospheric physics but on historical climate data.

“Our approach allows climate sensitivity and its uncertainty to be estimated from direct observations with few assumptions,” said Raphaël Hébert, once of McGill University in Montreal and now at the Alfred-Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

And a co-author, Shaun Lovejoy of McGill University, warned: “Now that our governments have finally decided to act on climate change, we must avoid situations where leaders can claim that even the weakest policies can avert dangerous consequences.

“With our new climate model and its next generation improvements, there’s less wiggle room.” − Climate News Network

Major US pension fund plans fossil-free future

Goodbye to fossil fuels, says one major US pension fund: they’re no good for either the climate or the economy.

LONDON, 17 December, 2020 − In what’s being billed as “the biggest leap forward worldwide on climate finance action this year,” a major US pension fund has announced plans to move its money out of fossil fuels.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has a portfolio of $226 billion worth of investments under its control. A substantial portion of that cash pile has been invested in the fossil fuel industry, including more than $1bn in the oil giant ExxonMobil.

Tom DiNapoli, the New York State comptroller, who oversees the state’s fiscal affairs, said the retirement fund was pulling its money out of fossil fuels not only for the good of the climate: the move also made financial sense.

“New York State’s pension fund is at the leading edge of investors addressing climate risk because investing for the low-carbon future is essential to protect the fund’s long-term value”, said DiNapoli.

“Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk”

“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk.”

The fund is the third largest public pension fund in the US, investing on behalf of more than a million past and present state and local government employees. Under the fund’s plan, investments in what’s termed the riskiest oil and gas companies will be withdrawn by 2025: by 2040 the fund aims to have no money invested in companies associated with climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

It says it has already withdrawn investments in more than 20 coal companies. Earlier this year, the last remaining coal-fired power plant in New York State closed.

The fund is now reviewing its investments in tar sands projects and plans further analysis of its financial holdings in fracking companies, fossil fuel service groups, oil and gas transport companies and pipeline operations.

Sandy’s warning

Climate activists in New York State have been among those at the forefront of what’s grown into a global campaign aimed at persuading investors to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean, the east coast of the US, and Canada. In the north-east of the US alone more than 60 people died, and the overall cost of the damage caused was estimated at more than $70bn.

In the aftermath of Sandy, a coalition of various organisations, including 350.org, was formed with the aim of persuading institutions – from religious groups to universities to sovereign wealth funds – to withdraw investments in fossil fuel enterprises.

Other organisations, such as the UK-based Fossil Free group, have boosted what is now a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement, which has successfully campaigned for several trillion dollars’ worth of investments to be withdrawn from the fossil fuel industry. − Climate News Network

Goodbye to fossil fuels, says one major US pension fund: they’re no good for either the climate or the economy.

LONDON, 17 December, 2020 − In what’s being billed as “the biggest leap forward worldwide on climate finance action this year,” a major US pension fund has announced plans to move its money out of fossil fuels.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has a portfolio of $226 billion worth of investments under its control. A substantial portion of that cash pile has been invested in the fossil fuel industry, including more than $1bn in the oil giant ExxonMobil.

Tom DiNapoli, the New York State comptroller, who oversees the state’s fiscal affairs, said the retirement fund was pulling its money out of fossil fuels not only for the good of the climate: the move also made financial sense.

“New York State’s pension fund is at the leading edge of investors addressing climate risk because investing for the low-carbon future is essential to protect the fund’s long-term value”, said DiNapoli.

“Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk”

“We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investments’ long-term value at risk.”

The fund is the third largest public pension fund in the US, investing on behalf of more than a million past and present state and local government employees. Under the fund’s plan, investments in what’s termed the riskiest oil and gas companies will be withdrawn by 2025: by 2040 the fund aims to have no money invested in companies associated with climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

It says it has already withdrawn investments in more than 20 coal companies. Earlier this year, the last remaining coal-fired power plant in New York State closed.

The fund is now reviewing its investments in tar sands projects and plans further analysis of its financial holdings in fracking companies, fossil fuel service groups, oil and gas transport companies and pipeline operations.

Sandy’s warning

Climate activists in New York State have been among those at the forefront of what’s grown into a global campaign aimed at persuading investors to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2012 Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean, the east coast of the US, and Canada. In the north-east of the US alone more than 60 people died, and the overall cost of the damage caused was estimated at more than $70bn.

In the aftermath of Sandy, a coalition of various organisations, including 350.org, was formed with the aim of persuading institutions – from religious groups to universities to sovereign wealth funds – to withdraw investments in fossil fuel enterprises.

Other organisations, such as the UK-based Fossil Free group, have boosted what is now a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement, which has successfully campaigned for several trillion dollars’ worth of investments to be withdrawn from the fossil fuel industry. − Climate News Network