Tag Archives: Agriculture

Microbes hold the balance in climate crisis

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

You need powerful microscopes to see microbes. Few microbiologists claim to know much about most of them. But they are vital in the climate crisis.

LONDON, 28 June, 2019 − Thirty scientists from nine nations have issued a challenge to the rest of climate science: don’t forget the microbes.

They argue that research is ignoring the silent, unseen majority that makes up the microbial world. Lifeforms that add up to a huge proportion of living matter on the planet are being largely left out of climate calculations.

Microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years, manipulating sunlight and turning carbon dioxide into carbon-based living tissue, and the mass of all the microbes on the planet probably contains 70 billion tonnes of carbon alone.

They are biodiversity’s bottom line. They are the arbiters of the planet’s resources. They were the first living things on the planet, and will almost certainly be the last survivors.

They are the only living things at vast depths and colossal pressures. Far below the planetary surface, many survive at temperatures beyond boiling point, in lakes composed of alkali, and some can even digest radioactive material.

“The impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future”

They affect the chemistry of the atmosphere, they colonise the intestines of ruminant species to release enormous volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane, they bury carbon at depth and they decompose vegetation to release new atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They support all life, and powerfully affect life’s health. They affect climate change, and in turn they are affected by climate change.

“Micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms that you don’t see on conservation websites”, said Ricardo Cavicchioli, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“They support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change. However they are rarely the focus of climate change studies and policy developments.”

Professor Cavicchioli and colleagues from Germany, the US, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada issue what they call their “consensus statement” in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

Globally important

It is not as if climate researchers are unaware of the microbial connection: there is evidence of the powerful role microscopic life plays in ocean warming and on land.

But the consensus statement says it “documents the central role and global importance of micro-organisms in climate change biology. It also puts humanity on notice that the impact of climate change will depend heavily on the responses of micro-organisms, which are essential for achieving an environmentally sustainable future.”

The scientists want to see more research, closer attention to the microbial underpinning of climate change, and more education. They point out that 90% of the mass of living things in the ocean is microbial. Marine phytoplankton take light energy from the sun, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the basis of the ocean’s life support system. A warming world could mean a diminished ocean food web.

On land, microbes are powerful agencies in both agriculture and disease. “Farming ruminant animals releases vast quantities of methane from the microbes living in their rumen – so decisions about global farming practices need to consider these consequences,” said Professor Cavicchioli.

“And lastly, climate change worsens the impact of pathogenic microbes on animals (including humans) − that’s because climate change is stressing native life, making it easier for pathogens to cause disease.” − Climate News Network

Thirty years to climate meltdown – or not?

For years most of us largely ignored the idea of climate meltdown. Now we’re talking about it. So what should we be doing?

LONDON, 10 June, 2019 − How much of a threat is climate meltdown? Should we treat it as the biggest danger to life in the 21st century, or as one of many problems − serious, but manageable?

A new study says human civilisation itself could pass the point of no return by 2050. The Australian climate think-tank Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration says that unless humanity takes drastic and immediate action to save the climate, a combination of unstable food production, water shortages and extreme weather could lead to the breakdown of global society.

One renowned US climate scientist, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, says that Breakthrough is exaggerating and its report could be counter-productive.

In the UK, though, Mark Maslin of University College London says the report underlines the deep concerns expressed by some security experts.

Act together

Chris Barrie, a retired Royal Australian Navy admiral and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is now an honorary professor at the Australian National University, Canberra.

In a foreword to the Breakthrough study he writes: “We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”

David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director and a co-author of the study, says that “much knowledge produced for policymakers is too conservative,” but that the new paper, by showing the extreme end of what could happen in just the next three decades, aims to make the stakes clear. “The report speaks, in our opinion, a harsh but necessary truth,” he says.

“To reduce this risk and protect human civilisation, a massive global mobilisation of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate,” the report reads. “This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilisation.”

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly”

Breakthrough acknowledges that the worst possibility it foresees − the total collapse of civilisation by mid-century − is an example of a worst-case scenario, but it insists that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change.”

The picture of the possible near future it presents is stark. By 2050, it says, the world could have reached:

  • a 3°C temperature rise, with a further 1°C in store
  • sea levels 0.5 metres above today’s, with a possible eventual rise of 25m
  • 55% of the world’s people subject to more than 20 days a year of heat “beyond the threshold of human survivability”
  • one billion people forced to leave the tropics
  • a 20% decline in crop yields, leaving too little food to feed the world
  • armed conflict likely and nuclear war possible.

The report’s authors conclude: “The scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end.”

Warnings examined

Warnings of the possible end of human civilisation are not new. They range from those which offer highly-qualified hope for humanity’s future to others which find very little to celebrate, even tentatively.

The Breakthrough study fits unequivocally into the second group. To weigh the credibility of some of its statements, the journal New Scientist looks at the sources they cite and the wider context of the claims they make.

Its scrutiny ends with the views of two eminent climate scientists. Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, says: “I respect the authors and appreciate that their intentions are good, but … overblown rhetoric, exaggeration, and unsupportable doomist framing can be counteractive to climate action.”

For his part, Mark Maslin, professor of geography at UCL, tells New Scientist that the Breakthrough report adds to the deep concerns expressed by security experts such as the Pentagon over climate change.

Hope nurtured

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly,” he says.

The 2020 round of UN climate negotiations is due to take place in November next year, with hopes building that many countries will agree then to make much more radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than they have pledged so far.

Altogether 195 countries promised in 2015, in the Paris Agreement, to make the cuts needed to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C, and if possible to stay below a maximum rise of 1.5°C, the levels climate scientists say are the highest that can assure the planet’s safety. But the cuts that many countries have promised so far will not achieve either goal.

Scientists say it is still possible for the world to achieve the 1.5°C limit. But doing so requires immediate emissions cuts, on a scale and at a pace that are not yet in sight − “a very big ‘if’”, as one of them put it. − Climate News Network

For years most of us largely ignored the idea of climate meltdown. Now we’re talking about it. So what should we be doing?

LONDON, 10 June, 2019 − How much of a threat is climate meltdown? Should we treat it as the biggest danger to life in the 21st century, or as one of many problems − serious, but manageable?

A new study says human civilisation itself could pass the point of no return by 2050. The Australian climate think-tank Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration says that unless humanity takes drastic and immediate action to save the climate, a combination of unstable food production, water shortages and extreme weather could lead to the breakdown of global society.

One renowned US climate scientist, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, says that Breakthrough is exaggerating and its report could be counter-productive.

In the UK, though, Mark Maslin of University College London says the report underlines the deep concerns expressed by some security experts.

Act together

Chris Barrie, a retired Royal Australian Navy admiral and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is now an honorary professor at the Australian National University, Canberra.

In a foreword to the Breakthrough study he writes: “We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”

David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director and a co-author of the study, says that “much knowledge produced for policymakers is too conservative,” but that the new paper, by showing the extreme end of what could happen in just the next three decades, aims to make the stakes clear. “The report speaks, in our opinion, a harsh but necessary truth,” he says.

“To reduce this risk and protect human civilisation, a massive global mobilisation of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate,” the report reads. “This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilisation.”

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly”

Breakthrough acknowledges that the worst possibility it foresees − the total collapse of civilisation by mid-century − is an example of a worst-case scenario, but it insists that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change.”

The picture of the possible near future it presents is stark. By 2050, it says, the world could have reached:

  • a 3°C temperature rise, with a further 1°C in store
  • sea levels 0.5 metres above today’s, with a possible eventual rise of 25m
  • 55% of the world’s people subject to more than 20 days a year of heat “beyond the threshold of human survivability”
  • one billion people forced to leave the tropics
  • a 20% decline in crop yields, leaving too little food to feed the world
  • armed conflict likely and nuclear war possible.

The report’s authors conclude: “The scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end.”

Warnings examined

Warnings of the possible end of human civilisation are not new. They range from those which offer highly-qualified hope for humanity’s future to others which find very little to celebrate, even tentatively.

The Breakthrough study fits unequivocally into the second group. To weigh the credibility of some of its statements, the journal New Scientist looks at the sources they cite and the wider context of the claims they make.

Its scrutiny ends with the views of two eminent climate scientists. Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, says: “I respect the authors and appreciate that their intentions are good, but … overblown rhetoric, exaggeration, and unsupportable doomist framing can be counteractive to climate action.”

For his part, Mark Maslin, professor of geography at UCL, tells New Scientist that the Breakthrough report adds to the deep concerns expressed by security experts such as the Pentagon over climate change.

Hope nurtured

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly,” he says.

The 2020 round of UN climate negotiations is due to take place in November next year, with hopes building that many countries will agree then to make much more radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than they have pledged so far.

Altogether 195 countries promised in 2015, in the Paris Agreement, to make the cuts needed to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C, and if possible to stay below a maximum rise of 1.5°C, the levels climate scientists say are the highest that can assure the planet’s safety. But the cuts that many countries have promised so far will not achieve either goal.

Scientists say it is still possible for the world to achieve the 1.5°C limit. But doing so requires immediate emissions cuts, on a scale and at a pace that are not yet in sight − “a very big ‘if’”, as one of them put it. − Climate News Network

Siberia expects mass migration as it warms

Scientists mapping the effects of increased temperature and rainfall across Siberia say it could expect mass migration in a warmer world.

LONDON, 7 June, 2019 − Siberia, currently one of the most sparsely populated places in the northern hemisphere, could become a target for mass migration as the climate warms.

By 2080, scientists report, melting permafrost and warming summer and winter temperatures will mean that agriculture could thrive and support between five and seven times the current population.

Lands to the south are becoming far less able to feed and sustain their existing populations, as heat makes crops harder to grow and cities untenable, and mass migration northward is likely, the scientists predict.

Their study, which is produced by the Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Centre in Siberia and the US National Institute of Aerospace, says the current problem of falling population in Russia will be reversed as conditions in Siberia become much better for growing food, and both summers and winters more pleasant to live in. It is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

With 13 million square kilometres of land area, Asian Russia – east of the Urals, towards the Pacific – accounts for 77% of Russian territory. Its population, however, accounts for just 27% of the country’s people and is concentrated along the forest-steppe in the south, with its comfortable climate and fertile soil.

“In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable”

The findings have a certain irony, because at the close of the Communist era the Soviet government was not keen to take any action on climate change: it saw the warming of Siberia as a chance for the USSR to grow more wheat and challenge US dominance of the world’s grain supply.

The scientists warn, however, that mass migration will not be that simple. The melting of the permafrost threatens what little infrastructure there is in the region. Before a larger population could provide for itself, investments need to be made in new roads, railways and power supplies to support it.

They say warming in the region already exceeds earlier estimates. Depending on how much carbon dioxide humans continue to pump into the atmosphere, the scientists predict mid-winter temperatures over Asian Russia will increase between 3.4°C and 9.1°C by 2080. Increases in mid-summer will be between 1.9°C and 5.7°C, they say.

Permafrost, which currently covers 65% of the region, would fall to 40% by 2080, and crucially there will be increases in rainfall of between 60 mm and 140 mm, making the unfrozen area much more favourable for crops.

Migration ‘probable’

Using something called Ecological Landscape Potential, or ELP, to gauge the potential for land to support human populations, the scientists came to the conclusion that mass migration north was probable.

“We found the ELP would increase over most of Asian Russia, which would lead to a five- to seven-fold increase in the capacity of the territory to sustain and become attractive to human populations, which would then lead to migrations from less sustainable lands to Asian Russia during this century,” they say.

Dr Elena Parfenova, from the Krasnoyarsk centre, said: “In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable to support settlements in what is currently an extremely cold Asian Russia.”

She said that obviously people would flock first to the already developed areas in the south, but most of the area of Siberia and the Far East “have poorly developed infrastructure. The rapidity that these developments occur is dependent on investments in infrastructure and agriculture, which is dependent on the decisions that will be made in the near future.” − Climate News Network

Scientists mapping the effects of increased temperature and rainfall across Siberia say it could expect mass migration in a warmer world.

LONDON, 7 June, 2019 − Siberia, currently one of the most sparsely populated places in the northern hemisphere, could become a target for mass migration as the climate warms.

By 2080, scientists report, melting permafrost and warming summer and winter temperatures will mean that agriculture could thrive and support between five and seven times the current population.

Lands to the south are becoming far less able to feed and sustain their existing populations, as heat makes crops harder to grow and cities untenable, and mass migration northward is likely, the scientists predict.

Their study, which is produced by the Krasnoyarsk Federal Research Centre in Siberia and the US National Institute of Aerospace, says the current problem of falling population in Russia will be reversed as conditions in Siberia become much better for growing food, and both summers and winters more pleasant to live in. It is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

With 13 million square kilometres of land area, Asian Russia – east of the Urals, towards the Pacific – accounts for 77% of Russian territory. Its population, however, accounts for just 27% of the country’s people and is concentrated along the forest-steppe in the south, with its comfortable climate and fertile soil.

“In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable”

The findings have a certain irony, because at the close of the Communist era the Soviet government was not keen to take any action on climate change: it saw the warming of Siberia as a chance for the USSR to grow more wheat and challenge US dominance of the world’s grain supply.

The scientists warn, however, that mass migration will not be that simple. The melting of the permafrost threatens what little infrastructure there is in the region. Before a larger population could provide for itself, investments need to be made in new roads, railways and power supplies to support it.

They say warming in the region already exceeds earlier estimates. Depending on how much carbon dioxide humans continue to pump into the atmosphere, the scientists predict mid-winter temperatures over Asian Russia will increase between 3.4°C and 9.1°C by 2080. Increases in mid-summer will be between 1.9°C and 5.7°C, they say.

Permafrost, which currently covers 65% of the region, would fall to 40% by 2080, and crucially there will be increases in rainfall of between 60 mm and 140 mm, making the unfrozen area much more favourable for crops.

Migration ‘probable’

Using something called Ecological Landscape Potential, or ELP, to gauge the potential for land to support human populations, the scientists came to the conclusion that mass migration north was probable.

“We found the ELP would increase over most of Asian Russia, which would lead to a five- to seven-fold increase in the capacity of the territory to sustain and become attractive to human populations, which would then lead to migrations from less sustainable lands to Asian Russia during this century,” they say.

Dr Elena Parfenova, from the Krasnoyarsk centre, said: “In a future, warmer climate, food security, in terms of crop distribution and production capability, is predicted to become more favourable to support settlements in what is currently an extremely cold Asian Russia.”

She said that obviously people would flock first to the already developed areas in the south, but most of the area of Siberia and the Far East “have poorly developed infrastructure. The rapidity that these developments occur is dependent on investments in infrastructure and agriculture, which is dependent on the decisions that will be made in the near future.” − Climate News Network

Carbon farming can slash CO2 emissions

US entrepreneurs say a new technique − carbon farming, improving the health of the soil − can achieve big cuts in atmospheric carbon.
WASHINGTON DC, 17 May, 2019 − Soil health improvement, a technique known as carbon farming, could cut the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere by more than one-sixth, a US business group says.
It says a concerted effort by the world’s farmers to restore and protect soil health could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by as much as 65 parts per million (ppm) from its current level of more than 415 ppm.
It made the announcement at a webinar on carbon farming which it hosted here in April. A full report of the webinar appears on the website of the The Energy Mix.
The group, the US-based Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), describes itself as “a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors, and professionals from every sector of the economy who advocate … smart policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment”
World leaders … said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”
The total saving of 65 ppm represents the estimated amount of carbon that human activity has removed from the soil since the dawn of industrial agriculture.
But, E2 says, even if its eventual contribution to climate stabilisation falls well short of this figure, drawing attention to soil carbon sequestration could still concentrate minds on a climate solution often neglected in comparison with more complex and often riskier options for emission cuts.
E2 says a critical step in advancing climate-friendly soil health in the US is the ground-breaking Soil Health Demonstration Trial, a carbon farming pilot project that a coalition of farmers, agricultural technology entrepreneurs and environmentalists managed to persuade a deeply divided US Congress to accept in the December 2018 farm bill, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
The idea for the carbon farming pilot emerged in the wake of the UN’s 2016 annual climate conference, known as COP23, held in the German city of Bonn. World leaders there said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”.
Microbial key
Carbon farming depends on the activity of microbes in the soil, says E2. Through photosynthesis, plants remove vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into sugars. They use as much as 30% of these sugars to “recruit and nurture” huge, diverse populations of microbes around their root systems.
The microbes help the plants take up nutrients, retain water and tolerate stress, functioning as a key part of the process by which plants produce the roots and leaves that end up as carbon in the soil. When they die, they deposit huge amounts of carbon in the soil.
Scientists have developed a new microbial soil additive that substantially increased soil carbon sequestration in trial applications to California grapes and citrus fruit in Florida.
In the citrus trial, after scientists treated one acre of land three to four times over the course of a year, soil carbon increased by 32%, to 4.3 tons. Soil greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.33 tons, reckoned to be the rough equivalent of the CO2 produced by driving a car with an internal combustion engine for a whole year.
Depositing four tons of carbon per acre in just 10% of California’s agricultural land, it is estimated, would be the equivalent of taking 4.3 million cars off the road. − Climate News Network

 

* * * * *

The Climate News Network wishes to thank The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions, for permission to publish this slightly adapted version of its original report on carbon farming.

US entrepreneurs say a new technique − carbon farming, improving the health of the soil − can achieve big cuts in atmospheric carbon.
WASHINGTON DC, 17 May, 2019 − Soil health improvement, a technique known as carbon farming, could cut the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere by more than one-sixth, a US business group says.
It says a concerted effort by the world’s farmers to restore and protect soil health could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by as much as 65 parts per million (ppm) from its current level of more than 415 ppm.
It made the announcement at a webinar on carbon farming which it hosted here in April. A full report of the webinar appears on the website of the The Energy Mix.
The group, the US-based Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), describes itself as “a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors, and professionals from every sector of the economy who advocate … smart policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment”
World leaders … said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”
The total saving of 65 ppm represents the estimated amount of carbon that human activity has removed from the soil since the dawn of industrial agriculture.
But, E2 says, even if its eventual contribution to climate stabilisation falls well short of this figure, drawing attention to soil carbon sequestration could still concentrate minds on a climate solution often neglected in comparison with more complex and often riskier options for emission cuts.
E2 says a critical step in advancing climate-friendly soil health in the US is the ground-breaking Soil Health Demonstration Trial, a carbon farming pilot project that a coalition of farmers, agricultural technology entrepreneurs and environmentalists managed to persuade a deeply divided US Congress to accept in the December 2018 farm bill, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
The idea for the carbon farming pilot emerged in the wake of the UN’s 2016 annual climate conference, known as COP23, held in the German city of Bonn. World leaders there said that regenerative agriculture to naturally conserve and protect topsoil and support its fertility and resilience were “a huge carbon capture opportunity”.
Microbial key
Carbon farming depends on the activity of microbes in the soil, says E2. Through photosynthesis, plants remove vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into sugars. They use as much as 30% of these sugars to “recruit and nurture” huge, diverse populations of microbes around their root systems.
The microbes help the plants take up nutrients, retain water and tolerate stress, functioning as a key part of the process by which plants produce the roots and leaves that end up as carbon in the soil. When they die, they deposit huge amounts of carbon in the soil.
Scientists have developed a new microbial soil additive that substantially increased soil carbon sequestration in trial applications to California grapes and citrus fruit in Florida.
In the citrus trial, after scientists treated one acre of land three to four times over the course of a year, soil carbon increased by 32%, to 4.3 tons. Soil greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.33 tons, reckoned to be the rough equivalent of the CO2 produced by driving a car with an internal combustion engine for a whole year.
Depositing four tons of carbon per acre in just 10% of California’s agricultural land, it is estimated, would be the equivalent of taking 4.3 million cars off the road. − Climate News Network

 

* * * * *

The Climate News Network wishes to thank The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions, for permission to publish this slightly adapted version of its original report on carbon farming.

Crops at risk from changing climate

Global warming could bring yet more challenges to a hungry world. New studies have identified precise ways in which a changing climate puts crops at risk.

LONDON, 14 May, 2019 – Climate change is leaving crops at risk. Driven by global warming – and with it ever greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall – the rising mercury can explain up to half of all variations in harvest yields worldwide.

Unusually cold nights, ever greater numbers of extremely hot summer days, weeks with no rainfall, or torrents of storm-driven precipitation, account for somewhere between a fifth to 49% of yield losses for maize, rice, spring wheat and soy beans.

And once international scientists had eliminated the effect of temperature averages across the whole growing season, they still found that heatwaves, drought and torrential downfall accounted for 18% to 43% of losses.

In a second study, US researchers have a warning for the Midwest’s maize farmers: too much rain is just as bad for the harvest as too much heat and a long dry spell.

“While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption … making it critical for food security”

In a third study, British researchers have identified a new climate hazard for one of the tropical world’s staples: climate change has heightened the risk of a devastating fungal infection that is already ravaging banana plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The impact of climate change driven by global warming fuelled by profligate fossil fuel use had been worrying ministries and agricultural researchers for years: more carbon dioxide should and sometimes could mean a greener world.

More warmth and earlier springs mean a longer growing season with lower risks of late frost. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which means ultimately more rainfall.

But the average rise in temperature worldwide of just 1°C in the last century is exactly that: an average. What cities and countryside have observed is an increase both in the number and intensity of potentially lethal heatwaves, of longer and more frequent parching in those landscapes that are normally dry, with heavier downpours in places that can depend on reliable rainfall.

Knowledge allows preparation

In Europe, the US and Africa, researchers have started to measure the cost to the grains, pulses and tubers that feed 7.7 billion people now, and will have to feed 9bn later this century.

Scientists in Australia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the US report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they developed a machine-learning algorithm to make sense of climate data and harvest data collected worldwide from 1961 to 2008.

The aim was to isolate the factors within climate change that might affect harvests, on the principle that if farmers know the hazards, they can prepare.

“Interestingly, we found that the most important climate factors for yield anomalies were related to temperature, not precipitation, as one could expect, with average growing season temperature and temperature extremes playing a dominant role in predicting crop yields,” said Elisabeth Vogel of the University of Melbourne, who led the study.

Big picture reached

Nowhere was this more visible than in the figures for maize yield in Africa. “While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption – compared to just 3% in North America – making it critical for food security in the region.”

Dr Vogel and her colleagues looked at crop yields, mean seasonal temperatures, extremes and regions to arrive at their big picture. But impacts of extremes vary according to region, soil, latitude and other factors too.

US scientists report in the journal Global Change Biology that yield statistics and crop insurance data from 1981 to 2016 on the Midwest maize harvest told them a slightly different story. In some years excessive rain reduced the corn yield by as much as 34%; drought and heat in turn could be linked to losses of 37%. It depended on where the crop was grown.

“As rainfall becomes more extreme, crop insurance needs to evolve to better meet planting challenges faced by farmers,” said Gary Schnitkey of the University of Urbana-Champaign, one of the authors.

Bananas in danger

And British scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that changes in temperature and moisture linked to global warming could be bad for the banana crop.

These have increased the risk of infection by the fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis, or Black Sigatoka disease, by more than 44% in Latin America and the Caribbean. The disease can reduce yield in infected plants by up to 80%.

“Climate change has made temperatures better for spore germination and growth, and made crop canopies wetter, raising the risk of Black Sigatoka infection in many banana-growing areas of Latin America,” said Daniel Bebber, of the University of Exeter.

“While fungus is likely to have been introduced to Honduras on plants imported from Asia for breeding research, our models indicate that climate change over the past 60 years has exacerbated its impact.” – Climate News Network

Global warming could bring yet more challenges to a hungry world. New studies have identified precise ways in which a changing climate puts crops at risk.

LONDON, 14 May, 2019 – Climate change is leaving crops at risk. Driven by global warming – and with it ever greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall – the rising mercury can explain up to half of all variations in harvest yields worldwide.

Unusually cold nights, ever greater numbers of extremely hot summer days, weeks with no rainfall, or torrents of storm-driven precipitation, account for somewhere between a fifth to 49% of yield losses for maize, rice, spring wheat and soy beans.

And once international scientists had eliminated the effect of temperature averages across the whole growing season, they still found that heatwaves, drought and torrential downfall accounted for 18% to 43% of losses.

In a second study, US researchers have a warning for the Midwest’s maize farmers: too much rain is just as bad for the harvest as too much heat and a long dry spell.

“While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption … making it critical for food security”

In a third study, British researchers have identified a new climate hazard for one of the tropical world’s staples: climate change has heightened the risk of a devastating fungal infection that is already ravaging banana plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The impact of climate change driven by global warming fuelled by profligate fossil fuel use had been worrying ministries and agricultural researchers for years: more carbon dioxide should and sometimes could mean a greener world.

More warmth and earlier springs mean a longer growing season with lower risks of late frost. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which means ultimately more rainfall.

But the average rise in temperature worldwide of just 1°C in the last century is exactly that: an average. What cities and countryside have observed is an increase both in the number and intensity of potentially lethal heatwaves, of longer and more frequent parching in those landscapes that are normally dry, with heavier downpours in places that can depend on reliable rainfall.

Knowledge allows preparation

In Europe, the US and Africa, researchers have started to measure the cost to the grains, pulses and tubers that feed 7.7 billion people now, and will have to feed 9bn later this century.

Scientists in Australia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the US report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they developed a machine-learning algorithm to make sense of climate data and harvest data collected worldwide from 1961 to 2008.

The aim was to isolate the factors within climate change that might affect harvests, on the principle that if farmers know the hazards, they can prepare.

“Interestingly, we found that the most important climate factors for yield anomalies were related to temperature, not precipitation, as one could expect, with average growing season temperature and temperature extremes playing a dominant role in predicting crop yields,” said Elisabeth Vogel of the University of Melbourne, who led the study.

Big picture reached

Nowhere was this more visible than in the figures for maize yield in Africa. “While Africa’s share of global maize production may be small, the largest part of that production goes to human consumption – compared to just 3% in North America – making it critical for food security in the region.”

Dr Vogel and her colleagues looked at crop yields, mean seasonal temperatures, extremes and regions to arrive at their big picture. But impacts of extremes vary according to region, soil, latitude and other factors too.

US scientists report in the journal Global Change Biology that yield statistics and crop insurance data from 1981 to 2016 on the Midwest maize harvest told them a slightly different story. In some years excessive rain reduced the corn yield by as much as 34%; drought and heat in turn could be linked to losses of 37%. It depended on where the crop was grown.

“As rainfall becomes more extreme, crop insurance needs to evolve to better meet planting challenges faced by farmers,” said Gary Schnitkey of the University of Urbana-Champaign, one of the authors.

Bananas in danger

And British scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B that changes in temperature and moisture linked to global warming could be bad for the banana crop.

These have increased the risk of infection by the fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis, or Black Sigatoka disease, by more than 44% in Latin America and the Caribbean. The disease can reduce yield in infected plants by up to 80%.

“Climate change has made temperatures better for spore germination and growth, and made crop canopies wetter, raising the risk of Black Sigatoka infection in many banana-growing areas of Latin America,” said Daniel Bebber, of the University of Exeter.

“While fungus is likely to have been introduced to Honduras on plants imported from Asia for breeding research, our models indicate that climate change over the past 60 years has exacerbated its impact.” – Climate News Network

Irish schools fail to teach climate change

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network

Students at Irish schools are being let down by the country’s education system, say lawmakers demanding full climate change literacy.

DUBLIN, 10 May, 2019 − There’s a yawning gap in Irish schools, say the country’s legislators: they’re just not telling the new generation what it needs to know about climate change, although young people in many countries are on the march, protesting against governments’ inaction on the mounting problems associated with the issue.

Inspired in part by the actions of people like Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has very publicly challenged world leaders to act to prevent climate meltdown, the young around the world are demanding urgent action.

This movement has come about almost entirely on young peoples’ own initiative; in many countries there is still a serious lack in the education system of any information on climate change.

In Ireland – a country where leading government officials have been forced to admit their failure to tackle climate change – students are given little or no guidance on the subject.

Climate competence needed

Now a hard-hitting report by the Oireachtas – or Parliament – Joint Committee on Climate Action (JCCA), an all-party group, says that must change. Schools, says the report, must ensure that the next generation is fully literate on the subject of climate change.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change and geography, a critical subject for engaging in the topic, has been removed as a core subject at Junior Certificate level.

“There are insufficient opportunities in the formal education system to learn about or to act on climate change”, says the report.

Ireland, a relatively sparsely populated country with little heavy industry, is among the worst performers in the European Union on climate change.

The report says the country’s emissions of highly damaging greenhouse gases are still at 1990 levels; a fast-expanding cattle population is responsible for producing a large amount of GHGs. Inadequate action on tackling GHG emissions in the housing and transport sectors is also to blame for Ireland’s bad performance.

“The current curriculums do not focus enough on climate change … Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”

The JCCA study says that in tandem with more emphasis being placed on issues associated with global warming in the education system, there should also be public information campaigns, and state-funded media should be more vocal on the subject.

Met Eireann, the state meteorological service, should play a greater role and be more proactive on the issue, says the report.

The state’s response to a warming world has been insufficient, says the JCCA; urgent action must be taken. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem”, says the report.

Changes in climate are affecting Ireland in several ways, some big, some small. The Irish Times reports that the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn in Irish waters are at their lowest level since records were first compiled.

Scottish parallel

Similar declines have been reported in Scotland, where the survival of wild salmon is said to be “at crisis point.”

In one of nature’s great migrations, mature wild salmon swim many hundreds of miles through the ocean to lay their eggs where they first began life. In the 1970s, 1.7 million salmon were recorded returning to Irish rivers. That number has now dropped to about 200,000.

Dr Ciarán Byrne, CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland, says the decline in numbers is due to several factors, including climate change. Rising temperatures at sea could be influencing migration patterns.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be encouraging the growth of sea lice, which attach themselves to the salmon, ultimately causing their death. − Climate News Network

Humans drive sixth mass extinction wave

For the sixth time since life on Earth began, scientists say, mass extinction is a threat. This time, though, is different. The cause is us.

LONDON, 7 May, 2019 − About one million of the world’s animal and plant species are now at risk of extinction − the largest number in human history ever to be facing the threat of oblivion, scientists say. Many species could be wiped out within decades. And their plight is caused by humans, and will inevitably affect us too.

The warning was delivered by a British scientist, Professor Sir Robert Watson, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), speaking in the French capital, Paris.

He told an IPBES meeting held to approve the summary of its new global assessment report on the state of life on Earth that the implications for human life were grave. The overwhelming evidence gathered in the assessment presented “an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed, This loss is a direct result of human activity … ”

But Professor Watson, a previous chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not preach despair. Despite the “truly unsustainable rate” of species loss that would affect human wellbeing for this generation and for its descendants, despite the accelerating pace of extinction, he believes there is still hope.

“We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development. It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” Transformative change, system-wide and including goals and values, could allow humankind to restore nature and to use it sustainably, he said.

In an unusually forthright challenge to individuals, businesses and governments which continue to question or ignore the findings of science in pursuit of their own interests, Professor Watson, a globally-renowned environment scientist, acknowledged that that sort of change “can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo”. Such opposition “can be overcome for the broader public good”, he added.

The assessment report’s findings make spine-chilling reading. It says the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibians and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insects, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.

Global impact

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, one of the co-chairs of the global assessment, of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany . “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

The summary says there are five main causes of the crisis. In descending order they are: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

It adds plenty of detail:

•Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities

•More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production

•Raw timber demand has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577bn in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss, and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection

•Since 1980 plastic pollution has increased tenfold

•Since 1992 urban areas have more than doubled

•In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels.

.Numbers unknown

Scientists point out that unlike the five earlier great waves of extinction to have occurred on the planet, this one is human-driven. IPBES has explained simply and clearly that humankind and its activities are responsible for what is happening, and that we shall have to pay the price.

IPBES has also succeeded in diagnosing the extent of the crisis overwhelming the natural world with a new degree of precision, despite the fact that nobody can say with any certainty how many species the Earth contains.

The Paris meeting approved the 40-page summary of the full IPBES report, which will be published later this year. At the end of 2020 two conferences, on the natural world and climate change, will provide global leaders with an opportunity to make specific plans for action.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), the group whose protests in April brought traffic in parts of London to a halt for a week and which is active in several other countries as well, is known for its vociferous demands for steps to tackle climate change.

It is careful to spell out its insistence that climate change and the fate of the natural world are twin threats, of equal gravity and urgency. − Climate News Network

For the sixth time since life on Earth began, scientists say, mass extinction is a threat. This time, though, is different. The cause is us.

LONDON, 7 May, 2019 − About one million of the world’s animal and plant species are now at risk of extinction − the largest number in human history ever to be facing the threat of oblivion, scientists say. Many species could be wiped out within decades. And their plight is caused by humans, and will inevitably affect us too.

The warning was delivered by a British scientist, Professor Sir Robert Watson, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), speaking in the French capital, Paris.

He told an IPBES meeting held to approve the summary of its new global assessment report on the state of life on Earth that the implications for human life were grave. The overwhelming evidence gathered in the assessment presented “an ominous picture. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed, This loss is a direct result of human activity … ”

But Professor Watson, a previous chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not preach despair. Despite the “truly unsustainable rate” of species loss that would affect human wellbeing for this generation and for its descendants, despite the accelerating pace of extinction, he believes there is still hope.

“We are in trouble if we don’t act, but there are a range of actions that can be taken to protect nature and meet human goals for health and development. It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” Transformative change, system-wide and including goals and values, could allow humankind to restore nature and to use it sustainably, he said.

In an unusually forthright challenge to individuals, businesses and governments which continue to question or ignore the findings of science in pursuit of their own interests, Professor Watson, a globally-renowned environment scientist, acknowledged that that sort of change “can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo”. Such opposition “can be overcome for the broader public good”, he added.

The assessment report’s findings make spine-chilling reading. It says the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibians and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insects, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened.

Global impact

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, one of the co-chairs of the global assessment, of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany . “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

The summary says there are five main causes of the crisis. In descending order they are: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of animals and plants; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

It adds plenty of detail:

•Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities

•More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production

•Raw timber demand has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577bn in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss, and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection

•Since 1980 plastic pollution has increased tenfold

•Since 1992 urban areas have more than doubled

•In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels.

.Numbers unknown

Scientists point out that unlike the five earlier great waves of extinction to have occurred on the planet, this one is human-driven. IPBES has explained simply and clearly that humankind and its activities are responsible for what is happening, and that we shall have to pay the price.

IPBES has also succeeded in diagnosing the extent of the crisis overwhelming the natural world with a new degree of precision, despite the fact that nobody can say with any certainty how many species the Earth contains.

The Paris meeting approved the 40-page summary of the full IPBES report, which will be published later this year. At the end of 2020 two conferences, on the natural world and climate change, will provide global leaders with an opportunity to make specific plans for action.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), the group whose protests in April brought traffic in parts of London to a halt for a week and which is active in several other countries as well, is known for its vociferous demands for steps to tackle climate change.

It is careful to spell out its insistence that climate change and the fate of the natural world are twin threats, of equal gravity and urgency. − Climate News Network

UK climate emergency is official policy

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Extreme heat is growing threat to harvests

A warmer world means more chance of extreme heat in more than one continent at the same time, and a rising threat to global food security.

LONDON, 17 April, 2019 − Ever-higher average global temperatures mean more intense extreme heat over ever-wider regions.

When the planet becomes on average 1.5°C warmer than it was for most of human history, then for two out of every three years, one-fourth of the northern hemisphere will experience the kind of blistering heat waves recorded in 2018.

And should planetary average temperatures creep up by 2°C – the maximum proposed by 195 nations at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 – then the probability rises to 100%. That is, extreme heat over a large area of the hemisphere will be guaranteed every summer.

Heat extremes are all too often accompanied by devastating thunderstorms or extended drought and massive outbreaks of wildfire, with potentially disastrous consequences for harvests in the blighted regions.

“Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland”

In 2018, people died of heatstroke, roads and even rails started to melt, forests went up in flames, and power generation systems sometimes failed, not just in one region but in a number in the temperate zones and the Arctic at the same time.

Between May and July, 22% of agricultural land and crowded cities of the northern half of the globe were hit simultaneously by extended periods of extreme heat. In all, 17 countries were affected, from Canada and the US across the Atlantic and Pacific to Russia, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, temperatures in the rivers Rhine and Elbe reached such heights that fish suffocated; there were wildfires in Sweden, Latvia and Greece and record temperatures in Germany.

“Without climate change that can be explained by human activity, we wouldn’t have such a large area being simultaneously affected by heat as we did in 2018,” said Martha Vogel, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who presented her findings at a press conference held by the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Serious impacts

The reasoning and methodology have yet to be published, but the authors say their paper is in review for the journal Earth’s Future. “If in future more and more key agricultural regions and densely populated areas are affected by simultaneous heatwaves, this would have severe consequences.”

Other research teams have already warned that global warming could bring a repeat of the simultaneous drought and heat outbreaks across the world that triggered calamitous famines in Asia and Africa between 1875 and 1878.

They have repeatedly warned of potentially catastrophic levels of heat that could arrive with increasing frequency to claim greater numbers of lives especially when accompanied by extreme levels of humidity.

The Swiss scientists focussed on data from agricultural regions and busy urban areas above latitude 30° for the years 1958 to 2018 to find occasions of heat extremes in more than one region and then used computer modelling to simulate probabilities as average planetary temperatures continued to grow.

Poor are hardest-hit

The choice of agricultural areas was purposeful: in such scenarios where more than one region suffers harvest failures, food prices begin to soar. In the 2010 heatwave, Russia ended all its wheat exports and prices in Pakistan rose by 16%, with harsh consequences for the poorest. Governments, agriculture ministries and international aid agencies need to be prepared.

“Such incidents cannot be resolved by individual countries acting on their own. Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland,” said Sonia Seneviratne, an ETH climate scientist who has also shared in the study.

“We are already clearly feeling the effects just from the one degree that global average temperature has risen since the pre-industrial era.” − Climate News Network

A warmer world means more chance of extreme heat in more than one continent at the same time, and a rising threat to global food security.

LONDON, 17 April, 2019 − Ever-higher average global temperatures mean more intense extreme heat over ever-wider regions.

When the planet becomes on average 1.5°C warmer than it was for most of human history, then for two out of every three years, one-fourth of the northern hemisphere will experience the kind of blistering heat waves recorded in 2018.

And should planetary average temperatures creep up by 2°C – the maximum proposed by 195 nations at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 – then the probability rises to 100%. That is, extreme heat over a large area of the hemisphere will be guaranteed every summer.

Heat extremes are all too often accompanied by devastating thunderstorms or extended drought and massive outbreaks of wildfire, with potentially disastrous consequences for harvests in the blighted regions.

“Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland”

In 2018, people died of heatstroke, roads and even rails started to melt, forests went up in flames, and power generation systems sometimes failed, not just in one region but in a number in the temperate zones and the Arctic at the same time.

Between May and July, 22% of agricultural land and crowded cities of the northern half of the globe were hit simultaneously by extended periods of extreme heat. In all, 17 countries were affected, from Canada and the US across the Atlantic and Pacific to Russia, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, temperatures in the rivers Rhine and Elbe reached such heights that fish suffocated; there were wildfires in Sweden, Latvia and Greece and record temperatures in Germany.

“Without climate change that can be explained by human activity, we wouldn’t have such a large area being simultaneously affected by heat as we did in 2018,” said Martha Vogel, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who presented her findings at a press conference held by the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Serious impacts

The reasoning and methodology have yet to be published, but the authors say their paper is in review for the journal Earth’s Future. “If in future more and more key agricultural regions and densely populated areas are affected by simultaneous heatwaves, this would have severe consequences.”

Other research teams have already warned that global warming could bring a repeat of the simultaneous drought and heat outbreaks across the world that triggered calamitous famines in Asia and Africa between 1875 and 1878.

They have repeatedly warned of potentially catastrophic levels of heat that could arrive with increasing frequency to claim greater numbers of lives especially when accompanied by extreme levels of humidity.

The Swiss scientists focussed on data from agricultural regions and busy urban areas above latitude 30° for the years 1958 to 2018 to find occasions of heat extremes in more than one region and then used computer modelling to simulate probabilities as average planetary temperatures continued to grow.

Poor are hardest-hit

The choice of agricultural areas was purposeful: in such scenarios where more than one region suffers harvest failures, food prices begin to soar. In the 2010 heatwave, Russia ended all its wheat exports and prices in Pakistan rose by 16%, with harsh consequences for the poorest. Governments, agriculture ministries and international aid agencies need to be prepared.

“Such incidents cannot be resolved by individual countries acting on their own. Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland,” said Sonia Seneviratne, an ETH climate scientist who has also shared in the study.

“We are already clearly feeling the effects just from the one degree that global average temperature has risen since the pre-industrial era.” − Climate News Network

Restoring forests rules out growing crops

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network