Tag Archives: Carbon Dioxide

Corporate climate polluters must pay for damage

Who should pay the huge costs of climate change’s damage? There’s a case for corporate climate polluters to contribute.

LONDON, 25 February, 2021 − The world’s big oil and mining companies emit vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

By extension, the actions of these corporate giants stand accused of contributing to floods and droughts and other climate-related disasters around the globe, extremely costly in both human and financial terms.

Our suggestion, which we describe as “a hypothetical climate liability regime”, is for the companies to become at least partially liable to pay for their destructive, climate-changing activities.

Investors should also be made aware of the risks involved in putting money into such enterprises. Only then will a realistic market valuation of these companies be calculated.

We examined nine top-emitting publicly-owned companies – all fossil fuel giants: Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Total are all primarily involved in oil.

Whilst Peabody Energy is one of the world’s biggest coal conglomerates, BHP Billiton is a mining behemoth and CNX Resources is a large gas company.

Cumulative emissions

In mid-2018 these nine companies had a combined market capitalisation  of US$1,358bn on the world’s stock markets. In total we estimate that the cumulative emissions of the companies concerned over an extended period of time have added up to 14.5% of total global emissions.

Analysing the occurrence of floods and droughts around the globe over a recent five-year period, it was calculated the costs totaled US$265bn.

If a liability regime was introduced, the nine companies above would stand to pay up to a 14.5% share of those costs – amounting to US$38.4bn, a figure representing 2.8% of their combined market worth.

Floods and droughts occurred before global warming, so only the additional intensity or frequency of flood and drought damages from company emissions matter – an active area of research.

How much should fossil fuel users pay as a share of responsibility? We explore this too. Not all is down to the users, but neither is all of it the responsibility of the producers. Even after allowing for both, we still suggest that 2.0% of their combined market worth might be a “fair” share.

Further impacts

If other impacts of global warming, such as hurricanes and sea-level rise, were taken into account, these companies would have to contribute much larger sums to pay for the damage caused.

Our calculations are based only on historical emissions: we do not take into account the damage, both in human and financial terms, likely to be caused by the activities of the companies concerned as global warming intensifies.

More than 50 years ago it became clear that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were damaging the climate.

The leading carbon producers could see their activities were harmful and that they had a responsibility to reduce the damage caused by capturing emissions or developing safe substitutes, such as carbon-free energy.

Instead, fossil fuel firms ignored their responsibilities, and promoted climate denial.

Public pressure grows

If these and other companies became liable for the damage caused by their emissions, investors could well think again before putting their money into such enterprises.

The City of New York is taking steps to remove fossil fuel companies from its US$189bn pension fund portfolio. Other investment funds – both big and small – are following the New York pension fund lead in the face of mounting public pressure aimed at supporting more sustainable enterprises.

Investors are also becoming increasingly aware of the growing financial risks of investing in companies founded on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

The value of these conglomerates could rapidly decline if they became liable for their past emissions: new regulations aimed at tackling the climate crisis could result in corporate fossil fuel reserves being left in the ground as so-called stranded assets. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Quintin Rayer, the lead author of this article, founded P1 Investment Management’s ethical and sustainable investment proposition in January 2017. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and a Chartered Fellow of the CISI, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Dr Karsten Haustein, PhD (Barcelona), one of his co-authors, is a Research Associate, Climate Systems and Policy, at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Dr Pete Walton, also a co-author, is a Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow at UKCIP, University of Oxford, where he works with a range of stakeholders in the UK and abroad in understanding how to build resilience to climate change.

The project of which this article is a summary is due to be published as a chapter in Water Risk and Its Impact on the Financial Markets and Our Society: New Developments in Risk Assessment and Management, forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. Current title: Global Warming: Flood and Drought Investment Risks

Dr Rayer and Dr Haustein contributed to Global Warming and Extreme Weather Investment Risks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Who should pay the huge costs of climate change’s damage? There’s a case for corporate climate polluters to contribute.

LONDON, 25 February, 2021 − The world’s big oil and mining companies emit vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

By extension, the actions of these corporate giants stand accused of contributing to floods and droughts and other climate-related disasters around the globe, extremely costly in both human and financial terms.

Our suggestion, which we describe as “a hypothetical climate liability regime”, is for the companies to become at least partially liable to pay for their destructive, climate-changing activities.

Investors should also be made aware of the risks involved in putting money into such enterprises. Only then will a realistic market valuation of these companies be calculated.

We examined nine top-emitting publicly-owned companies – all fossil fuel giants: Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Total are all primarily involved in oil.

Whilst Peabody Energy is one of the world’s biggest coal conglomerates, BHP Billiton is a mining behemoth and CNX Resources is a large gas company.

Cumulative emissions

In mid-2018 these nine companies had a combined market capitalisation  of US$1,358bn on the world’s stock markets. In total we estimate that the cumulative emissions of the companies concerned over an extended period of time have added up to 14.5% of total global emissions.

Analysing the occurrence of floods and droughts around the globe over a recent five-year period, it was calculated the costs totaled US$265bn.

If a liability regime was introduced, the nine companies above would stand to pay up to a 14.5% share of those costs – amounting to US$38.4bn, a figure representing 2.8% of their combined market worth.

Floods and droughts occurred before global warming, so only the additional intensity or frequency of flood and drought damages from company emissions matter – an active area of research.

How much should fossil fuel users pay as a share of responsibility? We explore this too. Not all is down to the users, but neither is all of it the responsibility of the producers. Even after allowing for both, we still suggest that 2.0% of their combined market worth might be a “fair” share.

Further impacts

If other impacts of global warming, such as hurricanes and sea-level rise, were taken into account, these companies would have to contribute much larger sums to pay for the damage caused.

Our calculations are based only on historical emissions: we do not take into account the damage, both in human and financial terms, likely to be caused by the activities of the companies concerned as global warming intensifies.

More than 50 years ago it became clear that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were damaging the climate.

The leading carbon producers could see their activities were harmful and that they had a responsibility to reduce the damage caused by capturing emissions or developing safe substitutes, such as carbon-free energy.

Instead, fossil fuel firms ignored their responsibilities, and promoted climate denial.

Public pressure grows

If these and other companies became liable for the damage caused by their emissions, investors could well think again before putting their money into such enterprises.

The City of New York is taking steps to remove fossil fuel companies from its US$189bn pension fund portfolio. Other investment funds – both big and small – are following the New York pension fund lead in the face of mounting public pressure aimed at supporting more sustainable enterprises.

Investors are also becoming increasingly aware of the growing financial risks of investing in companies founded on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

The value of these conglomerates could rapidly decline if they became liable for their past emissions: new regulations aimed at tackling the climate crisis could result in corporate fossil fuel reserves being left in the ground as so-called stranded assets. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Quintin Rayer, the lead author of this article, founded P1 Investment Management’s ethical and sustainable investment proposition in January 2017. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and a Chartered Fellow of the CISI, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Dr Karsten Haustein, PhD (Barcelona), one of his co-authors, is a Research Associate, Climate Systems and Policy, at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Dr Pete Walton, also a co-author, is a Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow at UKCIP, University of Oxford, where he works with a range of stakeholders in the UK and abroad in understanding how to build resilience to climate change.

The project of which this article is a summary is due to be published as a chapter in Water Risk and Its Impact on the Financial Markets and Our Society: New Developments in Risk Assessment and Management, forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. Current title: Global Warming: Flood and Drought Investment Risks

Dr Rayer and Dr Haustein contributed to Global Warming and Extreme Weather Investment Risks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network

Recovering atmospheric carbon can make new fuel

Taking atmospheric carbon dioxide from the air to make fuel could tackle two threats: greenhouse gases and oil shortage.

LONDON, 4 February, 2021 − British scientists have worked out a way of recovering atmospheric carbon, meaning they can conjure aviation jet fuel from thin air, using an inexpensive catalyst to turn carbon dioxide into a range of hydrocarbons so far produced from crude oil.

More than 6,000 miles to the east, chemists have produced an aerogel, one kilogramme of which is capable of producing − again just from the ambient air − 17 litres of fresh water in a day.

Both these solutions to a growing demand for fuel and water are only at the demonstration stage. Commercial production is a long way off.

Both are yet more evidence of the enormous ingenuity and invention at work in the world’s laboratories and universities as they address the energy dilemma: how to power human society without generating the greenhouse gases that could also − through climate change driven by global heating − ultimately destroy it.

“[This is] a vision for the route to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from aviation; a fulcrum of a future global zero-carbon aviation sector”

For years researchers have addressed one power paradox: that the world is driven by fossil fuels which in combustion emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But fossil fuels are already fashioned − over millions of years − from organic material composed ultimately of carbon dioxide.

That is: all hydrocarbons must have once just been the greenhouse gas. So there might just be a clever way to shorten the process, and turn atmospheric carbon directly into butane or ethylene or kerosene.

Researchers from Oxford University report in the journal Nature Communications that with help from an organic compound − they used citric acid − they have fashioned a catalyst from iron, manganese and potassium that could directly convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons very like jet fuel, with a bonus of ethylene and other products important to the petrochemical industry as well.

The researchers call their work “a significant advance” and a vision for “the route to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from aviation; a fulcrum of a future global zero-carbon aviation sector.”

Renewable water supply

The air we breathe is not just oxygen, nitrogen, argon and carbon dioxide: it also contains colossal amounts of water vapour, enough to fill 500 thousand billion Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore report in the journal Science Advances that they have fashioned an aerogel − think of a jelly made from air rather than water − that of itself collects water molecules from the air, condenses them into a liquid and releases the water: 95% of the vapour that goes in is released as water.

It needs no power source, the water meets World Health Organisation standards for drinking water, and in laboratory tests one aerogel sample went on for months.

Since vapour is constantly renewed by sun-driven evaporation, once again, the water supply becomes renewable. The next step is to find an industrial partner and a market where clean water is scarce. − Climate News Network

Taking atmospheric carbon dioxide from the air to make fuel could tackle two threats: greenhouse gases and oil shortage.

LONDON, 4 February, 2021 − British scientists have worked out a way of recovering atmospheric carbon, meaning they can conjure aviation jet fuel from thin air, using an inexpensive catalyst to turn carbon dioxide into a range of hydrocarbons so far produced from crude oil.

More than 6,000 miles to the east, chemists have produced an aerogel, one kilogramme of which is capable of producing − again just from the ambient air − 17 litres of fresh water in a day.

Both these solutions to a growing demand for fuel and water are only at the demonstration stage. Commercial production is a long way off.

Both are yet more evidence of the enormous ingenuity and invention at work in the world’s laboratories and universities as they address the energy dilemma: how to power human society without generating the greenhouse gases that could also − through climate change driven by global heating − ultimately destroy it.

“[This is] a vision for the route to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from aviation; a fulcrum of a future global zero-carbon aviation sector”

For years researchers have addressed one power paradox: that the world is driven by fossil fuels which in combustion emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But fossil fuels are already fashioned − over millions of years − from organic material composed ultimately of carbon dioxide.

That is: all hydrocarbons must have once just been the greenhouse gas. So there might just be a clever way to shorten the process, and turn atmospheric carbon directly into butane or ethylene or kerosene.

Researchers from Oxford University report in the journal Nature Communications that with help from an organic compound − they used citric acid − they have fashioned a catalyst from iron, manganese and potassium that could directly convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons very like jet fuel, with a bonus of ethylene and other products important to the petrochemical industry as well.

The researchers call their work “a significant advance” and a vision for “the route to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from aviation; a fulcrum of a future global zero-carbon aviation sector.”

Renewable water supply

The air we breathe is not just oxygen, nitrogen, argon and carbon dioxide: it also contains colossal amounts of water vapour, enough to fill 500 thousand billion Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore report in the journal Science Advances that they have fashioned an aerogel − think of a jelly made from air rather than water − that of itself collects water molecules from the air, condenses them into a liquid and releases the water: 95% of the vapour that goes in is released as water.

It needs no power source, the water meets World Health Organisation standards for drinking water, and in laboratory tests one aerogel sample went on for months.

Since vapour is constantly renewed by sun-driven evaporation, once again, the water supply becomes renewable. The next step is to find an industrial partner and a market where clean water is scarce. − Climate News Network

Overheated Earth can slow plants’ carbon storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capacity halved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capacity halved

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

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

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

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

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

Carbon capture and storage won’t work, critics say

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attempts abandoned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy change needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attempts abandoned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy change needed

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

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

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

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

Earth is now committed to a 2°C hotter future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delay possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delay possible

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

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

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

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

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

Seven years to ground zero for the climate crisis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct observations used

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct observations used

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

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

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

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

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

Chile’s waste bus changes throw-away societies

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

More carbon may benefit trees less than thought

Earlier tree growth results from more atmospheric carbon. It may mean earlier leaf fall too, muddying climate calculations.

LONDON, 4 December, 2020 − As springs arrive earlier, and the growing season gets longer with ever-milder winters, Swiss scientists have identified a paradox: global warming driven by more carbon in ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions could actually trigger unexpectedly earlier autumn leaf change.

So even as winters get later, milder and shorter, that glorious display of autumn colour in leaves as they turn old and die could arrive a little ahead of time.

So far the finding, based on computer simulation, is tentative, applying only to observed deciduous forests in central Europe. But if confirmed, and if it matches reality more widely across the planet, then it may mean that the forests of the world actually start to take up less carbon than climate scientists had calculated.

In effect, this could prove to be another mechanism with which climate change driven by global heating could actually permit further heating, if only because trees − as agencies to absorb atmospheric carbon − might find that more carbon in the atmosphere simply means they take up all they can absorb earlier in the extended growing season.

For the moment, a higher ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, driven by ever-greater reliance on fossil fuels, has simply extended the active life of a deciduous tree. Spring in Europe now arrives two weeks earlier than it did 100 years ago, and autumn senescence about six days later.

Absorption controlled

It is a given of climate science that forest growth absorbs vast levels of atmospheric carbon that would otherwise accelerate global heating. And it has been a consistent finding that more atmospheric carbon seems to fertilise and intensify green growth wherever plants can survive.

But a new study in the journal Science by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, now known as ETH Zurich, suggests that the mechanisms that regulate plant growth in deciduous forests might subtly control the levels of carbon that a tree can absorb.

Phenology is the science of when things happen in the natural world − first bud, flowering and first leaf and so on − and the scientists could call on timed records of 434,226 observations at 3,855 locations in central Europe, of six species of tree.

They developed a model of autumn phenology that accounted for all the factors that must influence plant growth − atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, summer temperatures, daylight length and rainfall among them.

“Seasonal CO2 uptake will probably increase to a lesser degree with rising temperatures than older models predicted”

They tested their simulation on the evidence so far, to find that their model predicted the timing of leaf senescence between 1948 and 2015 with up to 42% more accuracy than any previous models. And then they extended it to a warmer world.

Until now, researchers have assumed that by the end of the century autumn senescence will be happening two or even three weeks later. “Our new model suggests the contrary. If photosynthesis continues to increase, leaves will senesce three to six days earlier than they do today,” said Deborah Zani, first author.

“This means that the growing season will be extended by only eight to 12 days by the end of the century, around two or three times less than we previously thought.”

Research like this is a reminder of the migraine-inducing challenge climate scientists forever face, of calculating the global carbon budget. This is the traffic of carbon from fossil fuels to humans and then to vegetation, sediments and ocean.

Smaller carbon appetite

It is a rule of thumb that green foliage “fixes” vast quantities of carbon every year and stores a big percentage of that for a very long time, in timber, roots and soil. So the preservation and extension of the world’s great forests is part of the climate plan. Researchers from ETH Zurich even calculated that massive global planting could dramatically reduce atmospheric carbon ratios.

And while there is plenty of evidence that higher levels of carbon can fertilise growth, the outcomes are not simple. With more carbon comes more heat to increase drought and dangers of fire; heat itself can affect germination and there is evidence that overall, trees may be growing shorter and dying younger in a world of climate change.

Confronted with a forest of puzzles, researchers simply have to go back to the basics of how trees manage life’s ever-changing challenges. And on the evidence of the latest study, it seems that in those years with extra photosynthesis in spring and summer, leaf senescence begins earlier.

Ten per cent more sunlight means a burst of photosynthetic activity that will advance senescence by as many as eight days. It is as if each oak tree, beech, birch, chestnut, rowan or larch knew it had only so much carbon to fix and, when it had done, went into an earlier dormancy.

Which could mean that temperate forests have a limited appetite for atmospheric carbon. “Seasonal CO2 uptake will probably increase to a lesser degree with rising temperatures than older models predicted,” said Constantin Zohner, co-author and also from ETH Zurich. − Climate News Network

Earlier tree growth results from more atmospheric carbon. It may mean earlier leaf fall too, muddying climate calculations.

LONDON, 4 December, 2020 − As springs arrive earlier, and the growing season gets longer with ever-milder winters, Swiss scientists have identified a paradox: global warming driven by more carbon in ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions could actually trigger unexpectedly earlier autumn leaf change.

So even as winters get later, milder and shorter, that glorious display of autumn colour in leaves as they turn old and die could arrive a little ahead of time.

So far the finding, based on computer simulation, is tentative, applying only to observed deciduous forests in central Europe. But if confirmed, and if it matches reality more widely across the planet, then it may mean that the forests of the world actually start to take up less carbon than climate scientists had calculated.

In effect, this could prove to be another mechanism with which climate change driven by global heating could actually permit further heating, if only because trees − as agencies to absorb atmospheric carbon − might find that more carbon in the atmosphere simply means they take up all they can absorb earlier in the extended growing season.

For the moment, a higher ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, driven by ever-greater reliance on fossil fuels, has simply extended the active life of a deciduous tree. Spring in Europe now arrives two weeks earlier than it did 100 years ago, and autumn senescence about six days later.

Absorption controlled

It is a given of climate science that forest growth absorbs vast levels of atmospheric carbon that would otherwise accelerate global heating. And it has been a consistent finding that more atmospheric carbon seems to fertilise and intensify green growth wherever plants can survive.

But a new study in the journal Science by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, now known as ETH Zurich, suggests that the mechanisms that regulate plant growth in deciduous forests might subtly control the levels of carbon that a tree can absorb.

Phenology is the science of when things happen in the natural world − first bud, flowering and first leaf and so on − and the scientists could call on timed records of 434,226 observations at 3,855 locations in central Europe, of six species of tree.

They developed a model of autumn phenology that accounted for all the factors that must influence plant growth − atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, summer temperatures, daylight length and rainfall among them.

“Seasonal CO2 uptake will probably increase to a lesser degree with rising temperatures than older models predicted”

They tested their simulation on the evidence so far, to find that their model predicted the timing of leaf senescence between 1948 and 2015 with up to 42% more accuracy than any previous models. And then they extended it to a warmer world.

Until now, researchers have assumed that by the end of the century autumn senescence will be happening two or even three weeks later. “Our new model suggests the contrary. If photosynthesis continues to increase, leaves will senesce three to six days earlier than they do today,” said Deborah Zani, first author.

“This means that the growing season will be extended by only eight to 12 days by the end of the century, around two or three times less than we previously thought.”

Research like this is a reminder of the migraine-inducing challenge climate scientists forever face, of calculating the global carbon budget. This is the traffic of carbon from fossil fuels to humans and then to vegetation, sediments and ocean.

Smaller carbon appetite

It is a rule of thumb that green foliage “fixes” vast quantities of carbon every year and stores a big percentage of that for a very long time, in timber, roots and soil. So the preservation and extension of the world’s great forests is part of the climate plan. Researchers from ETH Zurich even calculated that massive global planting could dramatically reduce atmospheric carbon ratios.

And while there is plenty of evidence that higher levels of carbon can fertilise growth, the outcomes are not simple. With more carbon comes more heat to increase drought and dangers of fire; heat itself can affect germination and there is evidence that overall, trees may be growing shorter and dying younger in a world of climate change.

Confronted with a forest of puzzles, researchers simply have to go back to the basics of how trees manage life’s ever-changing challenges. And on the evidence of the latest study, it seems that in those years with extra photosynthesis in spring and summer, leaf senescence begins earlier.

Ten per cent more sunlight means a burst of photosynthetic activity that will advance senescence by as many as eight days. It is as if each oak tree, beech, birch, chestnut, rowan or larch knew it had only so much carbon to fix and, when it had done, went into an earlier dormancy.

Which could mean that temperate forests have a limited appetite for atmospheric carbon. “Seasonal CO2 uptake will probably increase to a lesser degree with rising temperatures than older models predicted,” said Constantin Zohner, co-author and also from ETH Zurich. − Climate News Network

Dubai heads backwards to its clean energy future

A clean energy future is what Dubai says it’s aiming for. So why has it built a huge new coal-burning power station?

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − Dubai, surrounded by desert but with its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, beach resorts and kilometres of shopping malls, promotes itself as a city with a clean energy future.

Yet when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by climate change, the Gulf state is going smartly backwards.

Within the next few months, what will be the Gulf’s first coal-fired power plant will start operations in the desert south of Dubai city.

The 2,400 MW Hassyan coal plant, when fully operational in 2023, aims to supply up to 20% of Dubai’s electricity, a big step towards a clean energy future.

The state-controlled Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) describes the project as a clean coal facility fitted with the latest technology, including facilities for carbon capture and storage – the aim being to bury harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the plant deep underground.

“Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried way of coping with carbon emissions”

But a number of questions surround the plant’s operations. Under the Dubai clean energy strategy 2050, unveiled five years ago, the emirate aims to turn itself into what it calls a global clean energy centre by mid-century, with Dubai city having the smallest carbon footprint of any urban centre in the world.

As part of its clean energy future strategy, Dubai aims to produce 75% of its energy from what it calls clean sources by 2050.

Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. No matter what equipment and technology is installed at the Hassyan plant, substantial carbon emissions will be produced.

Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried and disputed way of coping with carbon emissions: many power firms have shied away from implementing projects due to their complexity and great expense.

Cheaper solar

Then there is the question of the cost of the Dubai coal project. The Hassyan plant has a price tag of US$3.4bn (£2.5bn). Under prices agreed four years ago, DEWA agreed to buy electricity from Hassyan for about 5 US cents (£0.04) per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Since then solar power has expanded considerably in the emirate – with prices dropping to less that 2 US cents per kWh.

At present the bulk of Dubai’s electricity is sourced from gas-powered plants. Part of the reasoning behind the Hassyan project was worries over dependence on imports of gas from Qatar – now at loggerheads with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Though it awaits development, one of the world’s biggest gas fields was recently discovered in Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

While many global financial institutions have turned their backs on funding for coal plants, China continues to be one of the biggest sponsors of coal projects around the world. China’s banks, including the state-owned Bank of China, have given loans to the Hassyan plant.

Much of the construction work there will be carried out by Chinese companies, including the giant Harbin Electrical International group.

Gulf penguins

Per capita emissions of climate-changing CO2 gases in Dubai and its fellow United Arab Emirates (UAE) states are among the highest in the world.

In order to meet ever-growing power needs, the first nuclear plant in the Arab world began operations in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi in August this year. The Barakah nuclear plant came on stream three years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

And despite the talk of reducing emissions and clean energy targets, Dubai is still one of the most energy-wasteful territories on the planet: its desalination plants, air-conditioned shopping malls, skyscraper office blocks and luxury hotels use enormous amounts of energy, making a clean energy future a very ambitious goal.

The desert city even has an enclosed snow and ski complex, complete with a 1.5km ski slope – and penguins. − Climate News Network

A clean energy future is what Dubai says it’s aiming for. So why has it built a huge new coal-burning power station?

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − Dubai, surrounded by desert but with its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, beach resorts and kilometres of shopping malls, promotes itself as a city with a clean energy future.

Yet when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by climate change, the Gulf state is going smartly backwards.

Within the next few months, what will be the Gulf’s first coal-fired power plant will start operations in the desert south of Dubai city.

The 2,400 MW Hassyan coal plant, when fully operational in 2023, aims to supply up to 20% of Dubai’s electricity, a big step towards a clean energy future.

The state-controlled Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) describes the project as a clean coal facility fitted with the latest technology, including facilities for carbon capture and storage – the aim being to bury harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the plant deep underground.

“Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried way of coping with carbon emissions”

But a number of questions surround the plant’s operations. Under the Dubai clean energy strategy 2050, unveiled five years ago, the emirate aims to turn itself into what it calls a global clean energy centre by mid-century, with Dubai city having the smallest carbon footprint of any urban centre in the world.

As part of its clean energy future strategy, Dubai aims to produce 75% of its energy from what it calls clean sources by 2050.

Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. No matter what equipment and technology is installed at the Hassyan plant, substantial carbon emissions will be produced.

Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried and disputed way of coping with carbon emissions: many power firms have shied away from implementing projects due to their complexity and great expense.

Cheaper solar

Then there is the question of the cost of the Dubai coal project. The Hassyan plant has a price tag of US$3.4bn (£2.5bn). Under prices agreed four years ago, DEWA agreed to buy electricity from Hassyan for about 5 US cents (£0.04) per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Since then solar power has expanded considerably in the emirate – with prices dropping to less that 2 US cents per kWh.

At present the bulk of Dubai’s electricity is sourced from gas-powered plants. Part of the reasoning behind the Hassyan project was worries over dependence on imports of gas from Qatar – now at loggerheads with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Though it awaits development, one of the world’s biggest gas fields was recently discovered in Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

While many global financial institutions have turned their backs on funding for coal plants, China continues to be one of the biggest sponsors of coal projects around the world. China’s banks, including the state-owned Bank of China, have given loans to the Hassyan plant.

Much of the construction work there will be carried out by Chinese companies, including the giant Harbin Electrical International group.

Gulf penguins

Per capita emissions of climate-changing CO2 gases in Dubai and its fellow United Arab Emirates (UAE) states are among the highest in the world.

In order to meet ever-growing power needs, the first nuclear plant in the Arab world began operations in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi in August this year. The Barakah nuclear plant came on stream three years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

And despite the talk of reducing emissions and clean energy targets, Dubai is still one of the most energy-wasteful territories on the planet: its desalination plants, air-conditioned shopping malls, skyscraper office blocks and luxury hotels use enormous amounts of energy, making a clean energy future a very ambitious goal.

The desert city even has an enclosed snow and ski complex, complete with a 1.5km ski slope – and penguins. − Climate News Network