Tag Archives: Carbon Dioxide

UK urged to remove carbon from gas

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

World is halfway through its hottest decade

Things are warming up: already the world is halfway through its hottest decade on record, if predictions prove correct.

LONDON, 13 February, 2019 – Here is a climate forecast that climate scientists, meteorologists, politicians, voters and even climate sceptics can check: the next five years will be warm, and will probably help to complete the hottest decade ever.

They will on a global average be at least 1°C higher than the average temperature of the planet 200 years ago, before the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels.

That is because the planet is already midway through what may well prove to be its warmest 10 years since records began on a planetary scale in 1850. There is even a possibility that within the next five years, the global temperature rise could tip 1.5°C above the long-term average for human history.

This is the ambitious limit to global warming that the world set itself at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, for the year 2100.

And the forecasters can make such predictions with some confidence because tomorrow’s temperature chart is already inscribed in the air we breathe: the pattern of warming over the last century is consistent with the steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and these are still increasing because fossil fuel use is still going up.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C”

Adam Scaife, who heads long-range prediction research at the UK Met Office, said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level.

“The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”

Climate is what people can reasonably bank on; weather is what they get. The forecast is significant because it is evidence of swelling confidence in the understanding of global warming and climate change science.

Climate researchers began warning at least 40 years ago of the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change: they were, at the time, unwilling to link any single weather event – flood, drought, windstorm or heat wave – to long-term global warming as a consequence of the steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, released from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts.

Possible catastrophe predicted

Not any more: in 2013, one group of geographers in Hawaii even predicted the possible onset of catastrophic climate change in some regions of the globe as early as 2020.

And the Met Office prediction is accompanied by a danger that – for a short while at least – the global increase could reach or exceed the level that 195 nations in Paris agreed would be potentially disastrous for human civilisation.

“A run of temperatures of 1.0°C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” said Doug Smith, a researcher at the Met Office. “Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C.”

Global temperatures in 2018 were around 0.91°C above the long-term average. This would make 2018 the fourth warmest year ever, although oceanographers recently warned that the oceans – and 70% of the planet is covered by ocean – reached their warmest ever in 2018.

Almost imperceptible

The three warmest years on record are 2015, 2016 and 2017. Climate scientists – and health chiefs – have consistently warned that the average global increase is at almost imperceptible pace, and is a trend rather than a year-on-year rise. This made it possible for some to argue about the interpretation of the data, and to even claim that global warming had paused.

But within this slow increase in average temperatures, there has been a pattern of increasing extremes of rainfall and temperature with the threat of increasingly frequent and potentially lethal heat waves to come.

And, researchers warned recently, the changes seem inexorable: by multiplying in number to more than 7bn in two centuries, by clearing forests and by burning fossil fuels, humans have managed to reverse a long-term climate trend and make the future uncomfortably hot.

A third UK researcher, Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia’s Cllimatic Research Unit, spelled it out: “The warmth of 2018 is in line with the long-term warming trend driven by the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Things are warming up: already the world is halfway through its hottest decade on record, if predictions prove correct.

LONDON, 13 February, 2019 – Here is a climate forecast that climate scientists, meteorologists, politicians, voters and even climate sceptics can check: the next five years will be warm, and will probably help to complete the hottest decade ever.

They will on a global average be at least 1°C higher than the average temperature of the planet 200 years ago, before the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels.

That is because the planet is already midway through what may well prove to be its warmest 10 years since records began on a planetary scale in 1850. There is even a possibility that within the next five years, the global temperature rise could tip 1.5°C above the long-term average for human history.

This is the ambitious limit to global warming that the world set itself at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, for the year 2100.

And the forecasters can make such predictions with some confidence because tomorrow’s temperature chart is already inscribed in the air we breathe: the pattern of warming over the last century is consistent with the steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and these are still increasing because fossil fuel use is still going up.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C”

Adam Scaife, who heads long-range prediction research at the UK Met Office, said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level.

“The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”

Climate is what people can reasonably bank on; weather is what they get. The forecast is significant because it is evidence of swelling confidence in the understanding of global warming and climate change science.

Climate researchers began warning at least 40 years ago of the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change: they were, at the time, unwilling to link any single weather event – flood, drought, windstorm or heat wave – to long-term global warming as a consequence of the steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, released from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts.

Possible catastrophe predicted

Not any more: in 2013, one group of geographers in Hawaii even predicted the possible onset of catastrophic climate change in some regions of the globe as early as 2020.

And the Met Office prediction is accompanied by a danger that – for a short while at least – the global increase could reach or exceed the level that 195 nations in Paris agreed would be potentially disastrous for human civilisation.

“A run of temperatures of 1.0°C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” said Doug Smith, a researcher at the Met Office. “Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C.”

Global temperatures in 2018 were around 0.91°C above the long-term average. This would make 2018 the fourth warmest year ever, although oceanographers recently warned that the oceans – and 70% of the planet is covered by ocean – reached their warmest ever in 2018.

Almost imperceptible

The three warmest years on record are 2015, 2016 and 2017. Climate scientists – and health chiefs – have consistently warned that the average global increase is at almost imperceptible pace, and is a trend rather than a year-on-year rise. This made it possible for some to argue about the interpretation of the data, and to even claim that global warming had paused.

But within this slow increase in average temperatures, there has been a pattern of increasing extremes of rainfall and temperature with the threat of increasingly frequent and potentially lethal heat waves to come.

And, researchers warned recently, the changes seem inexorable: by multiplying in number to more than 7bn in two centuries, by clearing forests and by burning fossil fuels, humans have managed to reverse a long-term climate trend and make the future uncomfortably hot.

A third UK researcher, Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia’s Cllimatic Research Unit, spelled it out: “The warmth of 2018 is in line with the long-term warming trend driven by the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Ambitious Danish island ends fossil fuel use

A small Danish island ends fossil fuel use by combining ambitious aims with ensuring that local people have a say in cleaner replacements.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 Tackling climate change is urgent. It’s too urgent to be feasible, say some critics. But as one Danish island ends fossil fuel use, its story shows it  may be time to think again.

In five years, by 2023, the UK Met Office says, global warming could temporarily rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed by 195 governments in 2015. So the world needs to switch fast from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The island of Samsø, off Denmark’s east coast, has wasted no time. Between 1998 and 2007 it abandoned its total dependence on imported fossil fuels and now relies entirely on renewables, mainly wind and biomass. It’s been singled out as the world’s first 100% renewable island by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), which says Samsø can teach the world some vital lessons about changing fast and radically.

In 1997 Samsø, with 4,000 inhabitants, entered a Danish government competition to develop a model renewable energy community, aiming to prove that the country’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 21% was achievable.

Samsø’s winning proposal was based on strong community engagement and a cooperative ownership strategy. It showed how to make renewables a social, economic and energy success.

“Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible”

With wind power now projected to be Europe’s biggest energy source by 2027, the RTA says, one essential element in making it work successfully is how it is managed − and Samsø is a trailblazer.

What the islanders did was straightforward enough. By the year 2000 they had installed 11 wind turbines, covering their electricity needs. A further 10 offshore turbines were erected in 2002, generating enough energy to offset emissions from their cars, buses, tractors and the ferry to the mainland. Three-quarters of their heating and hot water now comes from biomass boilers fuelled with locally grown straw.

Samsø’s transition, the Alliance says, proved that a wholesale shift to renewable energy was possible with existing technology and limited government assistance.

Nowadays, residents are producing so much more clean energy than they need (and exporting what they don’t use) that, in effect, they have an average annual CO2 footprint of minus 12 tonnes per person, helping their fellow citizens to lower their emissions too (the average Dane emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 a year, the average Briton 10 tonnes).

Active buy-in

Samsø, the argument runs, proves the effectiveness of setting ambitious targets – and meeting them. The Alliance says Samsø’s transition is impressive because it was achieved with the active buy-in (both figuratively and financially) of the local community.

Winning hearts and minds was crucial. People often oppose on-shore wind turbines as a visual intrusion, a blot on the landscape. So the transition organisers, Samsø Energy Academy, worked out how to include the islanders as the turbines’ owners.

They had a simple principle: if you could see a turbine from your window, you could sign on as a co-investor, meaning that anyone living with the technology had a stake in it and stood to.benefit

With so many islanders having a direct stake in the turbines there is now near unanimity that the renewable transition has been good for Samsø. Of the 11 onshore turbines, nine are owned privately by local farmers and two by local cooperatives. Five of the offshore turbines are owned by the municipality, three privately and two cooperatively by small shareholders.

Sceptical island

Before the transition began Samsø had relied mainly on oil, with its electricity generated in coal-fired power plants on the mainland. The potential for renewables had not been explored, and there was deep scepticism towards them. A lack of opportunities for education and work had led many young people to leave the island.

The islanders embraced the transition, but not because of climate change. Instead, most looked to its potential to provide jobs, strengthen the local economy and secure greater energy independence.

Key to Samsø’s success, the Alliance believes, was the insistence on transparency, consultation, and starting from what people wanted. From the start there was full disclosure of information, with the master plan published in the island’s library and information shared through the local newspaper and discussed in detail at regular community meetings.

Samsø’s long tradition of agricultural cooperatives also helped to ensure strong local engagement. There was ample time for discussion and decision-making, which helped to build confidence and a strong sense of collective ownership of decisions.

Listening to doubters

Sometimes the organisers’ focus on flexibility and committment to meeting local expectations came at a price. One site planned for an onshore turbine, for example, aroused concerns from birdwatchers, church members and holiday home owners.

So the plans were changed, even though this meant choosing another site where turbine installation was more difficult and less energy could be generated.

The Alliance says: “This meant that the community felt genuine ownership over the siting of the wind turbines, which helped to dispel any negative feelings around them.”

It draws another lesson from Samsø, too. The transition to 100% renewables was achieved, the RTA believes, because the Danish government had an ambitious mission, which everyone wanted to realise:

It says: “Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible.” − 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.

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

A small Danish island ends fossil fuel use by combining ambitious aims with ensuring that local people have a say in cleaner replacements.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 Tackling climate change is urgent. It’s too urgent to be feasible, say some critics. But as one Danish island ends fossil fuel use, its story shows it  may be time to think again.

In five years, by 2023, the UK Met Office says, global warming could temporarily rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed by 195 governments in 2015. So the world needs to switch fast from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The island of Samsø, off Denmark’s east coast, has wasted no time. Between 1998 and 2007 it abandoned its total dependence on imported fossil fuels and now relies entirely on renewables, mainly wind and biomass. It’s been singled out as the world’s first 100% renewable island by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), which says Samsø can teach the world some vital lessons about changing fast and radically.

In 1997 Samsø, with 4,000 inhabitants, entered a Danish government competition to develop a model renewable energy community, aiming to prove that the country’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 21% was achievable.

Samsø’s winning proposal was based on strong community engagement and a cooperative ownership strategy. It showed how to make renewables a social, economic and energy success.

“Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible”

With wind power now projected to be Europe’s biggest energy source by 2027, the RTA says, one essential element in making it work successfully is how it is managed − and Samsø is a trailblazer.

What the islanders did was straightforward enough. By the year 2000 they had installed 11 wind turbines, covering their electricity needs. A further 10 offshore turbines were erected in 2002, generating enough energy to offset emissions from their cars, buses, tractors and the ferry to the mainland. Three-quarters of their heating and hot water now comes from biomass boilers fuelled with locally grown straw.

Samsø’s transition, the Alliance says, proved that a wholesale shift to renewable energy was possible with existing technology and limited government assistance.

Nowadays, residents are producing so much more clean energy than they need (and exporting what they don’t use) that, in effect, they have an average annual CO2 footprint of minus 12 tonnes per person, helping their fellow citizens to lower their emissions too (the average Dane emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 a year, the average Briton 10 tonnes).

Active buy-in

Samsø, the argument runs, proves the effectiveness of setting ambitious targets – and meeting them. The Alliance says Samsø’s transition is impressive because it was achieved with the active buy-in (both figuratively and financially) of the local community.

Winning hearts and minds was crucial. People often oppose on-shore wind turbines as a visual intrusion, a blot on the landscape. So the transition organisers, Samsø Energy Academy, worked out how to include the islanders as the turbines’ owners.

They had a simple principle: if you could see a turbine from your window, you could sign on as a co-investor, meaning that anyone living with the technology had a stake in it and stood to.benefit

With so many islanders having a direct stake in the turbines there is now near unanimity that the renewable transition has been good for Samsø. Of the 11 onshore turbines, nine are owned privately by local farmers and two by local cooperatives. Five of the offshore turbines are owned by the municipality, three privately and two cooperatively by small shareholders.

Sceptical island

Before the transition began Samsø had relied mainly on oil, with its electricity generated in coal-fired power plants on the mainland. The potential for renewables had not been explored, and there was deep scepticism towards them. A lack of opportunities for education and work had led many young people to leave the island.

The islanders embraced the transition, but not because of climate change. Instead, most looked to its potential to provide jobs, strengthen the local economy and secure greater energy independence.

Key to Samsø’s success, the Alliance believes, was the insistence on transparency, consultation, and starting from what people wanted. From the start there was full disclosure of information, with the master plan published in the island’s library and information shared through the local newspaper and discussed in detail at regular community meetings.

Samsø’s long tradition of agricultural cooperatives also helped to ensure strong local engagement. There was ample time for discussion and decision-making, which helped to build confidence and a strong sense of collective ownership of decisions.

Listening to doubters

Sometimes the organisers’ focus on flexibility and committment to meeting local expectations came at a price. One site planned for an onshore turbine, for example, aroused concerns from birdwatchers, church members and holiday home owners.

So the plans were changed, even though this meant choosing another site where turbine installation was more difficult and less energy could be generated.

The Alliance says: “This meant that the community felt genuine ownership over the siting of the wind turbines, which helped to dispel any negative feelings around them.”

It draws another lesson from Samsø, too. The transition to 100% renewables was achieved, the RTA believes, because the Danish government had an ambitious mission, which everyone wanted to realise:

It says: “Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible.” − 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.

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.

Energy from greenhouse gases is possible

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Human carbon emissions to rise in 2019

Here comes another dismal science forecast, with human carbon emissions due to rise this year. Forests may be unable to keep pace as global warming increases.

LONDON, 31 January, 2019 − Stand by for a year in which global warming can only get worse as human carbon emissions climb still further. British meteorologists warn that although 2018 broke all records for greenhouse gas emissions, 2019 will see even more carbon dioxide take up long-term residence in the planetary atmosphere.

And it will happen for two reasons, both of them nominally at least under human control. The overall release of carbon dioxide from power stations, factory chimneys, cement quarries, car exhausts and so on will continue to rise with fossil fuel combustion, even though there has been greater investment than ever in renewable resources such as wind and solar energy.

And those natural “sinks” that absorb extra carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it as living timber in the forests, or bones and shells in the oceans, are expected to under-perform.

This is largely because of natural cyclic variation in the tropical climate, but also partly because humans continue to degrade grasslands and fell or burn the forests that naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and return oxygen for the animal world to breathe.

Hawaii’s unique record

Climate scientists know what is going to happen because they can see the future already written in a unique 60-year-old cycle of data recorded high on a mountaintop in Hawaii, in the Pacific, far from any heavy industry or city pollution that might distort the local chemistry of the atmosphere.

“Since 1958, monitoring at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii has registered around a 30% increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Richard Betts, of the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre.

“This is caused by emissions from fossil fuels, deforestation and cement production, and the increase would have been even larger if it were not for natural carbon sinks which soak up some of the excess CO2.

This year we expect these carbon sinks to be relatively weak, so the impact of record high human-caused emissions will be larger than last year.”

“Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased to around 8,000 square kilometres in 2018, equivalent to losing a football pitch of forest every 80 seconds”

At the heart of the diagnosis is the increasing understanding of the role of the world’s great oceans in managing planetary weather patterns.

A year ago the tropical Pacific was relatively cool, rainfall increased and land-based ecosystems flourished, soaking up atmospheric carbon. In a relatively warm cycle, many regions become warmer and drier, which in turn limits plant growth.

Carbon dioxide ratios in the global atmosphere for most of human history, until the Industrial Revolution and the arrival of the steam age and the internal combustion engine, oscillated at around 280 parts per million (ppm). In the last decade, the ratio reached 400 ppm, and in 2018 peaked at 414.7 ppm in May, before beginning to fall in the northern hemisphere growing season, to rise again in September.

El Niño distortion

Overall, the average for 2018 was 411 ppm, with an uncertainty factor of 0.6 ppm. In 2019, the average is likely to be 2.75 ppm higher still. This would be one of the largest annual rises on record.

The rises in 2015-2016 and in 1997-1998 were higher, but these years’ readings were distorted by the arrival of a dramatic but natural Pacific warming called El Niño, always associated with a sudden and often damaging shift in regional climate patterns far away.

Climate scientists have continued to hope for a global response to such predictions: these are the people who are professionally most aware of the big picture of global change.

Julienne Stroeve of University College London called the news “discouraging, for sure. Last year the extra CO2 was equivalent to melting about 110,000 square kilometres of Arctic Sea ice, or roughly three times the area of Switzerland. Sea ice loss is directly tied to increases in atmospheric CO2.”

Damage to forests

And Jos Barlow, of Lancaster University’s Environment Centre, warned that forest clearance in the tropics continued as a hazard.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased to around 8,000 square kilometres in 2018, which is equivalent to losing a football pitch of forest every 80 seconds. This alone would result in CO2 emissions that exceed those of the UK over the same time period.”

Professor Betts called the Mauna Loa record of atmospheric carbon dioxide a “thing of beauty” and a stark reminder of human interference with the planetary climate.

“Looking at the monthly figures, it’s as if you can see the planet ‘breathing’ as the levels of carbon dioxide fall and rise with the seasonal cycle of plant growth and decay in the northern hemisphere. But each year’s CO2 is higher than the last, and this will keep happening until humans stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Here comes another dismal science forecast, with human carbon emissions due to rise this year. Forests may be unable to keep pace as global warming increases.

LONDON, 31 January, 2019 − Stand by for a year in which global warming can only get worse as human carbon emissions climb still further. British meteorologists warn that although 2018 broke all records for greenhouse gas emissions, 2019 will see even more carbon dioxide take up long-term residence in the planetary atmosphere.

And it will happen for two reasons, both of them nominally at least under human control. The overall release of carbon dioxide from power stations, factory chimneys, cement quarries, car exhausts and so on will continue to rise with fossil fuel combustion, even though there has been greater investment than ever in renewable resources such as wind and solar energy.

And those natural “sinks” that absorb extra carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it as living timber in the forests, or bones and shells in the oceans, are expected to under-perform.

This is largely because of natural cyclic variation in the tropical climate, but also partly because humans continue to degrade grasslands and fell or burn the forests that naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and return oxygen for the animal world to breathe.

Hawaii’s unique record

Climate scientists know what is going to happen because they can see the future already written in a unique 60-year-old cycle of data recorded high on a mountaintop in Hawaii, in the Pacific, far from any heavy industry or city pollution that might distort the local chemistry of the atmosphere.

“Since 1958, monitoring at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii has registered around a 30% increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Richard Betts, of the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre.

“This is caused by emissions from fossil fuels, deforestation and cement production, and the increase would have been even larger if it were not for natural carbon sinks which soak up some of the excess CO2.

This year we expect these carbon sinks to be relatively weak, so the impact of record high human-caused emissions will be larger than last year.”

“Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased to around 8,000 square kilometres in 2018, equivalent to losing a football pitch of forest every 80 seconds”

At the heart of the diagnosis is the increasing understanding of the role of the world’s great oceans in managing planetary weather patterns.

A year ago the tropical Pacific was relatively cool, rainfall increased and land-based ecosystems flourished, soaking up atmospheric carbon. In a relatively warm cycle, many regions become warmer and drier, which in turn limits plant growth.

Carbon dioxide ratios in the global atmosphere for most of human history, until the Industrial Revolution and the arrival of the steam age and the internal combustion engine, oscillated at around 280 parts per million (ppm). In the last decade, the ratio reached 400 ppm, and in 2018 peaked at 414.7 ppm in May, before beginning to fall in the northern hemisphere growing season, to rise again in September.

El Niño distortion

Overall, the average for 2018 was 411 ppm, with an uncertainty factor of 0.6 ppm. In 2019, the average is likely to be 2.75 ppm higher still. This would be one of the largest annual rises on record.

The rises in 2015-2016 and in 1997-1998 were higher, but these years’ readings were distorted by the arrival of a dramatic but natural Pacific warming called El Niño, always associated with a sudden and often damaging shift in regional climate patterns far away.

Climate scientists have continued to hope for a global response to such predictions: these are the people who are professionally most aware of the big picture of global change.

Julienne Stroeve of University College London called the news “discouraging, for sure. Last year the extra CO2 was equivalent to melting about 110,000 square kilometres of Arctic Sea ice, or roughly three times the area of Switzerland. Sea ice loss is directly tied to increases in atmospheric CO2.”

Damage to forests

And Jos Barlow, of Lancaster University’s Environment Centre, warned that forest clearance in the tropics continued as a hazard.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased to around 8,000 square kilometres in 2018, which is equivalent to losing a football pitch of forest every 80 seconds. This alone would result in CO2 emissions that exceed those of the UK over the same time period.”

Professor Betts called the Mauna Loa record of atmospheric carbon dioxide a “thing of beauty” and a stark reminder of human interference with the planetary climate.

“Looking at the monthly figures, it’s as if you can see the planet ‘breathing’ as the levels of carbon dioxide fall and rise with the seasonal cycle of plant growth and decay in the northern hemisphere. But each year’s CO2 is higher than the last, and this will keep happening until humans stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Soil and water carbon stores puzzle science

Under the ice, and deep in the soil, carbon stores maintain a lively traffic. Researchers are teasing out the complexities of greenhouse gases and global warming.

LONDON, 7 January, 2019 − Two new studies have highlighted yet more unexpected findings in the epic story of the Earth’s carbon stores: how the world’s waters and soils accumulate and discharge them.

One team of researchers has found, to their surprise, that the meltwaters of Greenland are washing measurable quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

And another has looked more closely at the way carbon is stored in the world’s soils, and come to the conclusion that even the minerals in the bedrock play a role: with help from rainwater, they can capture and hold potentially vast quantities of carbon in the soils of planet Earth.

Neither discovery changes the big picture of global warming driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels during the last two centuries. But both are reminders that climate scientists still have a lot to learn about precisely how the trafficking of carbon between life, rocks and atmosphere really happens.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around”

And both will prompt a fresh look at the great unresolved question facing climate science: how much of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity can be absorbed naturally by the rocks and living things on the planet?

British, Canadian, US, German, Czech and Danish researchers report in the journal Nature that they camped for three summer months on Greenland to take continuous samples of meltwater from a 600 square kilometre icesheet.

They found what they term “a continuous export” of methane: six tons of it from this site alone, or roughly the equivalent of what might be belched from 100 cows. Busy microbes, at work below kilometres of ice, are producing a greenhouse gas many times more potent as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast-flowing rivers before it can be oxidised to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse potency,” said Jemma Wadham, of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, who led the investigation.

Sizeable challenge

Climate scientists have been worrying for decades about the carbon locked − for the moment − in the Arctic permafrost. But the discovery that even the ice sheets are a source of atmospheric carbon accentuates the scale of the challenge facing those researchers who are trying to settle the great questions of the carbon budget: how much more fossil fuel can humans burn before planetary temperatures reach catastrophic levels, and how much of this build-up of greenhouse gases will be absorbed naturally by oceans, forests and soils?

Attention has repeatedly centred on the role of vegetation,  and in particular the great forests, in soaking up some of this carbon.

But huge questions remain about the roles played by flowing water and by soils as bankers of the planet’s atmospheric carbon. A second study in the journal Nature Climate Change offers a fresh insight into the obscurities of carbon storage underfoot.

Iron- and aluminium-bearing minerals in the soils cling to a lot of carbon. How much varies according to rainfall and evaporation, but it could be that between 3% and 72% of organic carbon found in soils is retained by reactive minerals. And, the researchers think, in all, this could add up to 600 billion metric tons worldwide, most of it in the rainforests.

Long-term uncertainty

“When plants photosynthesise, they draw carbon out of the atmosphere, then they die and their organic matter is incorporated in the soil,” said Oliver Chadwick of the University of Santa Barbara, one of the researchers. “Bacteria decompose that organic matter, releasing carbon that can either go right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or can get held on the surface of soil minerals.”

What the finding means in the long term is not certain: as the researchers say, the capacity of mineral soils to cling to carbon suggests what they call “high sensitivity to future changes in climate.” That is, with yet more warming, the same mineral soils could release their imprisoned carbon. Nobody knows at what point this would happen.

So there is a need for further research. For more than a decade,scientists have debated the challenge of capturing carbon dioxide and burying it underground, as a way of limiting climate change. The discovery seems to suggest it can be done. But it also suggests ways in which that entrapment could be undone.

“We know less about the soils on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars,” said Marc Kramer of Washington State University, as co-author.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around. This finding highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.” − Climate News Network

Under the ice, and deep in the soil, carbon stores maintain a lively traffic. Researchers are teasing out the complexities of greenhouse gases and global warming.

LONDON, 7 January, 2019 − Two new studies have highlighted yet more unexpected findings in the epic story of the Earth’s carbon stores: how the world’s waters and soils accumulate and discharge them.

One team of researchers has found, to their surprise, that the meltwaters of Greenland are washing measurable quantities of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

And another has looked more closely at the way carbon is stored in the world’s soils, and come to the conclusion that even the minerals in the bedrock play a role: with help from rainwater, they can capture and hold potentially vast quantities of carbon in the soils of planet Earth.

Neither discovery changes the big picture of global warming driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels during the last two centuries. But both are reminders that climate scientists still have a lot to learn about precisely how the trafficking of carbon between life, rocks and atmosphere really happens.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around”

And both will prompt a fresh look at the great unresolved question facing climate science: how much of the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity can be absorbed naturally by the rocks and living things on the planet?

British, Canadian, US, German, Czech and Danish researchers report in the journal Nature that they camped for three summer months on Greenland to take continuous samples of meltwater from a 600 square kilometre icesheet.

They found what they term “a continuous export” of methane: six tons of it from this site alone, or roughly the equivalent of what might be belched from 100 cows. Busy microbes, at work below kilometres of ice, are producing a greenhouse gas many times more potent as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast-flowing rivers before it can be oxidised to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse potency,” said Jemma Wadham, of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, who led the investigation.

Sizeable challenge

Climate scientists have been worrying for decades about the carbon locked − for the moment − in the Arctic permafrost. But the discovery that even the ice sheets are a source of atmospheric carbon accentuates the scale of the challenge facing those researchers who are trying to settle the great questions of the carbon budget: how much more fossil fuel can humans burn before planetary temperatures reach catastrophic levels, and how much of this build-up of greenhouse gases will be absorbed naturally by oceans, forests and soils?

Attention has repeatedly centred on the role of vegetation,  and in particular the great forests, in soaking up some of this carbon.

But huge questions remain about the roles played by flowing water and by soils as bankers of the planet’s atmospheric carbon. A second study in the journal Nature Climate Change offers a fresh insight into the obscurities of carbon storage underfoot.

Iron- and aluminium-bearing minerals in the soils cling to a lot of carbon. How much varies according to rainfall and evaporation, but it could be that between 3% and 72% of organic carbon found in soils is retained by reactive minerals. And, the researchers think, in all, this could add up to 600 billion metric tons worldwide, most of it in the rainforests.

Long-term uncertainty

“When plants photosynthesise, they draw carbon out of the atmosphere, then they die and their organic matter is incorporated in the soil,” said Oliver Chadwick of the University of Santa Barbara, one of the researchers. “Bacteria decompose that organic matter, releasing carbon that can either go right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or can get held on the surface of soil minerals.”

What the finding means in the long term is not certain: as the researchers say, the capacity of mineral soils to cling to carbon suggests what they call “high sensitivity to future changes in climate.” That is, with yet more warming, the same mineral soils could release their imprisoned carbon. Nobody knows at what point this would happen.

So there is a need for further research. For more than a decade,scientists have debated the challenge of capturing carbon dioxide and burying it underground, as a way of limiting climate change. The discovery seems to suggest it can be done. But it also suggests ways in which that entrapment could be undone.

“We know less about the soils on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars,” said Marc Kramer of Washington State University, as co-author.

“Before we can start thinking about storing carbon in the ground, we need to understand how it gets there and how likely it is to stick around. This finding highlights a major breakthrough in our understanding.” − Climate News Network

Nine vital signs found for forest health

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Permafrost thaw unsettles the Arctic

Permafrost thaw and retreating Arctic ice don’t just imperil caribou and bears. People, too, may find the ground shifts beneath their feet.

LONDON, 1 January, 2019 − In just one human generation, citizens of the far north could find themselves on shifting soils as the region’s permafrost thaws. Roads will slump. Buildings will buckle. Pipelines will become at risk of fracture. And in 2050, around three fourths of the people of the permafrost could watch their infrastructure collapse, as what was once hard frozen ground turns into mud.

All this could happen even if the world keeps the promise it made in Paris in 2015 and limits global average warming to just 1.5°C above the level for most of pre-industrial history.

In the last century, the world has already warmed by 1°C on average: the Arctic region has warmed at a far faster rate. At present rates of warming, driven by the profligate use of fossil fuels that raise the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world is on course for an average warming of 3°C by 2100.

Researchers from Finland, Norway, Russia and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that they mapped, on a scale of a kilometre, the buildings, installations, roads and other infrastructure of the permafrost world: a region defined as that where the ground is frozen solid, summer and winter, for at least two consecutive years.

More than 4 million people live in this pan-Arctic landscape: at least 3.6 million of them, and 70% of their transportation and industrial infrastructure, are at risk.

Present reality

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality. And here, in Alaska, we are dealing already and will be dealing even more in the near future with this reality,” said Vladimir Romanovsky, of the University of Alaska’s geophysical institute, one of the authors.

Climate scientists and glaciologists have been warning about the rate of change in the Arctic for two decades: one estimate proposed that for every 1°C of warming, around 4 million square kilometres of permafrost − an area bigger than India − could thaw.

Locked in the frozen soil is an estimated 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon: this is about twice the mass of carbon in the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Its release could precipitate even more calamitous climate change. And the economic consequences – assessed at a potential cost of $43 trillion − could be ruinous.

The latest study found that climate change respected no borders: one third of all Arctic infrastructure and 45% of hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic were in high hazard regions: that is, once the soil thawed, the ground became unstable.

Around 470 kms of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and 280 kms of the Obskaya-Bovanenkovo Railway, the most northerly in the world, lie across what could be thawing permafrost. The scientists identified more than 1,200 settlements in zones where the permafrost could thaw: around 40 of these had populations of 5,000 or more.

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality”

Pipelines, too, were endangered: 1,590 kms of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, 1,260 kms of the gas pipelines in the Yamal-Nenets region − which supplies one-third of European Union imports − and 550 kms of the Trans-Alaska pipeline systems could be at “considerable risk”: that is, they were in areas where near-surface permafrost could thaw by 2050.

By then around one million people, 36,000 buildings, 13,000 kms of roads and 100 airports could have become high hazard environments. And with them, permafrost thaw could threaten to affect 45% of oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic.

All forecasts arrive with considerable uncertainties, and the authors concede that they could be wrong. But, they warn, even if they are, their estimates of the infrastructure at risk would probably not be much smaller and could be substantially higher. Around 19 large settlements are in their highest hazard zone “but the number could be as large as 34,” they warn.

If nations acted on the Paris promises, they say, the levels of risk would start to stabilise after 2050. “In contrast, higher greenhouse gas levels would probably result in continued detrimental climate change impacts on the built environment and economic activity in the Arctic.” − Climate News Network

Permafrost thaw and retreating Arctic ice don’t just imperil caribou and bears. People, too, may find the ground shifts beneath their feet.

LONDON, 1 January, 2019 − In just one human generation, citizens of the far north could find themselves on shifting soils as the region’s permafrost thaws. Roads will slump. Buildings will buckle. Pipelines will become at risk of fracture. And in 2050, around three fourths of the people of the permafrost could watch their infrastructure collapse, as what was once hard frozen ground turns into mud.

All this could happen even if the world keeps the promise it made in Paris in 2015 and limits global average warming to just 1.5°C above the level for most of pre-industrial history.

In the last century, the world has already warmed by 1°C on average: the Arctic region has warmed at a far faster rate. At present rates of warming, driven by the profligate use of fossil fuels that raise the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world is on course for an average warming of 3°C by 2100.

Researchers from Finland, Norway, Russia and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that they mapped, on a scale of a kilometre, the buildings, installations, roads and other infrastructure of the permafrost world: a region defined as that where the ground is frozen solid, summer and winter, for at least two consecutive years.

More than 4 million people live in this pan-Arctic landscape: at least 3.6 million of them, and 70% of their transportation and industrial infrastructure, are at risk.

Present reality

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality. And here, in Alaska, we are dealing already and will be dealing even more in the near future with this reality,” said Vladimir Romanovsky, of the University of Alaska’s geophysical institute, one of the authors.

Climate scientists and glaciologists have been warning about the rate of change in the Arctic for two decades: one estimate proposed that for every 1°C of warming, around 4 million square kilometres of permafrost − an area bigger than India − could thaw.

Locked in the frozen soil is an estimated 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon: this is about twice the mass of carbon in the atmosphere in the form of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Its release could precipitate even more calamitous climate change. And the economic consequences – assessed at a potential cost of $43 trillion − could be ruinous.

The latest study found that climate change respected no borders: one third of all Arctic infrastructure and 45% of hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic were in high hazard regions: that is, once the soil thawed, the ground became unstable.

Around 470 kms of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and 280 kms of the Obskaya-Bovanenkovo Railway, the most northerly in the world, lie across what could be thawing permafrost. The scientists identified more than 1,200 settlements in zones where the permafrost could thaw: around 40 of these had populations of 5,000 or more.

“These observations have led me to believe that global warming is not a ‘fake’ but the reality”

Pipelines, too, were endangered: 1,590 kms of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, 1,260 kms of the gas pipelines in the Yamal-Nenets region − which supplies one-third of European Union imports − and 550 kms of the Trans-Alaska pipeline systems could be at “considerable risk”: that is, they were in areas where near-surface permafrost could thaw by 2050.

By then around one million people, 36,000 buildings, 13,000 kms of roads and 100 airports could have become high hazard environments. And with them, permafrost thaw could threaten to affect 45% of oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic.

All forecasts arrive with considerable uncertainties, and the authors concede that they could be wrong. But, they warn, even if they are, their estimates of the infrastructure at risk would probably not be much smaller and could be substantially higher. Around 19 large settlements are in their highest hazard zone “but the number could be as large as 34,” they warn.

If nations acted on the Paris promises, they say, the levels of risk would start to stabilise after 2050. “In contrast, higher greenhouse gas levels would probably result in continued detrimental climate change impacts on the built environment and economic activity in the Arctic.” − Climate News Network

Permian era die-off may be warning for today

The mass annihilation that was the Permian era die-off has lessons for climate science today. They’re not encouraging.

LONDON, 24 December, 2018 – Forensic geologists have revisited the scene of one of the world’s great massacres to identify the means of death. The victims of the Permian era die-off found themselves increasingly in hot water, to die of overheating or suffocation.

That is, in a rapidly warming globe, marine animals simply could not gasp fast enough to take in the increasingly limited dissolved oxygen. So they died in their billions.

It happened at the close of the Permian era 252 million years ago: the planet’s worst single mass extinction event so far, in which up to 90% of marine species perished and 70% of land animals succumbed.

And if the scientists who have reconstructed this epic event are right, then the prime cause of mass death and destruction was a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which raised tropical ocean temperatures by about 10°C.

Tropical species could move away from the equatorial zones to find cooler waters and a breathing space. Species adapted to cooler waters had nowhere to go.

Flee or perish

“Very few marine organisms stayed in the same habitats they were living in,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. “It was either flee or perish.”

And his co-author and colleague Justin Penn sees a warning for today – in which temperatures have begun to rise in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels – in a desperate moment long ago. He said:

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, by 2100, warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20% of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 will reach between 35% and 50%. This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

This latest study is unlikely to close the case: carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere has been proposed before, but other teams have suggested dramatic ozone loss in the upper atmosphere as a prime cause of death. Other candidate killers include increasingly acidic oceans, the mass release of metal and sulphide toxins, or the complete lack of oxygen.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian”

Geologists work on the principle that the present is key to the past: it follows that what happened in the past could also be a guide to what might happen in the future, which is why climate scientists, in particular, attach huge importance to research into ancient atmospheres.

So to build up a picture of what may have happened, Penn and his colleagues report in the journal Science that they matched computer models of animal metabolisms and ocean conditions with the fossil evidence from the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods. And they claim the first computer-based prediction that could be directly tested against the evidence from the shells and bones of creatures preserved in strata laid down 252 million years ago.

From that, they were able to reconstruct the pattern of obliteration. Massive volcanic lava flows in what is now Siberia deposited colossal volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As ocean temperatures rose, the seas began to lose up to 80% of their dissolved oxygen. About half of the deep ocean seafloor became completely anoxic (without oxygen). What is now known as “the Great Dying” began.

The researchers checked their temperature and oxygen readings on what they knew of 61 modern marine species – sharks, crustaceans, corals, molluscs and bony fish – all classes of creature that evolved under conditions similar to the Permian.

No certain parallel

Those hit the hardest were the most sensitive to oxygen that lived far from the tropics. Tropical species were already adapted to high temperatures and low oxygen, and had somewhere to move to: they fared better.

It is not at all certain that conditions at the close of the Permian period provide a parallel to the planet today. Most of the land surface then was one huge supercontinent, there were no mammals, grasses or flowering plants, and the forests – and thus the traffic between atmosphere and life – would have been very different.

“But even if it represents an extreme case, the lesson is clear,” writes Lee Kump, an earth scientist at Penn State University in the US, in a commentary in Science.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian.” – Climate News Network

The mass annihilation that was the Permian era die-off has lessons for climate science today. They’re not encouraging.

LONDON, 24 December, 2018 – Forensic geologists have revisited the scene of one of the world’s great massacres to identify the means of death. The victims of the Permian era die-off found themselves increasingly in hot water, to die of overheating or suffocation.

That is, in a rapidly warming globe, marine animals simply could not gasp fast enough to take in the increasingly limited dissolved oxygen. So they died in their billions.

It happened at the close of the Permian era 252 million years ago: the planet’s worst single mass extinction event so far, in which up to 90% of marine species perished and 70% of land animals succumbed.

And if the scientists who have reconstructed this epic event are right, then the prime cause of mass death and destruction was a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which raised tropical ocean temperatures by about 10°C.

Tropical species could move away from the equatorial zones to find cooler waters and a breathing space. Species adapted to cooler waters had nowhere to go.

Flee or perish

“Very few marine organisms stayed in the same habitats they were living in,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. “It was either flee or perish.”

And his co-author and colleague Justin Penn sees a warning for today – in which temperatures have begun to rise in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels – in a desperate moment long ago. He said:

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, by 2100, warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20% of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 will reach between 35% and 50%. This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

This latest study is unlikely to close the case: carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere has been proposed before, but other teams have suggested dramatic ozone loss in the upper atmosphere as a prime cause of death. Other candidate killers include increasingly acidic oceans, the mass release of metal and sulphide toxins, or the complete lack of oxygen.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian”

Geologists work on the principle that the present is key to the past: it follows that what happened in the past could also be a guide to what might happen in the future, which is why climate scientists, in particular, attach huge importance to research into ancient atmospheres.

So to build up a picture of what may have happened, Penn and his colleagues report in the journal Science that they matched computer models of animal metabolisms and ocean conditions with the fossil evidence from the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods. And they claim the first computer-based prediction that could be directly tested against the evidence from the shells and bones of creatures preserved in strata laid down 252 million years ago.

From that, they were able to reconstruct the pattern of obliteration. Massive volcanic lava flows in what is now Siberia deposited colossal volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As ocean temperatures rose, the seas began to lose up to 80% of their dissolved oxygen. About half of the deep ocean seafloor became completely anoxic (without oxygen). What is now known as “the Great Dying” began.

The researchers checked their temperature and oxygen readings on what they knew of 61 modern marine species – sharks, crustaceans, corals, molluscs and bony fish – all classes of creature that evolved under conditions similar to the Permian.

No certain parallel

Those hit the hardest were the most sensitive to oxygen that lived far from the tropics. Tropical species were already adapted to high temperatures and low oxygen, and had somewhere to move to: they fared better.

It is not at all certain that conditions at the close of the Permian period provide a parallel to the planet today. Most of the land surface then was one huge supercontinent, there were no mammals, grasses or flowering plants, and the forests – and thus the traffic between atmosphere and life – would have been very different.

“But even if it represents an extreme case, the lesson is clear,” writes Lee Kump, an earth scientist at Penn State University in the US, in a commentary in Science.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian.” – Climate News Network

2018 will show record carbon emissions

Record carbon emissions are set to mark 2018. And although investment in renewable energy is rising, the world is still warming dangerously fast.

LONDON, 6 December, 2018 – For the second year running, the world will have a doubtful achievement to claim by 31 December: record carbon emissions.

Even before the close of 2018, scientists behind the biggest accounting effort on the planet, the Global Carbon Budget, warn that emissions from coal, oil and gas will have dumped a record 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (a way of  comparing the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential) into the atmosphere by the end of this month.

This is 2.7% more than last year, which also showed an increase. Human destruction of the world’s forests will add another four billion tonnes in the same 12 months.

The news comes as 190 nations negotiate in Katowice in Poland to work out how to meet the targets they set in 2015 in Paris,  to contain global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100, and if possible no more than 1.5°C.

Little time left

But in a commentary in Nature a second set of scientists warns that time is running out. At the present rate of fossil fuel use, the world is set to breach the 1.5°C target by 2030, rather than the 2040 everybody had assumed.

That is because rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles working together will make climate change more fast and furious than expected.

There are hopeful signs: renewable energy investment has begun to accelerate, and some nations have started to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

But the confirmation of yet another record year for fossil fuel combustion – after three consecutive years, 2014-16, in which fossil fuel use seemed to have peaked and might start to fall – suggests that even those nations most concerned about climate change are not doing enough.

“This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast”

The biggest emitters are China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada, but taken as a collective, the European Union elbows India out of third place.

If the UK, a self-proclaimed climate progressive country, could celebrate the exploitation of a new North Sea oil field while at the same time exploring for shale gas and expanding its biggest airport, it should be no surprise that global emissions were rising, said Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, UK.

“If the climate-aware EU is planning new pan-Europe pipelines to lock in high carbon gas for decades to come, is it any surprise global emissions are rising? If ever-green Sweden, currently without any major gas infrastructure, is enthusiastically building a new gas terminal in Gothenburg – is it any surprise emissions are rising?”

Aimed at negotiators

Publication of the Global Carbon Project review for 2018 is timed to focus minds in Katowice, and as a reminder of how much has yet to be done to contain climate change.

“To limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach zero around 2050,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who directs theTyndall Centre for climate change at the University of East Anglia, UK.

“We are a long way from this, and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to commitments they have already made, we are on track to see 3°C of global warming.

“This year we have seen how climate change can already amplify the impact of heatwaves worldwide. The California wildfires are just a snapshot of the growing impacts we face if we don’t drive emissions down rapidly.”

Renewable energy grows

Paradoxically, the data in the report published in one version in Environmental Research Letters and in more detail in the journal Earth System Science Data also point to an acceleration towards renewable sources of energy: the political shorthand for this process is “decarbonisation.”

Coal consumption in Canada and the US had dropped 40% since 2005. Christiana Figueres, who in 2015 as a UN climate chief presided over the wheeling and dealing that resulted in the Paris Agreement, argues in another commentary in Nature that there are signs of promise.

Thousands of businesses in 120 countries had signed up to the Paris goals, which could bring $26 trillion in economic benefits, including 65 million new jobs in what she called the “booming” low carbon economy. “We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago,” she said.

Robust accounting

“Exponential progress in key solutions is happening and on track to displace fossil fuels. Renewable energy costs have dropped by 80% in a decade, and today, over half of all new energy generation capacity is renewable.

“Before 2015 many people thought the Paris Agreement was impossible, yet thousands of people and institutions made the shift from impossible to unstoppable.”

But, warned David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, the accounting within the balance sheet for the carbon budget 2018 was robust.

“Its message is more brutal than ever: we are in the red and still heading deeper. This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast. We knew this in 2015, we know it now. And yet they still rise.” – Climate News Network

Record carbon emissions are set to mark 2018. And although investment in renewable energy is rising, the world is still warming dangerously fast.

LONDON, 6 December, 2018 – For the second year running, the world will have a doubtful achievement to claim by 31 December: record carbon emissions.

Even before the close of 2018, scientists behind the biggest accounting effort on the planet, the Global Carbon Budget, warn that emissions from coal, oil and gas will have dumped a record 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (a way of  comparing the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential) into the atmosphere by the end of this month.

This is 2.7% more than last year, which also showed an increase. Human destruction of the world’s forests will add another four billion tonnes in the same 12 months.

The news comes as 190 nations negotiate in Katowice in Poland to work out how to meet the targets they set in 2015 in Paris,  to contain global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100, and if possible no more than 1.5°C.

Little time left

But in a commentary in Nature a second set of scientists warns that time is running out. At the present rate of fossil fuel use, the world is set to breach the 1.5°C target by 2030, rather than the 2040 everybody had assumed.

That is because rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles working together will make climate change more fast and furious than expected.

There are hopeful signs: renewable energy investment has begun to accelerate, and some nations have started to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

But the confirmation of yet another record year for fossil fuel combustion – after three consecutive years, 2014-16, in which fossil fuel use seemed to have peaked and might start to fall – suggests that even those nations most concerned about climate change are not doing enough.

“This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast”

The biggest emitters are China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada, but taken as a collective, the European Union elbows India out of third place.

If the UK, a self-proclaimed climate progressive country, could celebrate the exploitation of a new North Sea oil field while at the same time exploring for shale gas and expanding its biggest airport, it should be no surprise that global emissions were rising, said Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, UK.

“If the climate-aware EU is planning new pan-Europe pipelines to lock in high carbon gas for decades to come, is it any surprise global emissions are rising? If ever-green Sweden, currently without any major gas infrastructure, is enthusiastically building a new gas terminal in Gothenburg – is it any surprise emissions are rising?”

Aimed at negotiators

Publication of the Global Carbon Project review for 2018 is timed to focus minds in Katowice, and as a reminder of how much has yet to be done to contain climate change.

“To limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach zero around 2050,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who directs theTyndall Centre for climate change at the University of East Anglia, UK.

“We are a long way from this, and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to commitments they have already made, we are on track to see 3°C of global warming.

“This year we have seen how climate change can already amplify the impact of heatwaves worldwide. The California wildfires are just a snapshot of the growing impacts we face if we don’t drive emissions down rapidly.”

Renewable energy grows

Paradoxically, the data in the report published in one version in Environmental Research Letters and in more detail in the journal Earth System Science Data also point to an acceleration towards renewable sources of energy: the political shorthand for this process is “decarbonisation.”

Coal consumption in Canada and the US had dropped 40% since 2005. Christiana Figueres, who in 2015 as a UN climate chief presided over the wheeling and dealing that resulted in the Paris Agreement, argues in another commentary in Nature that there are signs of promise.

Thousands of businesses in 120 countries had signed up to the Paris goals, which could bring $26 trillion in economic benefits, including 65 million new jobs in what she called the “booming” low carbon economy. “We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago,” she said.

Robust accounting

“Exponential progress in key solutions is happening and on track to displace fossil fuels. Renewable energy costs have dropped by 80% in a decade, and today, over half of all new energy generation capacity is renewable.

“Before 2015 many people thought the Paris Agreement was impossible, yet thousands of people and institutions made the shift from impossible to unstoppable.”

But, warned David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, the accounting within the balance sheet for the carbon budget 2018 was robust.

“Its message is more brutal than ever: we are in the red and still heading deeper. This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast. We knew this in 2015, we know it now. And yet they still rise.” – Climate News Network