Tag Archives: Carbon Dioxide

Global heating may go on for five more centuries

Global heating now means more warming for 500 years ahead, even if all greenhouse emissions stop. Or is that too simple?

LONDON, 20 November, 2020 − Norwegian scientists have mapped the future of the Earth in a regime of climate change and have come to an uncomfortable conclusion: it’s likely that global heating will persist until around the year 2500.

Even if human beings immediately ceased all use of fossil fuels that spill greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere, the world would be committed to warming for the next five centuries, they suggest.

By then global temperatures would be at least 3°C higher, and sea levels three metres higher, than they would have been in 1850. Even with a dramatic halt to the emissions that fuel global heating, they warn in the journal Scientific Reports, the Arctic ice would go on melting, water vapour would continue to build up in the atmosphere, the permafrost would continue to thaw and vast reservoirs of ancient carbon that had been trapped in the once-frozen ground would escape into the atmosphere.

The message − one that comes hedged with caution − is that to keep continental temperatures and sea levels as they were for most of human history, nations should have started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions six decades ago.

And to slow the warming that might now be inexorable, nations must unite to somehow remove 33 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) − an almost unimaginable volume − from the atmosphere every year from now on.

Challenged by colleagues

Caution is necessary because, as the researchers themselves point out, the finding presents an extremely simple model of cause and effect on a simulated planet not unlike Earth, but without the untidy mosaic of natural and human processes that directly influence the rate at which CO2 builds up in the atmosphere.

And the two scientists who wrote the study directly urge other climate researchers to check their findings with more sophisticated simulations. They have made a stab at predicting the future, and they know it could be wrong.

But if it isn’t wrong, then the message is that profligate human use of fossil fuels, combined with heedless destruction of many of the planet’s natural ecosystems, and then topped with the massive construction of human cities, industries and travel networks, may have already pushed the planet past a tipping point, beyond which the slide into potentially catastrophic climate change has become inexorable.

And they are not the first to make such a suggestion. Nor are they the first to warn that what had once been trailed as a notional “worst case” scenario has of late increasingly begun to look like modern reality.

The finding has been comprehensively challenged by British scientists, not because it could be wrong, but because the simulation is too simple, and doesn’t incorporate many of the processes that happen in the real world. One distinguished researcher called it “a toy model”.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100”

But almost all who commented also conceded that to steer the planet away from permanent and devastating climate change, nations may have left concerted and sustained action a bit late.

Reduction of carbon emissions to zero in the next three decades would be just a start. And the world would go on warming for some time, just as a reaction to the extra carbon dioxide already spilled into the atmosphere in the last three decades.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100,” said Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College, London.

“If this study is confirmed, then we may have to continue drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere way beyond the end of this century. And I would suggest that if we have been able to successfully deal with climate change in this century, we really will not have to worry about dealing with a much smaller warming over the next 400 years.”

But even as both the authors and their critics warn that the outcome should be treated with caution, other research has almost coincidentally begun to suggest that the world may be nearing a tipping point.

Positive feedback?

Last month German scientists contemplated the increasing loss of ice in the Arctic − all the sea ice could have vanished in summer before mid-century − and in the mountain regions worldwide, and reasoned that, instead of reflecting radiation back into space, the darker ocean or rock revealed beneath the ice would absorb it, to increase rates of warming.

They warn in Nature Communications that this process alone could increase long-term global warming by 0.43°C, to accelerate yet more thawing of the permafrost: an example of the vicious circle that could go on delivering climate change by exactly the kind of positive feedback the Norwegian scientists fear.

And in one respect, their fellow scientists agree with them: further warming is already “baked in” to the future climate. Even if the world turns off greenhouse gas emissions right now, global heating will continue for decades. For how long, and how swiftly, is difficult to calculate.

“Even if the paper is right in every respect and we are already committed to at least 3°C warming if we stop emissions tomorrow, this warming will take 500 years,” said Andrew Watson, of the University of Exeter.

“This is preferable to 3°C warming over 100 years, which would be far more disruptive and might happen if we don’t cut emissions.” − Climate News Network

Global heating now means more warming for 500 years ahead, even if all greenhouse emissions stop. Or is that too simple?

LONDON, 20 November, 2020 − Norwegian scientists have mapped the future of the Earth in a regime of climate change and have come to an uncomfortable conclusion: it’s likely that global heating will persist until around the year 2500.

Even if human beings immediately ceased all use of fossil fuels that spill greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere, the world would be committed to warming for the next five centuries, they suggest.

By then global temperatures would be at least 3°C higher, and sea levels three metres higher, than they would have been in 1850. Even with a dramatic halt to the emissions that fuel global heating, they warn in the journal Scientific Reports, the Arctic ice would go on melting, water vapour would continue to build up in the atmosphere, the permafrost would continue to thaw and vast reservoirs of ancient carbon that had been trapped in the once-frozen ground would escape into the atmosphere.

The message − one that comes hedged with caution − is that to keep continental temperatures and sea levels as they were for most of human history, nations should have started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions six decades ago.

And to slow the warming that might now be inexorable, nations must unite to somehow remove 33 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) − an almost unimaginable volume − from the atmosphere every year from now on.

Challenged by colleagues

Caution is necessary because, as the researchers themselves point out, the finding presents an extremely simple model of cause and effect on a simulated planet not unlike Earth, but without the untidy mosaic of natural and human processes that directly influence the rate at which CO2 builds up in the atmosphere.

And the two scientists who wrote the study directly urge other climate researchers to check their findings with more sophisticated simulations. They have made a stab at predicting the future, and they know it could be wrong.

But if it isn’t wrong, then the message is that profligate human use of fossil fuels, combined with heedless destruction of many of the planet’s natural ecosystems, and then topped with the massive construction of human cities, industries and travel networks, may have already pushed the planet past a tipping point, beyond which the slide into potentially catastrophic climate change has become inexorable.

And they are not the first to make such a suggestion. Nor are they the first to warn that what had once been trailed as a notional “worst case” scenario has of late increasingly begun to look like modern reality.

The finding has been comprehensively challenged by British scientists, not because it could be wrong, but because the simulation is too simple, and doesn’t incorporate many of the processes that happen in the real world. One distinguished researcher called it “a toy model”.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100”

But almost all who commented also conceded that to steer the planet away from permanent and devastating climate change, nations may have left concerted and sustained action a bit late.

Reduction of carbon emissions to zero in the next three decades would be just a start. And the world would go on warming for some time, just as a reaction to the extra carbon dioxide already spilled into the atmosphere in the last three decades.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100,” said Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College, London.

“If this study is confirmed, then we may have to continue drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere way beyond the end of this century. And I would suggest that if we have been able to successfully deal with climate change in this century, we really will not have to worry about dealing with a much smaller warming over the next 400 years.”

But even as both the authors and their critics warn that the outcome should be treated with caution, other research has almost coincidentally begun to suggest that the world may be nearing a tipping point.

Positive feedback?

Last month German scientists contemplated the increasing loss of ice in the Arctic − all the sea ice could have vanished in summer before mid-century − and in the mountain regions worldwide, and reasoned that, instead of reflecting radiation back into space, the darker ocean or rock revealed beneath the ice would absorb it, to increase rates of warming.

They warn in Nature Communications that this process alone could increase long-term global warming by 0.43°C, to accelerate yet more thawing of the permafrost: an example of the vicious circle that could go on delivering climate change by exactly the kind of positive feedback the Norwegian scientists fear.

And in one respect, their fellow scientists agree with them: further warming is already “baked in” to the future climate. Even if the world turns off greenhouse gas emissions right now, global heating will continue for decades. For how long, and how swiftly, is difficult to calculate.

“Even if the paper is right in every respect and we are already committed to at least 3°C warming if we stop emissions tomorrow, this warming will take 500 years,” said Andrew Watson, of the University of Exeter.

“This is preferable to 3°C warming over 100 years, which would be far more disruptive and might happen if we don’t cut emissions.” − Climate News Network

Carbon speeds crop growth but often for little gain

More carbon dioxide speeds up crop growth with some key food harvests, but extra heat can hit the yield.

LONDON, 10 November, 2020 − Thirty years of experiments in testing crop growth, and notably the effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) on some human staples like rice, wheat and soya, have found that − given perfect growing conditions − they would increase yields by 18%.

But sadly, in “real world” conditions, any gains from carbon fertilisation are lost − because of the stress caused to crops by the 2°C temperature rise that the gas causes in the atmosphere. Even worse, the fact that crops grow faster does not mean that their nutritional value is greater – many showed lower mineral nutrients and protein content.

The work, 30 years of “free air carbon dioxide enrichment” (FACE), carried out by 14 long-term research facilities in five continents, is a blow to the hope that in a world with more atmospheric CO2 more people could be fed with less land under cultivation. Earlier results had held out the hope that this “fertiliser effect” would feed more people.

While commercial growers of plants like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have used increased CO2 to boost production in controlled conditions in greenhouses, it does not work so well in open fields where temperature and moisture content are affected by climate change.

“When you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors”

Some crops do get a boost from more carbon in the atmosphere because it makes photosynthesis more efficient, but this is only if nutrients and water are available at optimum levels. This group includes soybean, cassava and rice, all vital in feeding some of the hungriest people in the world.

The author of the study, Stephen Long from the University of Illinois,  said that while it seemed reasonable to assume “a bounty as CO2 rises” this was not the case, because “CO2 is the primary cause of change in the global climate system. The anticipated 2°C rise in temperature, caused primarily by this increase in CO2, could halve yields of some of our major crops, wiping out any gain from CO2.”

His co-author Lisa Ainsworth, a research plant physiologist with the US Department of Agriculture, said: “It’s quite shocking to go back and look at just how much CO2 concentrations have increased over the lifetime of these experiments.

“We are reaching the concentrations of some of the first CO2 treatments 30 years back. The idea that we can check the results of some of the first FACE experiments in the current atmosphere is disconcerting.

Need for nitrogen

“Lots of people have presumed that rising CO2 is largely a good thing for crops, assuming more CO2 will make the world’s forests greener and increase crop yields,” Ainsworth said.

“The more recent studies challenge that assumption a bit. We’re finding that when you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors like drought, temperature, nutrients and pests.”

The poor quality of some of the grain, with less mineral and protein content, is also a blow to add to the crop growth doubts. The potential increased yield is also much smaller under conditions where there is low nitrogen fertiliser, typical of the world’s poorest countries.

However, the researchers are not all gloomy. Genetic variations in crops show that some strains can still benefit despite increased temperatures. If new crop cultivars are developed, then the future could be brighter, but work needs to start now, the scientists say. − Climate News Network

More carbon dioxide speeds up crop growth with some key food harvests, but extra heat can hit the yield.

LONDON, 10 November, 2020 − Thirty years of experiments in testing crop growth, and notably the effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) on some human staples like rice, wheat and soya, have found that − given perfect growing conditions − they would increase yields by 18%.

But sadly, in “real world” conditions, any gains from carbon fertilisation are lost − because of the stress caused to crops by the 2°C temperature rise that the gas causes in the atmosphere. Even worse, the fact that crops grow faster does not mean that their nutritional value is greater – many showed lower mineral nutrients and protein content.

The work, 30 years of “free air carbon dioxide enrichment” (FACE), carried out by 14 long-term research facilities in five continents, is a blow to the hope that in a world with more atmospheric CO2 more people could be fed with less land under cultivation. Earlier results had held out the hope that this “fertiliser effect” would feed more people.

While commercial growers of plants like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have used increased CO2 to boost production in controlled conditions in greenhouses, it does not work so well in open fields where temperature and moisture content are affected by climate change.

“When you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors”

Some crops do get a boost from more carbon in the atmosphere because it makes photosynthesis more efficient, but this is only if nutrients and water are available at optimum levels. This group includes soybean, cassava and rice, all vital in feeding some of the hungriest people in the world.

The author of the study, Stephen Long from the University of Illinois,  said that while it seemed reasonable to assume “a bounty as CO2 rises” this was not the case, because “CO2 is the primary cause of change in the global climate system. The anticipated 2°C rise in temperature, caused primarily by this increase in CO2, could halve yields of some of our major crops, wiping out any gain from CO2.”

His co-author Lisa Ainsworth, a research plant physiologist with the US Department of Agriculture, said: “It’s quite shocking to go back and look at just how much CO2 concentrations have increased over the lifetime of these experiments.

“We are reaching the concentrations of some of the first CO2 treatments 30 years back. The idea that we can check the results of some of the first FACE experiments in the current atmosphere is disconcerting.

Need for nitrogen

“Lots of people have presumed that rising CO2 is largely a good thing for crops, assuming more CO2 will make the world’s forests greener and increase crop yields,” Ainsworth said.

“The more recent studies challenge that assumption a bit. We’re finding that when you have other stresses, you don’t always get a benefit of elevated CO2. The last 15 years have taught us to account more for the complex interactions from other factors like drought, temperature, nutrients and pests.”

The poor quality of some of the grain, with less mineral and protein content, is also a blow to add to the crop growth doubts. The potential increased yield is also much smaller under conditions where there is low nitrogen fertiliser, typical of the world’s poorest countries.

However, the researchers are not all gloomy. Genetic variations in crops show that some strains can still benefit despite increased temperatures. If new crop cultivars are developed, then the future could be brighter, but work needs to start now, the scientists say. − Climate News Network

Rewilded farmland can save money − and the Earth

To save civilisation, try rewilded farmland. But that salvation depends on which land goes back to forest and savannah.

LONDON, 2 November, 2020 − An international consortium of scientists has worked out − once again − how to conserve life on the planet and absorb dramatic quantities of the atmospheric carbon that is driving potentially calamitous climate change: go for rewilded farmland, fields of crops and livestock returned to prairie and forest. And they have identified the most cost-effective way to do it.

Global salvation requires the world’s nations to do simply what they have already undertaken to do: restore 15% of cultivated land to natural forest, grassland, shrubland, wetland and desert ecosystem.

If such restoration happened in the highest priority zones, then almost two-thirds of the wild things now threatened with imminent extinction could survive.

And the restored wilderness that would protect them would also start absorbing atmospheric carbon at an accelerating rate: it could sequester an estimated 229 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). This is almost a third of all the CO2 spilled into the atmosphere by coal, oil and gas combustion in the last 200 years.

All that would be possible if the world’s nations delivered on vows made 10 years ago in Japan, to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. If the 196 nations that signed up went further, and restored a carefully chosen 30%, they could save more than 70% of the million or so species sliding towards extinction, and absorb 465 billion tonnes of CO2: almost half of all the extra atmospheric carbon loaded into the atmosphere by human societies since the Industrial Revolution.

Two provisos

“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernado Strassburg, of the Pontifical Catholic University in Brazil, who led the study.

“We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.”

There is a catch. To be most effective, and for the lowest costs, nations would have to work together.

Right now, scientists report in the journal Nature, each nation has undertaken to restore 15% of its wilderness. But to save the greatest number of species, and absorb the highest levels of carbon, with the lowest cost to farmland and food security, humankind would have to assess the world as a whole, and restore those ecosystems that would serve the goals most effectively.

There is a second catch: barely a month ago, a UN report confirmed that although 196 nations agreed on 20 targets to protect biodiversity − to be achieved by 2020 − a decade ago, there has been “partial progress” in just six of them. The million species then threatened with extinction are still threatened.

Potential ignored

“Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Nevertheless the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.”

And that threat starts with the green things on which all life depends: in September, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London published a new study on ways to identify and care for the plants and fungi that underwrite survival for what could be seven million or more species alive on the planet, and more than seven billion humans.

The study, involving 210 scientists in 42 countries, said Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, paints a picture “of a world that has turned its back on the incredible potential of plant and fungal kingdoms to address some of the biggest challenges we face.

“We have particularly earmarked the gaps in our knowledge, the changes we are seeing, the species being named new to science and the shocking pace of biodiversity loss.”

“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”

The most recent finding builds on the drive not just to fulfil the obligations undertaken 10 years ago, but to identify the very best ways to fulfil them, so as to benefit the greatest number of people.

It delivers the evidence that restoration in the most carefully chosen regions would have the most profound impact: put simply, restoration could be 13 times more cost-effective if it happened in what the Nature researchers have identified as the highest priority locations.

They used sophisticated mathematical tools and detailed geographic data to take a closer look at the 28.7 million square kilometres of natural wilderness that have been converted to farmland: 54% of these were originally forest, 25% grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2% wetland.

They then tested these areas against three considerations: their value as habitat, their capacity for carbon storage and their cost-effectiveness. And they came up with recommendations that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for plants and animals of the wilderness and 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27%.

And then they considered the nation-by-nation approach: were each country to restore 15% of its own forests, the biodiversity boon fell by 28%, the climate benefits by 29%, while the costs would rise by 52%.

Vital partnership

They then considered the impact on the world’s food supplies, to find that 15.78 million sq kms, or 55% of wilderness converted to farmland, could be restored without squeezing food supplies, always providing nations encouraged what they call the “sustainable intensification” of farming, along with a reduction in food waste and a move away from meat and dairy products.

The findings simply extend a procession of such outcomes by other teams. It has been a given for decades that, if forest and other ecosystems become farmland, greenhouse gas levels rise. If wilderness is restored, then the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will fall.

Researchers have repeatedly argued that simply planting more trees could have a dramatic impact on global heating; that a switch towards a plant-based diet could help stem biodiversity loss and reduce emissions; and that without concerted global action, precious ecosystems could collapse altogether.

They have over and over again confirmed that conservation delivers real rewards. And they have pointed out that although nations have promised to act, such promises have not always been kept. The latest study highlights the need for action to be concerted, and global.

“These results highlight the critical importance of international co-operation in meeting these goals,” Dr Strassburg said. “Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate.” − Climate News Network

To save civilisation, try rewilded farmland. But that salvation depends on which land goes back to forest and savannah.

LONDON, 2 November, 2020 − An international consortium of scientists has worked out − once again − how to conserve life on the planet and absorb dramatic quantities of the atmospheric carbon that is driving potentially calamitous climate change: go for rewilded farmland, fields of crops and livestock returned to prairie and forest. And they have identified the most cost-effective way to do it.

Global salvation requires the world’s nations to do simply what they have already undertaken to do: restore 15% of cultivated land to natural forest, grassland, shrubland, wetland and desert ecosystem.

If such restoration happened in the highest priority zones, then almost two-thirds of the wild things now threatened with imminent extinction could survive.

And the restored wilderness that would protect them would also start absorbing atmospheric carbon at an accelerating rate: it could sequester an estimated 229 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). This is almost a third of all the CO2 spilled into the atmosphere by coal, oil and gas combustion in the last 200 years.

All that would be possible if the world’s nations delivered on vows made 10 years ago in Japan, to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. If the 196 nations that signed up went further, and restored a carefully chosen 30%, they could save more than 70% of the million or so species sliding towards extinction, and absorb 465 billion tonnes of CO2: almost half of all the extra atmospheric carbon loaded into the atmosphere by human societies since the Industrial Revolution.

Two provisos

“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernado Strassburg, of the Pontifical Catholic University in Brazil, who led the study.

“We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.”

There is a catch. To be most effective, and for the lowest costs, nations would have to work together.

Right now, scientists report in the journal Nature, each nation has undertaken to restore 15% of its wilderness. But to save the greatest number of species, and absorb the highest levels of carbon, with the lowest cost to farmland and food security, humankind would have to assess the world as a whole, and restore those ecosystems that would serve the goals most effectively.

There is a second catch: barely a month ago, a UN report confirmed that although 196 nations agreed on 20 targets to protect biodiversity − to be achieved by 2020 − a decade ago, there has been “partial progress” in just six of them. The million species then threatened with extinction are still threatened.

Potential ignored

“Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Nevertheless the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.”

And that threat starts with the green things on which all life depends: in September, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London published a new study on ways to identify and care for the plants and fungi that underwrite survival for what could be seven million or more species alive on the planet, and more than seven billion humans.

The study, involving 210 scientists in 42 countries, said Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, paints a picture “of a world that has turned its back on the incredible potential of plant and fungal kingdoms to address some of the biggest challenges we face.

“We have particularly earmarked the gaps in our knowledge, the changes we are seeing, the species being named new to science and the shocking pace of biodiversity loss.”

“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”

The most recent finding builds on the drive not just to fulfil the obligations undertaken 10 years ago, but to identify the very best ways to fulfil them, so as to benefit the greatest number of people.

It delivers the evidence that restoration in the most carefully chosen regions would have the most profound impact: put simply, restoration could be 13 times more cost-effective if it happened in what the Nature researchers have identified as the highest priority locations.

They used sophisticated mathematical tools and detailed geographic data to take a closer look at the 28.7 million square kilometres of natural wilderness that have been converted to farmland: 54% of these were originally forest, 25% grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2% wetland.

They then tested these areas against three considerations: their value as habitat, their capacity for carbon storage and their cost-effectiveness. And they came up with recommendations that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for plants and animals of the wilderness and 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27%.

And then they considered the nation-by-nation approach: were each country to restore 15% of its own forests, the biodiversity boon fell by 28%, the climate benefits by 29%, while the costs would rise by 52%.

Vital partnership

They then considered the impact on the world’s food supplies, to find that 15.78 million sq kms, or 55% of wilderness converted to farmland, could be restored without squeezing food supplies, always providing nations encouraged what they call the “sustainable intensification” of farming, along with a reduction in food waste and a move away from meat and dairy products.

The findings simply extend a procession of such outcomes by other teams. It has been a given for decades that, if forest and other ecosystems become farmland, greenhouse gas levels rise. If wilderness is restored, then the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will fall.

Researchers have repeatedly argued that simply planting more trees could have a dramatic impact on global heating; that a switch towards a plant-based diet could help stem biodiversity loss and reduce emissions; and that without concerted global action, precious ecosystems could collapse altogether.

They have over and over again confirmed that conservation delivers real rewards. And they have pointed out that although nations have promised to act, such promises have not always been kept. The latest study highlights the need for action to be concerted, and global.

“These results highlight the critical importance of international co-operation in meeting these goals,” Dr Strassburg said. “Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate.” − Climate News Network

Carbon release set off Earth’s biggest extinction

A chain of calamities caused the planet’s biggest extinction, the greatest mass dying ever. Greenhouse gases explain how.

LONDON, 23 October, 2020 − German scientists are now sure they can explain the biggest extinction of life on this planet: a catastrophe at the end of the Permian Epoch 252 million years ago.

It happened because atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose dramatically over thousands of years, turning the seas ever more acidic, to precipitate dangerous changes in oceanic conditions. In this, so far the greatest of life’s periodic extinctions, 95% of all the sea creatures perished, along with three-quarters of all life on land.

The evidence of dramatic change at a particular level in the geological record − the Permian-Triassic boundary, now more precisely dated at 251.9 million years ago − has been teasing geologists for decades. And climate change through one agency or another has been a favoured candidate from the start.

That moment in vanished history was marked by a long, slow but world-changing series of volcanic eruptions − the evidence lies in great sheets of basalt known to geologists as the Siberian Traps − and since outgassing of carbon dioxide is associated with all volcanic eruption, a greenhouse effect driven by carbon dioxide has long been a favourite.

Seeking proof

So devastating was this release of heat from the deep crust that ancient coal deposits laid down in the Carboniferous may have ignited, to create the first-ever fossil fuel emissions.

But circumstantial evidence was not the same thing as proof. Dramatic ozone loss − ozone forms a shield against potentially lethal ultra-violet radiation in the upper atmosphere − has also been named as a suspect. Until somebody could deliver clear evidence of the machinery that ensured the extinction, the verdict could only be “not proven.”

Right now, with human help, the planet Earth is undergoing what has been termed a sixth great mass extinction, and evidence from the Permian extinction provides a lesson for what could happen in a changing climate, but so far simply that: an awful warning, rather than a dreadful example.

Now European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they think they have settled the matter. They used evidence from fossils exposed in the Italian Alps to recreate the conditions in the ancient ocean.

“Humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”

The story told by the changing isotopes of carbon, oxygen and most importantly boron in a series of brachiopod fossils was of “substantial” change in the chemistry of sea water 252 million years ago: a change that could be linked to the carbon dioxide from the Siberian Traps eruptions.

The researchers took the reasoning a step further: they used computer models to simulate the conditions of the time. The world warmed, the oceans became increasingly acidic, and right at the outset those organisms in the sea that build shells from calcium were snuffed out of existence.

But the higher temperatures, greater evaporation and ever-higher rainfall that mark a greenhouse world meant ever-greater chemical weathering on land itself. So more nutrients flowed from land to ocean, to deliver too much fertiliser, to encourage too much algal growth.

What followed was a dramatic depletion of dissolved oxygen: marine life was increasingly stifled, or poisoned by sporadic sulphide concentration.

Chain reaction

“We are dealing with a cascading catastrophe in which the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere set off a chain of events that successively extinguished almost all life in the seas,” said Hana Jurikova, then of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, but now at St Andrew’s in Scotland, who led the study.

It is an axiom of geological research that the present is key to the past, but her forensic account of ancient mayhem may not be a precise lesson for today.

“Ancient volcanic eruptions of this kind are not directly comparable to anthropogenic carbon emissions, and in fact all modern fossil fuel reserves are far too insufficient to release as much CO2 over hundreds of years, let alone thousands of years as was released 252 million years ago,” said Dr Jurikova.

“But it is astonishing that humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”. − Climate News Network

A chain of calamities caused the planet’s biggest extinction, the greatest mass dying ever. Greenhouse gases explain how.

LONDON, 23 October, 2020 − German scientists are now sure they can explain the biggest extinction of life on this planet: a catastrophe at the end of the Permian Epoch 252 million years ago.

It happened because atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose dramatically over thousands of years, turning the seas ever more acidic, to precipitate dangerous changes in oceanic conditions. In this, so far the greatest of life’s periodic extinctions, 95% of all the sea creatures perished, along with three-quarters of all life on land.

The evidence of dramatic change at a particular level in the geological record − the Permian-Triassic boundary, now more precisely dated at 251.9 million years ago − has been teasing geologists for decades. And climate change through one agency or another has been a favoured candidate from the start.

That moment in vanished history was marked by a long, slow but world-changing series of volcanic eruptions − the evidence lies in great sheets of basalt known to geologists as the Siberian Traps − and since outgassing of carbon dioxide is associated with all volcanic eruption, a greenhouse effect driven by carbon dioxide has long been a favourite.

Seeking proof

So devastating was this release of heat from the deep crust that ancient coal deposits laid down in the Carboniferous may have ignited, to create the first-ever fossil fuel emissions.

But circumstantial evidence was not the same thing as proof. Dramatic ozone loss − ozone forms a shield against potentially lethal ultra-violet radiation in the upper atmosphere − has also been named as a suspect. Until somebody could deliver clear evidence of the machinery that ensured the extinction, the verdict could only be “not proven.”

Right now, with human help, the planet Earth is undergoing what has been termed a sixth great mass extinction, and evidence from the Permian extinction provides a lesson for what could happen in a changing climate, but so far simply that: an awful warning, rather than a dreadful example.

Now European researchers report in Nature Geoscience that they think they have settled the matter. They used evidence from fossils exposed in the Italian Alps to recreate the conditions in the ancient ocean.

“Humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”

The story told by the changing isotopes of carbon, oxygen and most importantly boron in a series of brachiopod fossils was of “substantial” change in the chemistry of sea water 252 million years ago: a change that could be linked to the carbon dioxide from the Siberian Traps eruptions.

The researchers took the reasoning a step further: they used computer models to simulate the conditions of the time. The world warmed, the oceans became increasingly acidic, and right at the outset those organisms in the sea that build shells from calcium were snuffed out of existence.

But the higher temperatures, greater evaporation and ever-higher rainfall that mark a greenhouse world meant ever-greater chemical weathering on land itself. So more nutrients flowed from land to ocean, to deliver too much fertiliser, to encourage too much algal growth.

What followed was a dramatic depletion of dissolved oxygen: marine life was increasingly stifled, or poisoned by sporadic sulphide concentration.

Chain reaction

“We are dealing with a cascading catastrophe in which the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere set off a chain of events that successively extinguished almost all life in the seas,” said Hana Jurikova, then of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, but now at St Andrew’s in Scotland, who led the study.

It is an axiom of geological research that the present is key to the past, but her forensic account of ancient mayhem may not be a precise lesson for today.

“Ancient volcanic eruptions of this kind are not directly comparable to anthropogenic carbon emissions, and in fact all modern fossil fuel reserves are far too insufficient to release as much CO2 over hundreds of years, let alone thousands of years as was released 252 million years ago,” said Dr Jurikova.

“But it is astonishing that humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”. − Climate News Network

China’s climate lead offers the planet new hope

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

World makes haste too slowly on cutting energy use

The annual report card on the global energy industry says progress towards lower energy use must be much faster.

LONDON, 16 October, 2020 – The world is dragging its feet on efforts to tackle the climate crisis by reducing its energy use, according to a global watchdog.

In its World Energy Outlook 2020, the lnternational Energy Agency (IEA) says that while emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main climate-changing greenhouse gas), are falling, the reduction needs to be far steeper to make any meaningful impact.

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline”, says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

The Agency says energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, with an overall decline of 7% in emissions of CO2 from the global energy sector. This means that annual emissions of CO2 are back to where they were a decade ago, the report says.

Oil demand this year is likely to be down by 8%, while coal use will fall by 7%.

“Solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”

That’s the headline good news: the bad news is that emissions of methane – among the most potent of greenhouse gases – are rising, says the report.

Total global investment in the energy sector is also falling dramatically, and is set to be down 18% year on year.

That means that despite the rise of renewable energy, particularly of solar power, governments, utilities and corporations around the world are still not spending enough to bring about a major transition in energy use – and to meet the challenge of catastrophic climate change.

“Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good”, says the IEA.

Problem grids

While hydropower is still the leading source of renewable power, solar is described as the new king of electricity.

“With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV [solar photovoltaic energy] is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen.”

A major problem is that as solar and wind projects are installed and expanded, other parts of the energy sector also need to be developed, particularly infrastructure associated with electricity grids.

In many parts of the world energy utilities are in severe financial straits and have little or no money to maintain or invest in achieving more efficiencies and in infrastructure.

“Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply”, says the IEA.

Covid-19’s effects

The report says it’s not just the energy industry that has to change. “To reach net-zero emissions, governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all need to be on board – and will all have unprecedented contributions to make.”

The Covid crisis is a major factor in assessing the global energy outlook.

The pandemic, says the IEA, has caused more disruption in the energy sector than any other event in recent history, with impacts for years to come.

“It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change”, the report says. – Climate News Network

The annual report card on the global energy industry says progress towards lower energy use must be much faster.

LONDON, 16 October, 2020 – The world is dragging its feet on efforts to tackle the climate crisis by reducing its energy use, according to a global watchdog.

In its World Energy Outlook 2020, the lnternational Energy Agency (IEA) says that while emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main climate-changing greenhouse gas), are falling, the reduction needs to be far steeper to make any meaningful impact.

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline”, says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

The Agency says energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, with an overall decline of 7% in emissions of CO2 from the global energy sector. This means that annual emissions of CO2 are back to where they were a decade ago, the report says.

Oil demand this year is likely to be down by 8%, while coal use will fall by 7%.

“Solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”

That’s the headline good news: the bad news is that emissions of methane – among the most potent of greenhouse gases – are rising, says the report.

Total global investment in the energy sector is also falling dramatically, and is set to be down 18% year on year.

That means that despite the rise of renewable energy, particularly of solar power, governments, utilities and corporations around the world are still not spending enough to bring about a major transition in energy use – and to meet the challenge of catastrophic climate change.

“Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good”, says the IEA.

Problem grids

While hydropower is still the leading source of renewable power, solar is described as the new king of electricity.

“With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV [solar photovoltaic energy] is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen.”

A major problem is that as solar and wind projects are installed and expanded, other parts of the energy sector also need to be developed, particularly infrastructure associated with electricity grids.

In many parts of the world energy utilities are in severe financial straits and have little or no money to maintain or invest in achieving more efficiencies and in infrastructure.

“Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply”, says the IEA.

Covid-19’s effects

The report says it’s not just the energy industry that has to change. “To reach net-zero emissions, governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all need to be on board – and will all have unprecedented contributions to make.”

The Covid crisis is a major factor in assessing the global energy outlook.

The pandemic, says the IEA, has caused more disruption in the energy sector than any other event in recent history, with impacts for years to come.

“It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change”, the report says. – Climate News Network

Climate heat melts Arctic snows and dries forests

Fires now blaze under Arctic snows, where once even the wettest rainforests burned. Climate change delivers unlikely outcomes.

LONDON, 12 October, 2020 − The northern polar region isn’t just warming: it’s also smoking, as the rising heat thaws the Arctic snows. Researchers have identified a new class of fire hazard.

High above the Arctic Circle, fires that flared a year ago continued to smoulder under the snow through the winter to flare up again − two months earlier than usual, and on a scale not seen before.

And if the notion of fire and ice seems a surprise, prepare for the idea of a blazing rainforest. In a second and separate study, researchers exploring the climate lessons from the deep past 90 million years ago have found that, if the atmosphere is rich enough in oxygen, then even the wettest foliage can ignite and burn, to consume perhaps up to 40% of the world’s forest.

Scientists from the US report in Nature Geoscience that they have identified an unexpected threat from “zombie fires” which, despite heavy snowmelt, they say “can smoulder in carbon-rich peat below the surface for months or years, often only detectable through smoke released at the surface, and can even occur through cold winter months.”

“The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The impacts are really long-lasting”

They warn that in the fast-changing climate of the highest northern latitudes, the evidence from last year and this suggest that extreme temperatures and drier conditions mean there is a lot more surface fuel in the Arctic to catch fire and melt the Arctic snows.

Dwarf shrubs, sedges, mosses and grasses are invading the tundra, to join the surface peat, and even the bogs, fens and marches of the tundra are now burning. In all, 50% of the detected fires above 65°North − many in the Russian Arctic − happened on permafrost: that is, on ever-icy soils.

“It’s not just the amount of burned area that is alarming,” said Merritt Turetsky of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and one of the authors. “There are other trends we noticed in the satellite data that tell us how the Arctic fire regime is changing and what this spells for our climate future.”

Wildfires are on the increase now, in a world in which climate change has delivered hotter and drier conditions for many regions. Unexpectedly, according to a second study in Nature Geoscience, fossilized evidence in rocks in Utah has delivered evidence of massive and sustained forest fires, in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons preserved in black shales laid down in the Cretaceous.

Huge absorption rate

Researchers pieced together a story of dramatic climate change 94 million years ago, when carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, and land and sea plants began to absorb it from the atmosphere on a massive scale. Microbial respiration stepped up too, and parts of the ocean became increasingly low in oxygen.

During 100,000 years of this, so much carbon had been buried in the ground or the oceans that – with the release of molecular oxygen, the O2 in CO2 − atmospheric oxygen levels began to increase. And with that, the scientists say, so did the probability of forest fires, even in wet forest ecosystems. Altogether, perhaps 30% to 40% of the planet’s forests were consumed by fire over 100 millennia.

“One of the consequences of having more oxygen in the atmosphere is that it’s easier to burn fires. It’s the same reason you blow on embers to stoke a fire,” said Garrett Boudinot, then at the University of Boulder Colorado and now with the Colorado Wildlife Council, who led the research.

“This finding highlights the prolonged impacts of climate change. The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The history of climate change in Earth history tells us that the impacts are really long-lasting.” − Climate News Network

Fires now blaze under Arctic snows, where once even the wettest rainforests burned. Climate change delivers unlikely outcomes.

LONDON, 12 October, 2020 − The northern polar region isn’t just warming: it’s also smoking, as the rising heat thaws the Arctic snows. Researchers have identified a new class of fire hazard.

High above the Arctic Circle, fires that flared a year ago continued to smoulder under the snow through the winter to flare up again − two months earlier than usual, and on a scale not seen before.

And if the notion of fire and ice seems a surprise, prepare for the idea of a blazing rainforest. In a second and separate study, researchers exploring the climate lessons from the deep past 90 million years ago have found that, if the atmosphere is rich enough in oxygen, then even the wettest foliage can ignite and burn, to consume perhaps up to 40% of the world’s forest.

Scientists from the US report in Nature Geoscience that they have identified an unexpected threat from “zombie fires” which, despite heavy snowmelt, they say “can smoulder in carbon-rich peat below the surface for months or years, often only detectable through smoke released at the surface, and can even occur through cold winter months.”

“The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The impacts are really long-lasting”

They warn that in the fast-changing climate of the highest northern latitudes, the evidence from last year and this suggest that extreme temperatures and drier conditions mean there is a lot more surface fuel in the Arctic to catch fire and melt the Arctic snows.

Dwarf shrubs, sedges, mosses and grasses are invading the tundra, to join the surface peat, and even the bogs, fens and marches of the tundra are now burning. In all, 50% of the detected fires above 65°North − many in the Russian Arctic − happened on permafrost: that is, on ever-icy soils.

“It’s not just the amount of burned area that is alarming,” said Merritt Turetsky of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and one of the authors. “There are other trends we noticed in the satellite data that tell us how the Arctic fire regime is changing and what this spells for our climate future.”

Wildfires are on the increase now, in a world in which climate change has delivered hotter and drier conditions for many regions. Unexpectedly, according to a second study in Nature Geoscience, fossilized evidence in rocks in Utah has delivered evidence of massive and sustained forest fires, in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons preserved in black shales laid down in the Cretaceous.

Huge absorption rate

Researchers pieced together a story of dramatic climate change 94 million years ago, when carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, and land and sea plants began to absorb it from the atmosphere on a massive scale. Microbial respiration stepped up too, and parts of the ocean became increasingly low in oxygen.

During 100,000 years of this, so much carbon had been buried in the ground or the oceans that – with the release of molecular oxygen, the O2 in CO2 − atmospheric oxygen levels began to increase. And with that, the scientists say, so did the probability of forest fires, even in wet forest ecosystems. Altogether, perhaps 30% to 40% of the planet’s forests were consumed by fire over 100 millennia.

“One of the consequences of having more oxygen in the atmosphere is that it’s easier to burn fires. It’s the same reason you blow on embers to stoke a fire,” said Garrett Boudinot, then at the University of Boulder Colorado and now with the Colorado Wildlife Council, who led the research.

“This finding highlights the prolonged impacts of climate change. The climate change we are causing now, it’s not something where if we don’t fix it, only our grandkids will have to deal with it. The history of climate change in Earth history tells us that the impacts are really long-lasting.” − Climate News Network

Melting Arctic needs new name to match reality

Change in the far north is happening so fast that soon the melting Arctic won’t be arctic any more.

LONDON, 16 September, 2020 − The word Arctic may be up for redefinition. The conditions within the melting Arctic Circle are changing so fast that what was once a frozen seascape could now be entering a new climate regime in which nothing is predictable.

Even in an unusually cold year, the sea ice may not return to the summer limits normal in the last century. For some months of autumn and even winter, rain will fall instead of snow, US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The rate of change is remarkable,” said Laura Landrum, of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, who led the study.

“It’s a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year. The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago.”

She and a colleague looked at four decades of satellite data and ground observations and hundreds of computer simulations to confirm that polar warming is happening at such a rate that any change year to year is no longer within the extremes of the past. Conditions that were once normally changeable are now abnormally so.

“The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago … We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is”

Climate in the northern hemisphere is moderated by temperature differences that vary with latitude: between them, a torrid equator and a frozen Arctic drive the prevailing winds and ocean currents and the mix of cloud, sunshine, rainfall, frost, windstorm, dry spells and seasonal flooding in which agriculture, industry and civilisation have evolved for the last 10,000 years.

But as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere soar in response to rapidly-increasing use of fossil fuels, the melting Arctic has been warming far more swiftly than the planet as a whole.

The extent of summer sea ice in each of the last 13 years has been lower than any minimum observed since 1979, when systematic observation began. Winters have been warmer, winter sea ice has been reduced, rain has been falling on snow ever earlier.

The climate scientists posed themselves the simple question: “While these changes appear extreme compared with the recent past, are they climate extremes in a statistical sense, or do they represent expected events in a new Arctic climate?”

New climate develops

The answer seems to be: yes. The researchers tested their statistical techniques on five different climate simulations. Each of these showed the sea ice retreating so dramatically that a new climate had emerged some time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The finding fits a pattern of foreboding delivered by recent research. In the last two months, researchers have warned that ice loss in the Arctic regions has been so severe that the region’s most charismatic predator, the polar bear, may be gone by the century’s end.

Another group has warned that the Arctic ocean in late summer may be effectively ice-free within the next 15 years.

One group has concluded that ice loss from Greenland is now at such a rate as to be irreversible, and another has confirmed that the rate of ice melt from the northern hemisphere’s biggest reserve – enough to raise sea levels six or seven metres – last year reached new records.

And this month an international research team reported that the rate of change in the Arctic has exceeded the “worst-case” scenario proposed by climate researchers.

Unknown extremes ahead

Dr Landrum and her colleague report that − if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate − some of their climate forecasts predict a mostly ice-free Arctic for between three and 10 months a year, every year, by the end of the century.

Air temperatures over the ocean in autumn and winter will become warmer before or by mid-century, and then start warming over land in the second half.

In a warmer world, more water will evaporate and fall again as rain. Over Alaska, northern Canada and northern Siberia there will be more rain rather than snow: by mid-century, perhaps an extra 20 to 60 days, and by 2100, perhaps from 60 to an extra 90 days. In some parts of the Arctic, by the century’s end, rain might fall in any month of the year.

“The Arctic is likely to experience extremes in sea ice, temperature and precipitation that are far outside anything we’ve experienced before,” Dr Landrum said. “We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is.” − Climate News Network

Change in the far north is happening so fast that soon the melting Arctic won’t be arctic any more.

LONDON, 16 September, 2020 − The word Arctic may be up for redefinition. The conditions within the melting Arctic Circle are changing so fast that what was once a frozen seascape could now be entering a new climate regime in which nothing is predictable.

Even in an unusually cold year, the sea ice may not return to the summer limits normal in the last century. For some months of autumn and even winter, rain will fall instead of snow, US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The rate of change is remarkable,” said Laura Landrum, of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, who led the study.

“It’s a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year. The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago.”

She and a colleague looked at four decades of satellite data and ground observations and hundreds of computer simulations to confirm that polar warming is happening at such a rate that any change year to year is no longer within the extremes of the past. Conditions that were once normally changeable are now abnormally so.

“The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago … We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is”

Climate in the northern hemisphere is moderated by temperature differences that vary with latitude: between them, a torrid equator and a frozen Arctic drive the prevailing winds and ocean currents and the mix of cloud, sunshine, rainfall, frost, windstorm, dry spells and seasonal flooding in which agriculture, industry and civilisation have evolved for the last 10,000 years.

But as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere soar in response to rapidly-increasing use of fossil fuels, the melting Arctic has been warming far more swiftly than the planet as a whole.

The extent of summer sea ice in each of the last 13 years has been lower than any minimum observed since 1979, when systematic observation began. Winters have been warmer, winter sea ice has been reduced, rain has been falling on snow ever earlier.

The climate scientists posed themselves the simple question: “While these changes appear extreme compared with the recent past, are they climate extremes in a statistical sense, or do they represent expected events in a new Arctic climate?”

New climate develops

The answer seems to be: yes. The researchers tested their statistical techniques on five different climate simulations. Each of these showed the sea ice retreating so dramatically that a new climate had emerged some time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The finding fits a pattern of foreboding delivered by recent research. In the last two months, researchers have warned that ice loss in the Arctic regions has been so severe that the region’s most charismatic predator, the polar bear, may be gone by the century’s end.

Another group has warned that the Arctic ocean in late summer may be effectively ice-free within the next 15 years.

One group has concluded that ice loss from Greenland is now at such a rate as to be irreversible, and another has confirmed that the rate of ice melt from the northern hemisphere’s biggest reserve – enough to raise sea levels six or seven metres – last year reached new records.

And this month an international research team reported that the rate of change in the Arctic has exceeded the “worst-case” scenario proposed by climate researchers.

Unknown extremes ahead

Dr Landrum and her colleague report that − if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate − some of their climate forecasts predict a mostly ice-free Arctic for between three and 10 months a year, every year, by the end of the century.

Air temperatures over the ocean in autumn and winter will become warmer before or by mid-century, and then start warming over land in the second half.

In a warmer world, more water will evaporate and fall again as rain. Over Alaska, northern Canada and northern Siberia there will be more rain rather than snow: by mid-century, perhaps an extra 20 to 60 days, and by 2100, perhaps from 60 to an extra 90 days. In some parts of the Arctic, by the century’s end, rain might fall in any month of the year.

“The Arctic is likely to experience extremes in sea ice, temperature and precipitation that are far outside anything we’ve experienced before,” Dr Landrum said. “We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is.” − Climate News Network

Arctic heating races ahead of worst case estimates

Arctic heating is happening far faster than anybody had anticipated. And the ice record suggests this has happened before.

LONDON, 2 September, 2020 – An international team of scientists brings bad news about Arctic heating: the polar ocean is warming not only faster than anybody predicted, it is getting hotter at a rate faster than even the worst case climate scenario predictions have so far foreseen.

Such dramatic rises in Arctic temperatures have been recorded before, but only during the last Ice Age. Evidence from the Greenland ice cores suggests that temperatures rose by 10°C or even 12°C, over a period of between 40 years and a century, between 120,000 years and 11,000 years ago.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated,” said Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, a physicist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, one of 16 scientists who report in the journal Nature Climate Change on a new analysis of 40 years of data from the Arctic region.

They found that, on average, the Arctic has been warming at the rate of 1°C per decade for the last four decades. Around Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, temperatures rose even faster, at 1.5°C every 10 years.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated”

During the last two centuries, as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide climbed from an average of around 285 parts per million to more than 400ppm, so the global average temperature of the planet rose: by a fraction more than 1°C.

The latest study is a reminder that temperatures in the Arctic are rising far faster than that. And the news is hardly a shock: within the past few weeks, separate teams of researchers, reporting to other journals, have warned that Greenland – the biggest single reservoir of ice in the northern hemisphere – is melting faster than ever; more alarmingly, its icecap is losing mass at a rate that suggests the loss could become irreversible.

Researchers have also confirmed that the average planetary temperature  continues to rise inexorably, that the Arctic Ocean could be free of ice in  summer as early as 2035, and that the climate scientists’ “worst case” scenarios are no longer to be regarded as a warning of what could happen: the evidence is that what is happening now already matches the climate forecaster’s worst case. The latest finding implicitly and explicitly supports this flurry of ominous observation.

“We have looked at the climate models analysed and assessed by the UN Climate Panel,” said Professor Christensen. “Only those models based on the worst case scenario, with the highest carbon dioxide emissions, come close to what our temperature measurements show over the past 40 years, from 1979 to today.” – Climate News Network

Arctic heating is happening far faster than anybody had anticipated. And the ice record suggests this has happened before.

LONDON, 2 September, 2020 – An international team of scientists brings bad news about Arctic heating: the polar ocean is warming not only faster than anybody predicted, it is getting hotter at a rate faster than even the worst case climate scenario predictions have so far foreseen.

Such dramatic rises in Arctic temperatures have been recorded before, but only during the last Ice Age. Evidence from the Greenland ice cores suggests that temperatures rose by 10°C or even 12°C, over a period of between 40 years and a century, between 120,000 years and 11,000 years ago.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated,” said Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, a physicist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, one of 16 scientists who report in the journal Nature Climate Change on a new analysis of 40 years of data from the Arctic region.

They found that, on average, the Arctic has been warming at the rate of 1°C per decade for the last four decades. Around Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, temperatures rose even faster, at 1.5°C every 10 years.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated”

During the last two centuries, as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide climbed from an average of around 285 parts per million to more than 400ppm, so the global average temperature of the planet rose: by a fraction more than 1°C.

The latest study is a reminder that temperatures in the Arctic are rising far faster than that. And the news is hardly a shock: within the past few weeks, separate teams of researchers, reporting to other journals, have warned that Greenland – the biggest single reservoir of ice in the northern hemisphere – is melting faster than ever; more alarmingly, its icecap is losing mass at a rate that suggests the loss could become irreversible.

Researchers have also confirmed that the average planetary temperature  continues to rise inexorably, that the Arctic Ocean could be free of ice in  summer as early as 2035, and that the climate scientists’ “worst case” scenarios are no longer to be regarded as a warning of what could happen: the evidence is that what is happening now already matches the climate forecaster’s worst case. The latest finding implicitly and explicitly supports this flurry of ominous observation.

“We have looked at the climate models analysed and assessed by the UN Climate Panel,” said Professor Christensen. “Only those models based on the worst case scenario, with the highest carbon dioxide emissions, come close to what our temperature measurements show over the past 40 years, from 1979 to today.” – Climate News Network

Restoring forests can reduce greenhouse gases

In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 – There is one straightforward way to reduce greenhouse gases: by taking better care of the world’s natural forests.

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

Faster recovery

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.

“Restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again”

The research demonstrates two things. The first is that forests can and will restore themselves: opportunistic plants will colonise open space and provide cover for those species best adapted to long-term survival in that climate and habitat. Nature will decide what conservationists call “the climax vegetation” of any natural forest. The second is that nature can indeed benefit from selective human help.

“This active restoration encourages naturally diverse forest, and is therefore much more beneficial for biodiversity than monocultures or plantation forests,” said Christopher Philipson, of the Swiss Federal Technology Institute known as ETH Zurich.

“In this way restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again.”

There will be arguments about the finding. One is that what might be a good solution in south-east Asia might not be the best answer for the Congo or parts of the Amazon: as humans degrade the forest, they may also affect the local climate in ways that favour some native species rather than others. That is, it might never be possible to restore a forest to what it had been before the forester’s axe arrived.

Restoration’s pricetag

There is a second argument: restoration work costs money. How much economic sense it makes depends on what value scientists, politicians and economists put on the carbon that is sequestered as a consequence, and what price humanity pays for that same carbon in the form of additional greenhouse gas that will raise global temperatures, alter rainfall patterns and trigger potentially catastrophic climate change.

What worth do forests have to local populations, and what is the value set on the world’s wildernesses as global natural capital?

“Not long ago we treated degraded tropical forests as lost causes,” said a co-author, Greg Asner of Arizona State University.

“Our new findings, combined with those of other researchers around the world, strongly suggest that restoring tropical forests is a viable and highly scalable solution to regaining lost carbon stocks on land.” – Climate News Network

In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 – There is one straightforward way to reduce greenhouse gases: by taking better care of the world’s natural forests.

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

Faster recovery

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.

“Restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again”

The research demonstrates two things. The first is that forests can and will restore themselves: opportunistic plants will colonise open space and provide cover for those species best adapted to long-term survival in that climate and habitat. Nature will decide what conservationists call “the climax vegetation” of any natural forest. The second is that nature can indeed benefit from selective human help.

“This active restoration encourages naturally diverse forest, and is therefore much more beneficial for biodiversity than monocultures or plantation forests,” said Christopher Philipson, of the Swiss Federal Technology Institute known as ETH Zurich.

“In this way restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again.”

There will be arguments about the finding. One is that what might be a good solution in south-east Asia might not be the best answer for the Congo or parts of the Amazon: as humans degrade the forest, they may also affect the local climate in ways that favour some native species rather than others. That is, it might never be possible to restore a forest to what it had been before the forester’s axe arrived.

Restoration’s pricetag

There is a second argument: restoration work costs money. How much economic sense it makes depends on what value scientists, politicians and economists put on the carbon that is sequestered as a consequence, and what price humanity pays for that same carbon in the form of additional greenhouse gas that will raise global temperatures, alter rainfall patterns and trigger potentially catastrophic climate change.

What worth do forests have to local populations, and what is the value set on the world’s wildernesses as global natural capital?

“Not long ago we treated degraded tropical forests as lost causes,” said a co-author, Greg Asner of Arizona State University.

“Our new findings, combined with those of other researchers around the world, strongly suggest that restoring tropical forests is a viable and highly scalable solution to regaining lost carbon stocks on land.” – Climate News Network