Tag Archives: China

Human impact on climate is 100 years old

When did the human impact on climate begin? At least a century ago, with the arrival of the bi-plane, the chauffeur-driven car and the Jazz Age.

LONDON, 2 May, 2019 − Our influence on the Earth’s environment has lasted for a century: the human impact on droughts and moisture patterns began at least 100 years ago, researchers now say.

US scientists used new analytic techniques and almost a thousand years of tree-ring data to build up a picture of drought and rainfall worldwide for the last century. And they report in the journal Nature that they have identified the human fingerprint upon climate variation as far back as the first days of the motor car and the infant aircraft industry.

The pattern of change, in which regions prone to drought such as the western US became more arid, grew visible between 1900 and 1949. The researchers saw the same pattern of drying in those decades in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, western Russia and southeast Asia.

At the same time more rain and snow fell in western China, much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and central Canada.

Clear signal apparent

Kate Marvel of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research, said: “It’s mind-boggling. There really is a clear signal of the effects of greenhouse gases on the hydroclimate.”

And Benjamin Cook of both the Nasa Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said: “We asked, does the real world look like what the models tell us to expect? The answer is yes.

“The big thing we learned is that climate change started affecting global patterns of drought in the early 20th century. We expect this pattern to keep emerging as climate change continues.”

For four decades it has been a given of climate change research that average planetary warming will intensify all the extremes of weather: in particular, drought and flood.

“All the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places”

The problem has been that droughts and floods have always happened. But could scientists identify the signature of human change – the clearing of the forests, the intensification of agriculture, the growth of the cities and the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to dump ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – in any one flood or drought? Until this century, researchers were unwilling to name the guilty party.

No longer. In recent years researchers have done more than just blame overall warming on human activity, and in particular the increasing hazard of extremes of heat, drought and flood.

They have linked human behaviour with drought in California and with record temperatures in 2013 in Australia.

The Nasa-led research is not quite the first to claim to have detected very early evidence of climate change. A team led by Chinese scientists reported in April in the journal Nature Sustainability that tree ring evidence from the Tibetan plateau suggested that humans may have begun altering the pattern of seasonal temperatures – that is, the differences between winter and summer – as early as the 1870s, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Puzzle solved?

But the latest study from Dr Marvel and colleagues identifies such evidence on a wider scale, and may even have resolved the puzzle of the extremes that did not happen.

The research found three distinct periods of change. The first was marked by more drought in some places, more precipitation in others in the first half of the 20th century. But by the height of the Cold War, and the space race mid-century, it became harder to see a pattern, and climate events seemed more random, and climates cooler.

The researchers now think the huge volumes of aerosols from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts between 1950 and 1975 altered weather patterns in different ways, affecting cloud formation, rainfall and temperature, to mask the effect of greenhouse gas increases.

These were the years of choking smog, grime and soot, sulphurous droplets, acid rain, corroding historic buildings and urban respiratory disease on an epidemic scale.

Stronger patternn expected

And then developed nations started introducing clean air legislation and other pollution controls. Round about 1981, tentative evidence of the impact of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions began to show again in the climate record, although not as boldly as in the first half of the century.

If the researchers have got it right, the pattern of increasing drought, matched elsewhere by increasing precipitation, will continue to become stronger.

“If we don’t see it coming in stronger in, say, the next 10 years, we might have to wonder whether we are right,” Dr Marvel said. “But all the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places.”

And the researchers warn that the consequences for humankind, especially in North America and Eurasia, could be severe. − Climate News Network

When did the human impact on climate begin? At least a century ago, with the arrival of the bi-plane, the chauffeur-driven car and the Jazz Age.

LONDON, 2 May, 2019 − Our influence on the Earth’s environment has lasted for a century: the human impact on droughts and moisture patterns began at least 100 years ago, researchers now say.

US scientists used new analytic techniques and almost a thousand years of tree-ring data to build up a picture of drought and rainfall worldwide for the last century. And they report in the journal Nature that they have identified the human fingerprint upon climate variation as far back as the first days of the motor car and the infant aircraft industry.

The pattern of change, in which regions prone to drought such as the western US became more arid, grew visible between 1900 and 1949. The researchers saw the same pattern of drying in those decades in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, western Russia and southeast Asia.

At the same time more rain and snow fell in western China, much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and central Canada.

Clear signal apparent

Kate Marvel of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research, said: “It’s mind-boggling. There really is a clear signal of the effects of greenhouse gases on the hydroclimate.”

And Benjamin Cook of both the Nasa Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said: “We asked, does the real world look like what the models tell us to expect? The answer is yes.

“The big thing we learned is that climate change started affecting global patterns of drought in the early 20th century. We expect this pattern to keep emerging as climate change continues.”

For four decades it has been a given of climate change research that average planetary warming will intensify all the extremes of weather: in particular, drought and flood.

“All the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places”

The problem has been that droughts and floods have always happened. But could scientists identify the signature of human change – the clearing of the forests, the intensification of agriculture, the growth of the cities and the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to dump ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – in any one flood or drought? Until this century, researchers were unwilling to name the guilty party.

No longer. In recent years researchers have done more than just blame overall warming on human activity, and in particular the increasing hazard of extremes of heat, drought and flood.

They have linked human behaviour with drought in California and with record temperatures in 2013 in Australia.

The Nasa-led research is not quite the first to claim to have detected very early evidence of climate change. A team led by Chinese scientists reported in April in the journal Nature Sustainability that tree ring evidence from the Tibetan plateau suggested that humans may have begun altering the pattern of seasonal temperatures – that is, the differences between winter and summer – as early as the 1870s, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Puzzle solved?

But the latest study from Dr Marvel and colleagues identifies such evidence on a wider scale, and may even have resolved the puzzle of the extremes that did not happen.

The research found three distinct periods of change. The first was marked by more drought in some places, more precipitation in others in the first half of the 20th century. But by the height of the Cold War, and the space race mid-century, it became harder to see a pattern, and climate events seemed more random, and climates cooler.

The researchers now think the huge volumes of aerosols from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts between 1950 and 1975 altered weather patterns in different ways, affecting cloud formation, rainfall and temperature, to mask the effect of greenhouse gas increases.

These were the years of choking smog, grime and soot, sulphurous droplets, acid rain, corroding historic buildings and urban respiratory disease on an epidemic scale.

Stronger patternn expected

And then developed nations started introducing clean air legislation and other pollution controls. Round about 1981, tentative evidence of the impact of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions began to show again in the climate record, although not as boldly as in the first half of the century.

If the researchers have got it right, the pattern of increasing drought, matched elsewhere by increasing precipitation, will continue to become stronger.

“If we don’t see it coming in stronger in, say, the next 10 years, we might have to wonder whether we are right,” Dr Marvel said. “But all the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places.”

And the researchers warn that the consequences for humankind, especially in North America and Eurasia, could be severe. − Climate News Network

Europe’s new nuclear plants hit more snags

Plans for two new nuclear plants in Western Europe have met more setbacks in the last week, risking the industry’s future here.

LONDON, 16 April, 2019 − Two new nuclear plants, one in Finland and the other in France, which for years have been limping towards start-up, have just encountered further problems, with worrying wider implications for the nuclear industry.

They are two almost completed prototype European Pressurised Water reactors (EPRs), already years late and massively over budget, whose new problems are causing further expensive delays.

The so-called third generation reactors, of 1,600 megawatts each, are the most powerful in the world and are the flagship project of EDF, the French state energy company. But they are proving extremely difficult to build and far more costly than forecast.

EDF has just begun building two more EPR reactors in the UK and has plans to add another two, but there must be doubts whether this scheme is now credible. Since the stations were planned a decade ago wind and solar power have now both become far cheaper than nuclear, even without what seem to be its inevitable cost overruns.

Ten years late

The first EPR, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, was due to be up and running in 2009, but concerns about the quality of construction and legal disputes caused a series of cost escalations and delays. This had already meant the postponement of the first grid connection until October 2018, and the growth of the plant’s cost to more than three times the original estimate of €3 billion (£2.6 bn).

Last week, however, it was reported that even this timetable could not be met and at least another two months delay was likely, although it could be longer. The Finnish utility TVO for whom the plant is being built promises a new schedule in June.

For the second reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, the situation is potentially far more serious. For months dozens of faulty welds discovered during inspections have been the subject of investigation by experts to see if they need to be redone to ensure the reactor’s safety.

EDF was already re-welding 53 of them but hoped to convince France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) that another ten difficult-to-reach welds were safe and could be left. However, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), the technical arm of ASN, has said that these should also be replaced.

While this recommendation is not binding on the regulator it will be hard to ignore, and it is doubtful that ASN would allow EDF to go ahead and start the reactor with faulty welds. It has said it will make a decision in June.

Threefold price rise

Since the pipes containing the welds are fundamental to the operation of the reactor, and repairing them would take up to two years, this can only add further to the escalating costs.

The single reactor was due to open in 2012 and cost €3 bn, but is already estimated to cost €10.9 bn and to start in mid-2020, although the new weld problem could delay the start for another two years.

This, on top of earlier doubts about safety caused by there being too much carbon in the steel pressure vessel, has made the French government postpone any plans to build any more EPRs at home. Instead, for the first time, it is encouraging heavy investment in renewable energy.

As a result EDF is putting all its efforts into building two giant EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in south-west England, to prove that its design can be built on time and on budget.

“The site is … on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime”

It has a guarantee from the UK government for a price for electricity from the station which is twice the current market tariff in Britain. That makes building the station a money-spinner for EDF − and will push up consumer bills.

This is, of course, if the twin reactors each producing 1,600 megawatts, about 7% of the UK’s electricity needs, enough for six million homes, can indeed be built on time and on budget by 2025. They will rapidly become white elephants if they reach anything like the 10-year delay that the reactors in Finland and France seem destined to achieve.

Currently thousands of workers are already employed at Hinkley Point and so far everything seems to be going to plan, with EDF claiming 25,000 people will soon be working on the project.

Despite its setbacks in France, the company is also pressing ahead with plans to build two more reactors at Sizewell on the east coast of England, where there is increasing and determined local opposition which fears the destruction of the local tourist industry and wildlife sanctuaries.

The site is also on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime.

Avoiding another Hinkley

A way of financing them has yet to be agreed with the UK government, which has been stung by the criticism of the excessive prices promised for Hinkley Point’s output and has decided not to repeat its mistake.

As part of its strategy to bolster the company’s finances EDF has gone into partnership with the Chinese state nuclear companies which are part-funding both projects. Ultimately the Chinese and French hope to build yet another reactor at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, this time of Chinese design. But that seems even further away on the horizon.

The success or failure of EDF’s plans is crucial to the future of nuclear power in Western Europe. Japan, the US and all other western European states apart from France have given up the idea of building large stations. Only China and Russia are now building 1,000 megawatt stations and offering generous terms to any country in the world that will allow them to be built on their soil.

In both cases cost seems secondary to gaining influence in the countries concerned, which will be dependent on either Russia or China for nuclear supplies for a generation or longer if they are to keep the lights on. − Climate News Network

Plans for two new nuclear plants in Western Europe have met more setbacks in the last week, risking the industry’s future here.

LONDON, 16 April, 2019 − Two new nuclear plants, one in Finland and the other in France, which for years have been limping towards start-up, have just encountered further problems, with worrying wider implications for the nuclear industry.

They are two almost completed prototype European Pressurised Water reactors (EPRs), already years late and massively over budget, whose new problems are causing further expensive delays.

The so-called third generation reactors, of 1,600 megawatts each, are the most powerful in the world and are the flagship project of EDF, the French state energy company. But they are proving extremely difficult to build and far more costly than forecast.

EDF has just begun building two more EPR reactors in the UK and has plans to add another two, but there must be doubts whether this scheme is now credible. Since the stations were planned a decade ago wind and solar power have now both become far cheaper than nuclear, even without what seem to be its inevitable cost overruns.

Ten years late

The first EPR, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, was due to be up and running in 2009, but concerns about the quality of construction and legal disputes caused a series of cost escalations and delays. This had already meant the postponement of the first grid connection until October 2018, and the growth of the plant’s cost to more than three times the original estimate of €3 billion (£2.6 bn).

Last week, however, it was reported that even this timetable could not be met and at least another two months delay was likely, although it could be longer. The Finnish utility TVO for whom the plant is being built promises a new schedule in June.

For the second reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, the situation is potentially far more serious. For months dozens of faulty welds discovered during inspections have been the subject of investigation by experts to see if they need to be redone to ensure the reactor’s safety.

EDF was already re-welding 53 of them but hoped to convince France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) that another ten difficult-to-reach welds were safe and could be left. However, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), the technical arm of ASN, has said that these should also be replaced.

While this recommendation is not binding on the regulator it will be hard to ignore, and it is doubtful that ASN would allow EDF to go ahead and start the reactor with faulty welds. It has said it will make a decision in June.

Threefold price rise

Since the pipes containing the welds are fundamental to the operation of the reactor, and repairing them would take up to two years, this can only add further to the escalating costs.

The single reactor was due to open in 2012 and cost €3 bn, but is already estimated to cost €10.9 bn and to start in mid-2020, although the new weld problem could delay the start for another two years.

This, on top of earlier doubts about safety caused by there being too much carbon in the steel pressure vessel, has made the French government postpone any plans to build any more EPRs at home. Instead, for the first time, it is encouraging heavy investment in renewable energy.

As a result EDF is putting all its efforts into building two giant EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in south-west England, to prove that its design can be built on time and on budget.

“The site is … on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime”

It has a guarantee from the UK government for a price for electricity from the station which is twice the current market tariff in Britain. That makes building the station a money-spinner for EDF − and will push up consumer bills.

This is, of course, if the twin reactors each producing 1,600 megawatts, about 7% of the UK’s electricity needs, enough for six million homes, can indeed be built on time and on budget by 2025. They will rapidly become white elephants if they reach anything like the 10-year delay that the reactors in Finland and France seem destined to achieve.

Currently thousands of workers are already employed at Hinkley Point and so far everything seems to be going to plan, with EDF claiming 25,000 people will soon be working on the project.

Despite its setbacks in France, the company is also pressing ahead with plans to build two more reactors at Sizewell on the east coast of England, where there is increasing and determined local opposition which fears the destruction of the local tourist industry and wildlife sanctuaries.

The site is also on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime.

Avoiding another Hinkley

A way of financing them has yet to be agreed with the UK government, which has been stung by the criticism of the excessive prices promised for Hinkley Point’s output and has decided not to repeat its mistake.

As part of its strategy to bolster the company’s finances EDF has gone into partnership with the Chinese state nuclear companies which are part-funding both projects. Ultimately the Chinese and French hope to build yet another reactor at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, this time of Chinese design. But that seems even further away on the horizon.

The success or failure of EDF’s plans is crucial to the future of nuclear power in Western Europe. Japan, the US and all other western European states apart from France have given up the idea of building large stations. Only China and Russia are now building 1,000 megawatt stations and offering generous terms to any country in the world that will allow them to be built on their soil.

In both cases cost seems secondary to gaining influence in the countries concerned, which will be dependent on either Russia or China for nuclear supplies for a generation or longer if they are to keep the lights on. − Climate News Network

Restoring forests rules out growing crops

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

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

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

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

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

Little natural forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land use shift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little natural forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land use shift

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

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

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

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

China and India are making a greener Earth

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Nuclear sunset overtakes fading dreams

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

China’s cities face sobering cooling costs

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

Farmers face double trouble as world warms

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

Doubled raw materials use is climate risk

We’re using more and more raw materials to build the world anew: our demands will almost have doubled by 2060. That’s bad news for the climate.

LONDON, 24 October, 2018 − Just when you might think the world has heard an unmistakable warning of the need to curb climate change drastically and fast, along comes another warning, about humans’ voracious appetite for the raw materials we use so profligately.

Its message is simple: one of the main causes of the Earth’s growing warmth is likely to be twice as severe 40 years from now as it is today.

This latest warning, from the club of the world’s richest countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says consumption of raw materials is on course to nearly double by 2060 as the global economy expands and living standards rise.

And that will mean a steep increase in emissions of the greenhouse gases which drive global warming. Total emissions are projected to reach 75 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq.) by 2060, of which materials management would constitute about 50 Gt CO2-eq. A gigatonne is a thousand million tonnes. Gt CO2eq is an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”, a unit based on the global warming potential of different gases.

“More than half of all greenhouse gas emissions are related to materials management activities”

If you find it hard to visualise raw material, the OECD offers some helpful examples. The main sort of “stuff” it’s talking about includes the building blocks of the modern world: sand, gravel and crushed rock. Metals are next, and third is coal. It uses a disarmingly wide image to bring the message home: “The total raw materials consumed by an average family in a day would fill up a bathtub”.

The full OECD report, the Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060, will be available from 27 November, but a preview  was released this week at the World Circular Economy Forum in Yokohama, Japan.

The Outlook expects global materials use to rise from 90 gigatonnes (GT) today to 167 GT in 2060, because of the increase in world population to 10 billion people expected by then, and the rise in average global income per capita to converge with the current OECD level of US$40,000 (€34,900).

Immense human footprint

The projected figures are immense. But so are those that quantify today’s hunger for materials. Scientists calculate, for instance, that the weight of objects made by humans is about 30 trillion tonnes, and that by 2050 we shall have built another 25 million km of roads, enough to circle the Earth 600 times. None of this bodes well for us, let alone for the other species that share the planet.

Without action to address these challenges, the projected increase in the extraction and processing of raw materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and non-metallic minerals is likely to worsen the pollution of air, water and soils, and contribute significantly to climate change, the OECD says.

This increase will happen despite both a shift from manufacturing to service industries and continual improvements in manufacturing efficiency, which has lessened the amount of resources consumed for each unit of GDP.

Without this, it says, environmental pressures would be even worse. The projection also acknowledges flattening demand in China and other emerging economies as their infrastructure booms end.

Coal boom

The preview report says the biggest rises in resource consumption will be in minerals, including construction materials and metals, particularly in fast-growing developing economies. The OECD projects a big increase in coal consumption by 2060, but a much smaller increase for oil.

Its overall conclusion on the impact of materials use on climate change is bleak: “More than half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are related to materials management activities. GHG emissions related to materials management will rise to approximately 50 Gt CO2-equivalent by 2060.”

The report’s global environmental impact analysis of the extraction and production of seven metals (iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel and manganese) plus building materials − concrete, sand and gravel − also shows significant impacts in areas like acidification, air and water pollution, energy demand, human health and the toxicity of water and land. − Climate News Network

We’re using more and more raw materials to build the world anew: our demands will almost have doubled by 2060. That’s bad news for the climate.

LONDON, 24 October, 2018 − Just when you might think the world has heard an unmistakable warning of the need to curb climate change drastically and fast, along comes another warning, about humans’ voracious appetite for the raw materials we use so profligately.

Its message is simple: one of the main causes of the Earth’s growing warmth is likely to be twice as severe 40 years from now as it is today.

This latest warning, from the club of the world’s richest countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says consumption of raw materials is on course to nearly double by 2060 as the global economy expands and living standards rise.

And that will mean a steep increase in emissions of the greenhouse gases which drive global warming. Total emissions are projected to reach 75 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq.) by 2060, of which materials management would constitute about 50 Gt CO2-eq. A gigatonne is a thousand million tonnes. Gt CO2eq is an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”, a unit based on the global warming potential of different gases.

“More than half of all greenhouse gas emissions are related to materials management activities”

If you find it hard to visualise raw material, the OECD offers some helpful examples. The main sort of “stuff” it’s talking about includes the building blocks of the modern world: sand, gravel and crushed rock. Metals are next, and third is coal. It uses a disarmingly wide image to bring the message home: “The total raw materials consumed by an average family in a day would fill up a bathtub”.

The full OECD report, the Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060, will be available from 27 November, but a preview  was released this week at the World Circular Economy Forum in Yokohama, Japan.

The Outlook expects global materials use to rise from 90 gigatonnes (GT) today to 167 GT in 2060, because of the increase in world population to 10 billion people expected by then, and the rise in average global income per capita to converge with the current OECD level of US$40,000 (€34,900).

Immense human footprint

The projected figures are immense. But so are those that quantify today’s hunger for materials. Scientists calculate, for instance, that the weight of objects made by humans is about 30 trillion tonnes, and that by 2050 we shall have built another 25 million km of roads, enough to circle the Earth 600 times. None of this bodes well for us, let alone for the other species that share the planet.

Without action to address these challenges, the projected increase in the extraction and processing of raw materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and non-metallic minerals is likely to worsen the pollution of air, water and soils, and contribute significantly to climate change, the OECD says.

This increase will happen despite both a shift from manufacturing to service industries and continual improvements in manufacturing efficiency, which has lessened the amount of resources consumed for each unit of GDP.

Without this, it says, environmental pressures would be even worse. The projection also acknowledges flattening demand in China and other emerging economies as their infrastructure booms end.

Coal boom

The preview report says the biggest rises in resource consumption will be in minerals, including construction materials and metals, particularly in fast-growing developing economies. The OECD projects a big increase in coal consumption by 2060, but a much smaller increase for oil.

Its overall conclusion on the impact of materials use on climate change is bleak: “More than half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are related to materials management activities. GHG emissions related to materials management will rise to approximately 50 Gt CO2-equivalent by 2060.”

The report’s global environmental impact analysis of the extraction and production of seven metals (iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel and manganese) plus building materials − concrete, sand and gravel − also shows significant impacts in areas like acidification, air and water pollution, energy demand, human health and the toxicity of water and land. − Climate News Network

Fire and drought threaten China and Europe

Even if nations do limit global warming, fire and drought will remain threats, ravaging more harvests in China and setting more of Europe ablaze.

LONDON, 9 October, 2018 – The most limited rise in global temperatures, never mind higher ones, is going to exact a price through fire and drought. Even assuming the world keeps to its Paris promise to contain average planetary temperature increases to “well below 2°C” by 2100, drought conditions in China will intensify ten or 20-fold, according to new research.

And even if this warming, driven by ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas, is held to the implicit ambition of no more than 1.5°C above the average for most of human history, the area charred by wildfires each summer in Europe could increase by 40%, according to a separate study.

If the temperatures continue to rise to as much as 3°C by the century’s end, the area covered by charred foliage and smoking tree trunks could rise by 100%.

The temperature targets are important because 195 nations agreed in 2015 at a UN conference in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hold planetary average temperatures to if possible 1.5°C and certainly no more than 2°C.

3°C in prospect

In the last century or so, increasing ratios of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere have lifted average temperatures by about 1°C already, and although almost all nations have announced plans to switch to solar and wind power for future energy sources, and to restore the forests that absorb carbon, the world still seems on course for a rise to 3°C by the end of the century.

Politicians and climate sceptics argue that action to contain global warming will be expensive. But over and over again, climate science research continues to demonstrate that inaction could be even more expensive.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Scientists from China, Poland and Germany report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used computer simulations and a range of climate change forecasts to model what could happen to rainfall and vegetation in China over the next 80 years, and then tried to calculate the effect on China’s developing economy.

Between 1949 and 2017, drought affected crops over an area of more than 2 million square kilometres – this is one sixth of the country’s arable land. And between 1984 and 2017, direct economic losses reached more than $7bn a year, at 2015 prices.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area”

If the temperature stabilises at a 1.5°C increase, losses compared to the period 1986-2005 will increase tenfold. Compared to the immediate past of 2006-2015, the study estimates that losses will still rise threefold. And should the temperature go beyond 1.5°C to 2°C, average drought loss could double again.

Studies such as these simply match what has happened in the past with what could happen in the future – always provided that things continue as they seem to be proceeding now. The studies can deliver only very broad-brush outlines of the shapes of things to come.

Higher average temperatures will mean ever more pronounced extremes of drought and rainfall, and a study earlier this year warned that, in China alone, catastrophic flooding as a consequence of climate change could cost the country $380bn over the next 20 years.

Europe, too, the same study argued, would suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change. Another such study in 2017 estimated that climate change – and the attendant hazards of flood, drought, wildfire and heatwaves – could threaten 350 million Europeans every year.

Consistent pattern

Forest and scrub fires char on average about 4,500 square kilometres of Mediterranean Europe every year: in 2017, there were damaging blazes in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with human casualties and extensive ecological and economic losses.

Now new research led by Spanish scientists and reported in the journal Nature Communications uses computer simulations and available data to take a look at the fires next time, as the temperatures rise.

The authors warn that even though there are large uncertainties in such projections, there is also a consistent pattern: the higher the temperatures, the more sustained the droughts, and the larger the areas that will be incinerated.

They do offer a palliative solution, though. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area,” they say. – Climate News Network

Even if nations do limit global warming, fire and drought will remain threats, ravaging more harvests in China and setting more of Europe ablaze.

LONDON, 9 October, 2018 – The most limited rise in global temperatures, never mind higher ones, is going to exact a price through fire and drought. Even assuming the world keeps to its Paris promise to contain average planetary temperature increases to “well below 2°C” by 2100, drought conditions in China will intensify ten or 20-fold, according to new research.

And even if this warming, driven by ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas, is held to the implicit ambition of no more than 1.5°C above the average for most of human history, the area charred by wildfires each summer in Europe could increase by 40%, according to a separate study.

If the temperatures continue to rise to as much as 3°C by the century’s end, the area covered by charred foliage and smoking tree trunks could rise by 100%.

The temperature targets are important because 195 nations agreed in 2015 at a UN conference in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hold planetary average temperatures to if possible 1.5°C and certainly no more than 2°C.

3°C in prospect

In the last century or so, increasing ratios of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere have lifted average temperatures by about 1°C already, and although almost all nations have announced plans to switch to solar and wind power for future energy sources, and to restore the forests that absorb carbon, the world still seems on course for a rise to 3°C by the end of the century.

Politicians and climate sceptics argue that action to contain global warming will be expensive. But over and over again, climate science research continues to demonstrate that inaction could be even more expensive.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Scientists from China, Poland and Germany report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used computer simulations and a range of climate change forecasts to model what could happen to rainfall and vegetation in China over the next 80 years, and then tried to calculate the effect on China’s developing economy.

Between 1949 and 2017, drought affected crops over an area of more than 2 million square kilometres – this is one sixth of the country’s arable land. And between 1984 and 2017, direct economic losses reached more than $7bn a year, at 2015 prices.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area”

If the temperature stabilises at a 1.5°C increase, losses compared to the period 1986-2005 will increase tenfold. Compared to the immediate past of 2006-2015, the study estimates that losses will still rise threefold. And should the temperature go beyond 1.5°C to 2°C, average drought loss could double again.

Studies such as these simply match what has happened in the past with what could happen in the future – always provided that things continue as they seem to be proceeding now. The studies can deliver only very broad-brush outlines of the shapes of things to come.

Higher average temperatures will mean ever more pronounced extremes of drought and rainfall, and a study earlier this year warned that, in China alone, catastrophic flooding as a consequence of climate change could cost the country $380bn over the next 20 years.

Europe, too, the same study argued, would suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change. Another such study in 2017 estimated that climate change – and the attendant hazards of flood, drought, wildfire and heatwaves – could threaten 350 million Europeans every year.

Consistent pattern

Forest and scrub fires char on average about 4,500 square kilometres of Mediterranean Europe every year: in 2017, there were damaging blazes in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with human casualties and extensive ecological and economic losses.

Now new research led by Spanish scientists and reported in the journal Nature Communications uses computer simulations and available data to take a look at the fires next time, as the temperatures rise.

The authors warn that even though there are large uncertainties in such projections, there is also a consistent pattern: the higher the temperatures, the more sustained the droughts, and the larger the areas that will be incinerated.

They do offer a palliative solution, though. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area,” they say. – Climate News Network

Contradictions beset China’s climate path

BOOK REVIEW

Triumph or catastrophe? Where will China’s climate path lead us all? So far there are both hopeful moves and warning signs, a new book says.

LONDON, 18 September, 2018 – Increasingly seen as a world leader towards a low- or no-carbon economy, China’s climate path is winning it many plaudits, particularly since Donald Trump – who has described global warming as a hoax – announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

China’s cheerleaders point to the often breathtaking progress the country has made on several climate change-related fronts, most notably in the growth of renewable energy.

Barbara Finamore, an Asia specialist at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, who has spent several years in China, says in her book that only 100 MW of solar power was installed across the country 10 years ago.

Now China is well on the way to achieving its target of 213 GW of solar power by 2020 – five times more than the present total amount of solar power installed in the US.

It’s the same story with wind power; in the five years from 2007 to 2011 China installed more wind capacity than either the US or Germany achieved in more than 30 years of wind power development. By the end of 2016 China had built nearly 105,000 wind turbines, more than one out of every three turbines in the world.

Worldwide winners

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”, says Finamore.

She points out that these developments are not only benefitting China by lessening air pollution across many parts of the country – they are also having a positive impact in much of the rest of the world.

China’s massive investments in solar and wind manufacturing facilities mean renewable energy costs worldwide have been driven down. In many countries solar power is competing with more conventional energy sources.

China’s wholesale development of electrically powered vehicles is spurring the growth of the industry worldwide; in 2017 China was home to nearly half the world’s total of electric passenger vehicles and more than 90% of the global electric bus fleet.

Battery prices are falling; foreign manufacturers – keen to boost sales in the world’s fastest-growing vehicle market – are racing to develop new electrically powered models.

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”

“This push to scale up renewable energy has catapulted China to the forefront of a global clean energy revolution, with benefits that extend to every other country, as well as to the climate”, says Finamore.

But several factors cloud this rosy picture; as Finamore points out, China is still the world’s biggest emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases, mainly because of the burning of vast amounts of coal, by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Despite talk by the leadership in Beijing of building what’s called an “ecological civilisation,” economic growth is still the overriding objective and the main factor which legitimises the Communist Party’s hold on power.

When growth flagged in recent years, China’s planners introduced a wide-ranging economic stimulus package, particularly connected with infrastructure. As a result, emissions in 2017 and the first half of 2018 went up, not down.

Policy bottleneck

Foreign observers of China often point to the country’s strictly controlled top-down political system, which is capable of quickly implementing climate change policies and other measures. But Finamore says government directives designed to combat climate change are often frustrated by local officials and assorted political rivalries.

Then there is the question of China’s role overseas. When it comes to climate change, Finamore sees this as generally positive. But what of the way China is using its new-found financial might to hoover up the world’s resources, causing widespread environmental damage along the way?

Chinese mining companies are polluting rivers in South America and chopping down rainforest in southeast Asia and West Africa. China’s state banks are funding coal-fired power stations around the world.

Yes, China has made significant progress on climate change and is eagerly embracing its new-found role as a global leader on the issue. But we should not be starry-eyed; a great deal more needs to be done. – Climate News Network

Will China Save the Planet?, by Barbara Finamore

BOOK REVIEW

Triumph or catastrophe? Where will China’s climate path lead us all? So far there are both hopeful moves and warning signs, a new book says.

LONDON, 18 September, 2018 – Increasingly seen as a world leader towards a low- or no-carbon economy, China’s climate path is winning it many plaudits, particularly since Donald Trump – who has described global warming as a hoax – announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

China’s cheerleaders point to the often breathtaking progress the country has made on several climate change-related fronts, most notably in the growth of renewable energy.

Barbara Finamore, an Asia specialist at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, who has spent several years in China, says in her book that only 100 MW of solar power was installed across the country 10 years ago.

Now China is well on the way to achieving its target of 213 GW of solar power by 2020 – five times more than the present total amount of solar power installed in the US.

It’s the same story with wind power; in the five years from 2007 to 2011 China installed more wind capacity than either the US or Germany achieved in more than 30 years of wind power development. By the end of 2016 China had built nearly 105,000 wind turbines, more than one out of every three turbines in the world.

Worldwide winners

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”, says Finamore.

She points out that these developments are not only benefitting China by lessening air pollution across many parts of the country – they are also having a positive impact in much of the rest of the world.

China’s massive investments in solar and wind manufacturing facilities mean renewable energy costs worldwide have been driven down. In many countries solar power is competing with more conventional energy sources.

China’s wholesale development of electrically powered vehicles is spurring the growth of the industry worldwide; in 2017 China was home to nearly half the world’s total of electric passenger vehicles and more than 90% of the global electric bus fleet.

Battery prices are falling; foreign manufacturers – keen to boost sales in the world’s fastest-growing vehicle market – are racing to develop new electrically powered models.

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”

“This push to scale up renewable energy has catapulted China to the forefront of a global clean energy revolution, with benefits that extend to every other country, as well as to the climate”, says Finamore.

But several factors cloud this rosy picture; as Finamore points out, China is still the world’s biggest emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases, mainly because of the burning of vast amounts of coal, by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Despite talk by the leadership in Beijing of building what’s called an “ecological civilisation,” economic growth is still the overriding objective and the main factor which legitimises the Communist Party’s hold on power.

When growth flagged in recent years, China’s planners introduced a wide-ranging economic stimulus package, particularly connected with infrastructure. As a result, emissions in 2017 and the first half of 2018 went up, not down.

Policy bottleneck

Foreign observers of China often point to the country’s strictly controlled top-down political system, which is capable of quickly implementing climate change policies and other measures. But Finamore says government directives designed to combat climate change are often frustrated by local officials and assorted political rivalries.

Then there is the question of China’s role overseas. When it comes to climate change, Finamore sees this as generally positive. But what of the way China is using its new-found financial might to hoover up the world’s resources, causing widespread environmental damage along the way?

Chinese mining companies are polluting rivers in South America and chopping down rainforest in southeast Asia and West Africa. China’s state banks are funding coal-fired power stations around the world.

Yes, China has made significant progress on climate change and is eagerly embracing its new-found role as a global leader on the issue. But we should not be starry-eyed; a great deal more needs to be done. – Climate News Network

Will China Save the Planet?, by Barbara Finamore