Tag Archives: climate change

Alpine plants face risk from growing climate heat

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network

UN survival plan offers new hope for the planet

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

Corporate climate polluters must pay for damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cumulative emissions

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

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

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

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

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

Further impacts

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

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

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

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

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

Public pressure grows

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cumulative emissions

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

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

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

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

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

Further impacts

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

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

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

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

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

Public pressure grows

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Hope springs eternal for species facing extinction

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

How to rebuild a forest in a growing climate crisis

A global energy company’s mistake renewed debate on how to slow the climate crisis. Trees can help − but where, and how?

LONDON, 19 February, 2021 – The oil company Shell recently miscalculated the extent of its reserves on a pretty massive scale. The mistake meant its new scenario for meeting the internationally agreed 1.5°C climate target would need a new forest about the size of Brazil. And that renewed a debate about just what trees can do to ease the climate crisis.

Tree-planting to tackle possibly irreversible climate change is one hopeful route. Trees not only breathe carbon dioxide in; they also breathe out oxygen. But tree-planting is more complex than it may seem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in its 2018 Special Report, that if the world wants to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050, an extra one billion hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees will be needed. But what types of trees, and where? Many different initiatives across the world have tried to restore woodland, but what works best for people and the biosphere?

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement). It has several suggestions for understanding how trees might best help to cool the climate crisis, not least relying on natural forest regeneration rather than commercial plantations.

Over the last decade, several reforestation and afforestation schemes have sprung up under the programme of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“In India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign. Myanmar used drones to plant trees”

National and regional reforestation initiatives include China’s forest rehabilitation programme and Africa’s Great Green Wall scheme linking North Africa, the Sahel (the area south of the Sahara desert) and the Horn of Africa.

In 2019 the FAO launched a similar reforestation plan targeting cities – the Great Green Wall for Cities initiative. This is expected to remove from 0.5 to 5 Gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

In 2017, Pakistan met its target of planting a billion trees and  made a commitment to reach 10 billion trees within five years. In its neighbour India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign involving 1.5 million volunteers. Some countries have relied on equally novel methods; Myanmar used drones to plant trees.

Ambitious projects like these can sound attractive. But their ability to achieve their goals sometimes proves controversial.

Several climate and forest scientists favour what they call “natural forest regeneration” – essentially letting the forest grow back naturally – which often proves to be the most efficient and cheapest approach in achieving natural carbon sequestration.

Regeneration neglected

However, only 34% of the total area dedicated to forest restoration plans covered by the Bonn Challenge is earmarked for this approach.

A further 21% of land is reserved for agroforestry, a method promoting the production of multiple plants and crops side by side. The remaining 45% of the land area is given up to the monoculture production of trees.

Better ways of doing things are exemplified by Ghana and Malaysia, for example, where people restored their local forests after being granted ownership of the land.

In Ghana, the forest restoration projects found to be most successful were those which included a “rights-based approach”. Strengthening community rights contributed to the protection of forests from appropriation and privatisation and ensured greater accountability, the right to speak out, and provided safeguards against illegal practices.

In Malaysia, an NGO supported Penan indigenous communities in fighting for their legitimate entitlement to land rights in court. The Penan have strong ties with the land and forests, which play a strong role in maintaining local biodiversity.

Four pathways

Tree planting programmes have had very mixed results. Many failures occurred because the trees planted were not suitable for local climate conditions, and others depleted groundwater reserves, leaving nearby soils dried out and damaging local agricultural production.

Natural forest restoration is the most effective way to store carbon from the atmosphere, the RTA argues. These forests are 40 times more effective than plantations and six times better than agroforestry at retaining carbon. Their complex ecological systems are also better for biodiversity.

The RTA says there are four main ways for countries to encourage the successful restoration of natural forests so as to temper the effects of the climate crisis:

  • They should increase the proportion of their land allocated for regeneration to natural forest
  • Priority should be given to humid tropical areas, such as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin, which support high biomass forest. International climate adaptation and conservation funds could be used to support such action
  • Countries should focus on naturally regenerating existing carbon stocks such as degraded forests and partly wooded areas, using treeless regions for plantations or agroforestry
  • Restored forest must be protected, perhaps by giving title rights to indigenous peoples who protect forested land, changing the legal definition of land-use so that it cannot be converted to agriculture, and ensuring that commodities companies cannot clear restored forests.

Restoring natural forests, the Alliance concludes, is the most efficient, fast, safe and under-valued carbon sequestration tool. Climate News Network

*********

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

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

A global energy company’s mistake renewed debate on how to slow the climate crisis. Trees can help − but where, and how?

LONDON, 19 February, 2021 – The oil company Shell recently miscalculated the extent of its reserves on a pretty massive scale. The mistake meant its new scenario for meeting the internationally agreed 1.5°C climate target would need a new forest about the size of Brazil. And that renewed a debate about just what trees can do to ease the climate crisis.

Tree-planting to tackle possibly irreversible climate change is one hopeful route. Trees not only breathe carbon dioxide in; they also breathe out oxygen. But tree-planting is more complex than it may seem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in its 2018 Special Report, that if the world wants to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050, an extra one billion hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees will be needed. But what types of trees, and where? Many different initiatives across the world have tried to restore woodland, but what works best for people and the biosphere?

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement). It has several suggestions for understanding how trees might best help to cool the climate crisis, not least relying on natural forest regeneration rather than commercial plantations.

Over the last decade, several reforestation and afforestation schemes have sprung up under the programme of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“In India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign. Myanmar used drones to plant trees”

National and regional reforestation initiatives include China’s forest rehabilitation programme and Africa’s Great Green Wall scheme linking North Africa, the Sahel (the area south of the Sahara desert) and the Horn of Africa.

In 2019 the FAO launched a similar reforestation plan targeting cities – the Great Green Wall for Cities initiative. This is expected to remove from 0.5 to 5 Gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

In 2017, Pakistan met its target of planting a billion trees and  made a commitment to reach 10 billion trees within five years. In its neighbour India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign involving 1.5 million volunteers. Some countries have relied on equally novel methods; Myanmar used drones to plant trees.

Ambitious projects like these can sound attractive. But their ability to achieve their goals sometimes proves controversial.

Several climate and forest scientists favour what they call “natural forest regeneration” – essentially letting the forest grow back naturally – which often proves to be the most efficient and cheapest approach in achieving natural carbon sequestration.

Regeneration neglected

However, only 34% of the total area dedicated to forest restoration plans covered by the Bonn Challenge is earmarked for this approach.

A further 21% of land is reserved for agroforestry, a method promoting the production of multiple plants and crops side by side. The remaining 45% of the land area is given up to the monoculture production of trees.

Better ways of doing things are exemplified by Ghana and Malaysia, for example, where people restored their local forests after being granted ownership of the land.

In Ghana, the forest restoration projects found to be most successful were those which included a “rights-based approach”. Strengthening community rights contributed to the protection of forests from appropriation and privatisation and ensured greater accountability, the right to speak out, and provided safeguards against illegal practices.

In Malaysia, an NGO supported Penan indigenous communities in fighting for their legitimate entitlement to land rights in court. The Penan have strong ties with the land and forests, which play a strong role in maintaining local biodiversity.

Four pathways

Tree planting programmes have had very mixed results. Many failures occurred because the trees planted were not suitable for local climate conditions, and others depleted groundwater reserves, leaving nearby soils dried out and damaging local agricultural production.

Natural forest restoration is the most effective way to store carbon from the atmosphere, the RTA argues. These forests are 40 times more effective than plantations and six times better than agroforestry at retaining carbon. Their complex ecological systems are also better for biodiversity.

The RTA says there are four main ways for countries to encourage the successful restoration of natural forests so as to temper the effects of the climate crisis:

  • They should increase the proportion of their land allocated for regeneration to natural forest
  • Priority should be given to humid tropical areas, such as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin, which support high biomass forest. International climate adaptation and conservation funds could be used to support such action
  • Countries should focus on naturally regenerating existing carbon stocks such as degraded forests and partly wooded areas, using treeless regions for plantations or agroforestry
  • Restored forest must be protected, perhaps by giving title rights to indigenous peoples who protect forested land, changing the legal definition of land-use so that it cannot be converted to agriculture, and ensuring that commodities companies cannot clear restored forests.

Restoring natural forests, the Alliance concludes, is the most efficient, fast, safe and under-valued carbon sequestration tool. Climate News Network

*********

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

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

India’s energy policy is key to the planet’s future

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

Millions will die if world fails on climate promises

Action to keep climate promises could prevent millions of deaths each year. Unless nations try harder, that won’t happen.

LONDON, 16 February, 2021 − Scientists have looked at conditions in just nine of the world’s 200 nations and found that − if the world keeps its Paris climate promises, of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100 − millions of lives could be saved.

And another team has looked at what nations actually propose to do so far to hit the Paris targets and found that it is not enough: that everybody will have to be 80% more ambitious.

But, though costly, such ambitions would deliver direct rewards. For a start, the consequences of embarking on policies that would seriously reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel potentially catastrophic climate change could lead to better diets in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US: that alone could save 6.1 million lives.

Thanks to the cleaner air that would come with a drastic reduction in fossil fuel combustion, another 1.6 million people could expect to breathe freely for another year. And the shift from private cars to public transport and foot or bicycle journeys would mean another 2.1 million of us could expect to go on benefiting from the additional exercise for another year, every year.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change says in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that it selected the nine nations because they embraced around half the global population and accounted for seven-tenths of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health”

The Countdown also looked at a range of scenarios for action. And the researchers also considered what, so far, those nine nations had promised to do to contain climate change − the international bureaucratic language calls such promises nationally determined contributions, or NDCs − and found them far short of the effective target: right now, the world is heading for a global temperature rise by 2100 of 3°C or more.

And with these higher global average temperatures there will be more devastating and possibly lethal heat waves, more intense and more frequent storms, protracted drought, torrential rain and flooding, and rising sea levels that will intensify erosion and coastal flooding.

The damage that these threaten alone delivers a long-term economic case for concerted global action to shift agricultural emphasis, save natural ecosystems and switch to renewable fuel sources. But the right choice of action could make lives a great deal better as well.

“The message is stark,” said Ian Hamilton, executive director of the Lancet Countdown. “Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives.”

On the same day, a US team published the results of a look at what nations had to do to actually meet the goal chosen at a global conference in Paris in 2015 to contain global heating to no more than 2°C above what had been the long-term average for most of human history.

Avoiding despair

In the last century alone the planet has warmed by more than 1°C, and the last six years have been the warmest six years since records began. The promises made in Paris, if kept, could mean a 1% drop in greenhouse gas emissions every year.

But, scientists say in the journal Communications Earth and Environment, that will not contain global heating to 2°C. To deliver on the promise, the world must reduce emissions by 1.8% a year. That is, the global community will have to try 80% harder.

Some nations are nearer the more ambitious target: China’s declared plans so far would require only a 7% boost. The UK would have to raise its game by 17%. The US − which abandoned the Paris Agreement under former President Trump − has 38% more work to do.

“If you say ‘Everything’s a disaster and we need to radically overhaul society’ there’s a feeling of hopelessness,” said Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington, one of the authors.

“But if we say ‘We need to reduce emissions by 1.8% a year’ that’s a different mindset.” − Climate News Network

Action to keep climate promises could prevent millions of deaths each year. Unless nations try harder, that won’t happen.

LONDON, 16 February, 2021 − Scientists have looked at conditions in just nine of the world’s 200 nations and found that − if the world keeps its Paris climate promises, of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100 − millions of lives could be saved.

And another team has looked at what nations actually propose to do so far to hit the Paris targets and found that it is not enough: that everybody will have to be 80% more ambitious.

But, though costly, such ambitions would deliver direct rewards. For a start, the consequences of embarking on policies that would seriously reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel potentially catastrophic climate change could lead to better diets in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US: that alone could save 6.1 million lives.

Thanks to the cleaner air that would come with a drastic reduction in fossil fuel combustion, another 1.6 million people could expect to breathe freely for another year. And the shift from private cars to public transport and foot or bicycle journeys would mean another 2.1 million of us could expect to go on benefiting from the additional exercise for another year, every year.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change says in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that it selected the nine nations because they embraced around half the global population and accounted for seven-tenths of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health”

The Countdown also looked at a range of scenarios for action. And the researchers also considered what, so far, those nine nations had promised to do to contain climate change − the international bureaucratic language calls such promises nationally determined contributions, or NDCs − and found them far short of the effective target: right now, the world is heading for a global temperature rise by 2100 of 3°C or more.

And with these higher global average temperatures there will be more devastating and possibly lethal heat waves, more intense and more frequent storms, protracted drought, torrential rain and flooding, and rising sea levels that will intensify erosion and coastal flooding.

The damage that these threaten alone delivers a long-term economic case for concerted global action to shift agricultural emphasis, save natural ecosystems and switch to renewable fuel sources. But the right choice of action could make lives a great deal better as well.

“The message is stark,” said Ian Hamilton, executive director of the Lancet Countdown. “Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives.”

On the same day, a US team published the results of a look at what nations had to do to actually meet the goal chosen at a global conference in Paris in 2015 to contain global heating to no more than 2°C above what had been the long-term average for most of human history.

Avoiding despair

In the last century alone the planet has warmed by more than 1°C, and the last six years have been the warmest six years since records began. The promises made in Paris, if kept, could mean a 1% drop in greenhouse gas emissions every year.

But, scientists say in the journal Communications Earth and Environment, that will not contain global heating to 2°C. To deliver on the promise, the world must reduce emissions by 1.8% a year. That is, the global community will have to try 80% harder.

Some nations are nearer the more ambitious target: China’s declared plans so far would require only a 7% boost. The UK would have to raise its game by 17%. The US − which abandoned the Paris Agreement under former President Trump − has 38% more work to do.

“If you say ‘Everything’s a disaster and we need to radically overhaul society’ there’s a feeling of hopelessness,” said Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington, one of the authors.

“But if we say ‘We need to reduce emissions by 1.8% a year’ that’s a different mindset.” − Climate News Network

Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

Solar power’s future could soon be overshadowed

Despite its recent runaway success, solar power’s future as a key way to counter climate chaos could soon be at risk.

LONDON, 12 February, 2021– As more households and industries have opted to harness the sun’s energy, a small but definite shadow is nagging at the many manufacturers who have put their faith in solar power’s future.

Prices have fallen dramatically: according to the International Energy Agency, the cost of producing electricity from solar energy dropped 80% over the past decade. But a mix of international economic rivalries and human rights issues could hamper the onward expansion of solar around the world.

Up till 15 years ago companies in Europe and Japan dominated the solar manufacturing industry. That has all changed: as with so many manufactured products, China now accounts for the bulk of solar equipment produced globally, with about a 70% share.

China itself is also by far the world’s biggest market for solar: about half of all solar power installed round the globe is in China.

China-based companies have invested heavily in sophisticated manufacturing facilities and in research and development. The country’s dominance of the solar manufacturing sector has caused concern in some countries.

“We’ve been telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region”

Manufacturers of photovoltaic panels and other solar products in East Asia, the US and Europe have alleged that cheaper, state-subsidised goods from China have hampered development of home-grown solar industries.

The former Trump administration in the US voiced increasingly strident opposition to what it saw as unfair trading practices by China: in early 2018 Washington slapped a 30% tariff on solar imports from China.

The resulting setback for the US solar market – and China’s exporters – was only temporary. The appetite in the US and elsewhere for solar power continues to grow.

In many countries solar energy is out-competing fossil fuels on price. Meanwhile new technologies and more efficient batteries mean large amounts of solar power can be stored for use in periods when the sun doesn’t shine.

Waiting for Biden

In 2019 there was a 24% increase in the number of solar installations in the US, with utility companies, particularly in sunnier and more environmentally progressive states such as California, leading the solar surge.

Whether or not the new Biden administration in the US will soften the hard line taken on China by former President Trump is uncertain.

Some feel that, while Biden might seek to ease trade tensions, there could be more emphasis on human rights issues, particularly in relation to the widely reported actions taken by Beijing against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

This could have serious implications for the solar industry, not only in China but worldwide. A number of China’s big solar manufacturers, some in partnership with foreign companies, have concentrated their operations in Xinjiang. The province accounts for the bulk of China’s production of polysilicon, one of the most important base materials for solar panels.

There have been reports not only about Uighurs and other groups in Xinjiang being forcibly herded into so-called re-education camps, but also of local people being used as forced labour in solar and other industries.

Human rights concern

Reacting to reports of widespread repression in the region, the US recently banned the import of tomatoes and cotton from Xinjiang.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a trade body representing the US solar industry and a sector employing an estimated 250,000 people – said it was taking the reports very seriously.

“Forced labour has no place in the solar industry”, said the SEIA. “Since the fall we’ve been proactively telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d like to reiterate this call to action and ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region.”

Beijing has described the reports of forced labour in the province as “the biggest lie of the century”. – Climate News Network

Despite its recent runaway success, solar power’s future as a key way to counter climate chaos could soon be at risk.

LONDON, 12 February, 2021– As more households and industries have opted to harness the sun’s energy, a small but definite shadow is nagging at the many manufacturers who have put their faith in solar power’s future.

Prices have fallen dramatically: according to the International Energy Agency, the cost of producing electricity from solar energy dropped 80% over the past decade. But a mix of international economic rivalries and human rights issues could hamper the onward expansion of solar around the world.

Up till 15 years ago companies in Europe and Japan dominated the solar manufacturing industry. That has all changed: as with so many manufactured products, China now accounts for the bulk of solar equipment produced globally, with about a 70% share.

China itself is also by far the world’s biggest market for solar: about half of all solar power installed round the globe is in China.

China-based companies have invested heavily in sophisticated manufacturing facilities and in research and development. The country’s dominance of the solar manufacturing sector has caused concern in some countries.

“We’ve been telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region”

Manufacturers of photovoltaic panels and other solar products in East Asia, the US and Europe have alleged that cheaper, state-subsidised goods from China have hampered development of home-grown solar industries.

The former Trump administration in the US voiced increasingly strident opposition to what it saw as unfair trading practices by China: in early 2018 Washington slapped a 30% tariff on solar imports from China.

The resulting setback for the US solar market – and China’s exporters – was only temporary. The appetite in the US and elsewhere for solar power continues to grow.

In many countries solar energy is out-competing fossil fuels on price. Meanwhile new technologies and more efficient batteries mean large amounts of solar power can be stored for use in periods when the sun doesn’t shine.

Waiting for Biden

In 2019 there was a 24% increase in the number of solar installations in the US, with utility companies, particularly in sunnier and more environmentally progressive states such as California, leading the solar surge.

Whether or not the new Biden administration in the US will soften the hard line taken on China by former President Trump is uncertain.

Some feel that, while Biden might seek to ease trade tensions, there could be more emphasis on human rights issues, particularly in relation to the widely reported actions taken by Beijing against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

This could have serious implications for the solar industry, not only in China but worldwide. A number of China’s big solar manufacturers, some in partnership with foreign companies, have concentrated their operations in Xinjiang. The province accounts for the bulk of China’s production of polysilicon, one of the most important base materials for solar panels.

There have been reports not only about Uighurs and other groups in Xinjiang being forcibly herded into so-called re-education camps, but also of local people being used as forced labour in solar and other industries.

Human rights concern

Reacting to reports of widespread repression in the region, the US recently banned the import of tomatoes and cotton from Xinjiang.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a trade body representing the US solar industry and a sector employing an estimated 250,000 people – said it was taking the reports very seriously.

“Forced labour has no place in the solar industry”, said the SEIA. “Since the fall we’ve been proactively telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d like to reiterate this call to action and ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region.”

Beijing has described the reports of forced labour in the province as “the biggest lie of the century”. – Climate News Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jobs aplenty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jobs aplenty

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

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

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

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