Tag Archives: climate policy

Nuclear cannot help against climate crisis

With new plants costing from five to ten times more than renewable options, and taking far longer to build, nuclear cannot help against global warming.

LONDON, 30 September, 2019 − Finding a way to head off the galloping climate crisis, although it’s taxing the world’s best brains, leaves one clear and inescapable conclusion, reiterated not only by researchers but acknowledged implicitly by the industry: nuclear cannot help.

Last week the French builders of the nuclear reactors being built in the United Kingdom announced a startling rise in construction costs. The news came on the day a report was published which said nuclear generation worldwide is now hopelessly uncompetitive in cost compared with renewable power.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 also stresses that as far as climate change is concerned nuclear power has another huge disadvantage. Wind and solar power stations take only months to build before they produce power, so they quickly start to displace fossil fuels and save emissions of carbon dioxide.

Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, take at least five years to build and very often more than a decade and so the fossil fuel plants they are designed to replace continue to pump out greenhouse gases. With the need to cut carbon emissions increasingly urgent, this makes nuclear power the wrong solution to climate change, the report says.

The announcement by the French nuclear giant Électricité de France (EDF) of the rise in costs of the twin reactors being built at Hinkley Point C in the West of England put the cost of construction at up to £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) an increase of up to £2.9bn ($3.6bn) from its last estimate in 2017.

“Nuclear new-build costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar”

With the construction of the station still in its initial stages, costs are expected to rise further before the first power is generated in late 2025 – even if there are no further delays.

Two similar pressurised water reactors close to completion in France and Finland have taken more than twice as long to construct as originally estimated and are still not producing power. Both projects have recently announced yet more delays.

The 2019 status report, produced by a group of independent energy consultants and academics, makes grim reading for the nuclear industry because it compares the cost of producing electricity from renewables – particularly wind and solar – with nuclear. It says nuclear now costs between five and ten times as much as solar and wind power.

The report says: “Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors. That reality could usefully guide policy and investment decisions if the objective is to save money or the climate or both.”

Existing plants affected

This gap is widening as nuclear costs keep rising and renewable costs falling. The report quotes the International Energy Agency which says: “Solar PV costs fell by 65 percent between 2012 and 2017, and are projected to fall by a further 50% by 2040; onshore wind costs fell by 15% over the same period and are projected to fall by another 10–20% to 2040.”

But the report also makes clear that it is not just in new build that renewables are a much better option than nuclear in combating climate change.

In many nuclear countries, especially the US, the largest nuclear energy producer, new renewables now compete with existing nuclear plants. If the money spent on operating expensive nuclear plants were invested instead in cheaper renewables, or in energy efficiency projects, then that would displace more fossil fuel generation than keeping nuclear plants running.

The report catalogues the dismal record of delays in nuclear new build across the world. At the beginning of 2018, 15 reactors were scheduled for startup during the year; seven of these made it, plus two that were expected in 2019; of these nine startups, seven were in China and two in Russia. Of the 13 reactors scheduled to start up in 2019, four have already been postponed to 2020.

The problem for the industry is that the capital cost of new stations is so great that outside totalitarian regimes the finance cannot be found without massive subsidies from the taxpayer or levies on electricity consumers.

Plans abandoned

Even in the UK, where the government has enthusiastically endorsed new nuclear power station projects, most planned projects for new stations have been abandoned.

Even before the latest cost escalation for Hinkley Point was announced, the Nuclear Status report was casting doubt that EDF’s follow-on project for another giant nuclear station on the UK’s east coast, Sizewell C, was likely to come to fruition.

The report says: “Given the problems EDF is having financing Hinkley, this makes the Sizewell project appear implausible.

“Over the past decade the extraordinary cost of the UK’s proposed nuclear power program has become apparent to a wider academic community and public bodies. Even when the Government was willing to invest directly into the project, nuclear costs were prohibitive.” − Climate News Network

With new plants costing from five to ten times more than renewable options, and taking far longer to build, nuclear cannot help against global warming.

LONDON, 30 September, 2019 − Finding a way to head off the galloping climate crisis, although it’s taxing the world’s best brains, leaves one clear and inescapable conclusion, reiterated not only by researchers but acknowledged implicitly by the industry: nuclear cannot help.

Last week the French builders of the nuclear reactors being built in the United Kingdom announced a startling rise in construction costs. The news came on the day a report was published which said nuclear generation worldwide is now hopelessly uncompetitive in cost compared with renewable power.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 also stresses that as far as climate change is concerned nuclear power has another huge disadvantage. Wind and solar power stations take only months to build before they produce power, so they quickly start to displace fossil fuels and save emissions of carbon dioxide.

Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, take at least five years to build and very often more than a decade and so the fossil fuel plants they are designed to replace continue to pump out greenhouse gases. With the need to cut carbon emissions increasingly urgent, this makes nuclear power the wrong solution to climate change, the report says.

The announcement by the French nuclear giant Électricité de France (EDF) of the rise in costs of the twin reactors being built at Hinkley Point C in the West of England put the cost of construction at up to £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) an increase of up to £2.9bn ($3.6bn) from its last estimate in 2017.

“Nuclear new-build costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar”

With the construction of the station still in its initial stages, costs are expected to rise further before the first power is generated in late 2025 – even if there are no further delays.

Two similar pressurised water reactors close to completion in France and Finland have taken more than twice as long to construct as originally estimated and are still not producing power. Both projects have recently announced yet more delays.

The 2019 status report, produced by a group of independent energy consultants and academics, makes grim reading for the nuclear industry because it compares the cost of producing electricity from renewables – particularly wind and solar – with nuclear. It says nuclear now costs between five and ten times as much as solar and wind power.

The report says: “Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors. That reality could usefully guide policy and investment decisions if the objective is to save money or the climate or both.”

Existing plants affected

This gap is widening as nuclear costs keep rising and renewable costs falling. The report quotes the International Energy Agency which says: “Solar PV costs fell by 65 percent between 2012 and 2017, and are projected to fall by a further 50% by 2040; onshore wind costs fell by 15% over the same period and are projected to fall by another 10–20% to 2040.”

But the report also makes clear that it is not just in new build that renewables are a much better option than nuclear in combating climate change.

In many nuclear countries, especially the US, the largest nuclear energy producer, new renewables now compete with existing nuclear plants. If the money spent on operating expensive nuclear plants were invested instead in cheaper renewables, or in energy efficiency projects, then that would displace more fossil fuel generation than keeping nuclear plants running.

The report catalogues the dismal record of delays in nuclear new build across the world. At the beginning of 2018, 15 reactors were scheduled for startup during the year; seven of these made it, plus two that were expected in 2019; of these nine startups, seven were in China and two in Russia. Of the 13 reactors scheduled to start up in 2019, four have already been postponed to 2020.

The problem for the industry is that the capital cost of new stations is so great that outside totalitarian regimes the finance cannot be found without massive subsidies from the taxpayer or levies on electricity consumers.

Plans abandoned

Even in the UK, where the government has enthusiastically endorsed new nuclear power station projects, most planned projects for new stations have been abandoned.

Even before the latest cost escalation for Hinkley Point was announced, the Nuclear Status report was casting doubt that EDF’s follow-on project for another giant nuclear station on the UK’s east coast, Sizewell C, was likely to come to fruition.

The report says: “Given the problems EDF is having financing Hinkley, this makes the Sizewell project appear implausible.

“Over the past decade the extraordinary cost of the UK’s proposed nuclear power program has become apparent to a wider academic community and public bodies. Even when the Government was willing to invest directly into the project, nuclear costs were prohibitive.” − Climate News Network

Scientists back global climate strike

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network

20 September sees the start of a week-long youth-led global climate strike. Students will be voicing their demands for action − backed by many scientists.

LONDON, 20 September, 2019 − Leading scientists have declared their support for the global climate strike which starts today.

In a statement published by the Earth League, headed Humanity is Tipping the Scales of the World, 20 respected scientists throw their weight into the argument. Among a stellar company, they number Lord Nicholas Stern, Johan Rockström from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, its founder.

The world is approaching a dual tipping point of social and environmental systems that will arguably determine the future of life-support systems on Earth, they say.

On the one hand, young people across the world are struggling to tip the social scale towards swift and concerted climate action.

“If that tipping towards sustainability does not happen quickly, we risk crossing different kinds of tipping points – those in the Earth System that may threaten the stability of life on our planet.

“Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future”

“Tropical coral reef systems and the Arctic summer ice are at risk already at 1.5°C warming and we now know that there is a likely tipping point for the destabilisation of the Greenland Ice sheet, which may be as low as 2°C.”

Much of the factual material they explain is by now all too well-known; many of their specific warnings, however acutely they present them, echo with leaden but still necessary familiarity. But there is a new note to what they have to tell the world: that time really is running out.

“Humanity may tend to take the benign conditions of the past 10,000 years for granted, but we are already experiencing the highest global mean temperature on Earth since the last Ice Age”, they write.

“If anything, there is a growing understanding that expert assessments, which are usually conservative in the best sense of the word, have contributed to allow decision-makers to underestimate – not overestimate – the risks of climate impacts. Now it is apparent that impacts are happening much sooner and more severely than expected.

“In each report since 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has corrected its assessments of the so-called ‘reasons for concern’ upwards, i.e., to higher levels of worry.

Irreversible change

“The world is following a path which even at a conservative assessment will result in more than 3°C of warming – with definite irreversible tipping points – by the end of this century. Last time we had this level of warming on Earth was 4-5 million years ago.”

The scientists echo the call of the young strikers: “This is not a single-generation issue”, they say. “Humanity is tipping the scales of our planet’s future.”

Serious scientists are usually cautious people, unwilling to stick their necks out and speak out on something about which they are not absolutely certain. But today’s statement is not like that − and it is not the first of its kind.

Three other experts, all renowned in their fields, last April urged support for the school strikers, declaring: “The world’s youth have begun to persistently demonstrate for the protection of the climate and other foundations of human well-being … Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate and biosphere are deeply inadequate.”

They attracted the support of more than 6,000 of their colleagues. When scientists are prepared to voice their fears as openly as they are now doing, where does that leave the rest of us? − Climate News Network

Politics tops science under Trump

If you don’t like the news, then suppress it − because politics tops science in the US today, researchers are finding.

LONDON, 20 August, 2019 − When the news is bad, punish the messenger, as in today’s United States it’s increasingly the case that politics tops science.

This, according to a top scientist formerly working at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is what’s happening to government employees involved in climate change research under the administration of President Trump.

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist who has worked for more than 20 years at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), recently resigned his post, saying department officials had not only questioned the results of a peer-reviewed research paper he was involved in on the adverse impact of climate change – they had also attempted to minimise its coverage in the media.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this (the ARS) is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”, Ziska tells the Politico website.

“That’s so sad – I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Research ‘not sidelined’

The paper in question is a collaboration involving Ziska and other researchers at the ARS and various academic institutions in the US, Japan, China and Australia.

Published last year in the journal Science Advances, it analysed how increasing levels of climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might affect various nutrients in rice, a crop on which hundreds of millions around the world depend.

The paper not only confirmed earlier research on rice losing proteins and minerals in a more carbon-rich environment; it found, for the first time, that levels of key vitamins in rice can also drop significantly as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A USDA spokesperson said the department’s failure to promote the paper was due to disagreement over the study’s claim that millions would be affected by falling nutritional levels in rice; the spokesperson said USDA’s actions had nothing to do with politics and denied that climate research was being sidelined under the Trump administration.

Trump has in the past dismissed climate change as a hoax and has announced that the US will withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement on meeting the challenges of a warming world.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”

There have been persistent reports of administration officials resigning or being sacked for highlighting the dangers posed by climate change.

Ziska and others say a pattern is emerging in which policymakers identify “good science” as studies which agree with a certain political agenda; if the science doesn’t agree with the politics, then it’s flawed.

Ziska told Politico he’s concerned that the politicisation of science is a threat to the future of agriculture both in the US and overseas.

“You have farmers who are looking at climate and weather that they’ve not seen in their lifetimes. It’s not your father’s climate – it’s changing…this is a fundamental change across all aspects.

“To ignore it, to dismiss it and say, ‘Oh that’s political’ – I don’t have the words to describe that. It’s surreal. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.”

In June this year additional research into carbon dioxide’s impact on vitamin levels in rice published in the journal AGU100 confirmed the findings of the study Ziska and others were involved in. − Climate News Network

If you don’t like the news, then suppress it − because politics tops science in the US today, researchers are finding.

LONDON, 20 August, 2019 − When the news is bad, punish the messenger, as in today’s United States it’s increasingly the case that politics tops science.

This, according to a top scientist formerly working at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is what’s happening to government employees involved in climate change research under the administration of President Trump.

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist who has worked for more than 20 years at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), recently resigned his post, saying department officials had not only questioned the results of a peer-reviewed research paper he was involved in on the adverse impact of climate change – they had also attempted to minimise its coverage in the media.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this (the ARS) is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”, Ziska tells the Politico website.

“That’s so sad – I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Research ‘not sidelined’

The paper in question is a collaboration involving Ziska and other researchers at the ARS and various academic institutions in the US, Japan, China and Australia.

Published last year in the journal Science Advances, it analysed how increasing levels of climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might affect various nutrients in rice, a crop on which hundreds of millions around the world depend.

The paper not only confirmed earlier research on rice losing proteins and minerals in a more carbon-rich environment; it found, for the first time, that levels of key vitamins in rice can also drop significantly as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A USDA spokesperson said the department’s failure to promote the paper was due to disagreement over the study’s claim that millions would be affected by falling nutritional levels in rice; the spokesperson said USDA’s actions had nothing to do with politics and denied that climate research was being sidelined under the Trump administration.

Trump has in the past dismissed climate change as a hoax and has announced that the US will withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement on meeting the challenges of a warming world.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”

There have been persistent reports of administration officials resigning or being sacked for highlighting the dangers posed by climate change.

Ziska and others say a pattern is emerging in which policymakers identify “good science” as studies which agree with a certain political agenda; if the science doesn’t agree with the politics, then it’s flawed.

Ziska told Politico he’s concerned that the politicisation of science is a threat to the future of agriculture both in the US and overseas.

“You have farmers who are looking at climate and weather that they’ve not seen in their lifetimes. It’s not your father’s climate – it’s changing…this is a fundamental change across all aspects.

“To ignore it, to dismiss it and say, ‘Oh that’s political’ – I don’t have the words to describe that. It’s surreal. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.”

In June this year additional research into carbon dioxide’s impact on vitamin levels in rice published in the journal AGU100 confirmed the findings of the study Ziska and others were involved in. − Climate News Network

Political lobbying buys off climate law

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

UK climate emergency is official policy

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Green New Deal aims for triple payback

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − 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.

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − 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.

Uncertain futures warn world to act as one

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

UN calls lethal Brazil dam burst a crime

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Nuclear sunset overtakes fading dreams

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

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

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

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

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

UK policy needed

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

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

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

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

Sole survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth points

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

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

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

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

Maintenance problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK policy needed

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

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

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

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

Sole survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth points

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

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

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

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

Maintenance problems

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

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

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

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

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

“ We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is uncharted policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet”

The study simultaneously addresses what should be on the global supper table, and how it gets there. It presumes a daily intake for a 70kg active adult male aged 30, or a 60kg woman, of up to 2,500 kilocalories per day, with around 35% of these from wholegrains and tubers.

It recommends a limit of 14 grams of red meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The global appetite for red meat and sugar must be halved, while consumption of nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruit intake must double.

And it recommends fair shares on a global scale; North Americans chew their way through more than six times the recommended meat portion; people in South Asia right now consume only half what they should.

And across the globe, people depend too much on starchy foods such as potato and cassava: in sub-Saharan Africa, 7.5 times too much. If people adopt a healthy diet and limit the use of processed foods, this would avert between 10.9m and 11.6m premature deaths each year.

Unprecedented change

But the same advice then addresses the global and seemingly intractable problem of managing agriculture so that it serves all and saves the planet for permanent occupation. To make this happen, change is necessary at rates so far without precedent in history.

Somehow, production must be intensified, but without greater destruction of forests and savannah, and while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Another of the authors, Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and who now directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, calls it “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

“The good news is that not only is it doable, we have increasing evidence that it can be achieved through sustainable intensification that benefits both farmer, consumer and planet,” he said.

Planetary perspective needed

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet. Sustainability of the food system must therefore be defined from a planetary perspective.”

The study is the latest and most authoritative iteration of a series of research papers that have argued, over and over again, for a change in planetary diet, a shift towards more efficient but also more sustainable  farming methods, and a greater focus on planetary equity.

The message from most of them is that it is, or should be, technically possible to grow food for a hungry planet without wasting productivity and without devastating wildlife and natural ecosystems any further.

Five-point plan

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy. It includes campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources; a shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants; appropriate agricultural practices; careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas; and a concerted attempt to at least halve food wastage, an issue in high-income countries and in different ways also in poor and middle-income countries.

This is one of a series of studies published by the Lancet to address global problems related to climate: in December the same journal carried an authoritative assessment of the health costs of heat extremes in the decades to come.

Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the issue of global nutrition was “everyone’s and no-one’s problem. The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.” − Climate News Network