Tag Archives: European Union

Coal is now too hot for insurers to handle

Empires were once built on it, but coal is now too hot for many former backers as more insurers withdraw.

LONDON, 5 December, 2019 − It’s rapidly running out of friends in the financial world: coal is now too hot for many big insurers to want anything more to do with it. The burning of coal is one of the key factors behind rising emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now insurance companies, which play a vital role in the financing of coal plants, are announcing plans to withdraw from the sector, saying that backing organisations seeking to expand coal operations is incompatible with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

AXA, the French insurance and financial services conglomerate, is the latest to announce its withdrawal from coal projects, though this divesting programme will in some cases be phased in over a number of years.

“The fight against climate change requires engagement in a global collective action”, says Thomas Buberl, AXA’s chief executive officer.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, we want to accelerate our commitment and confirm our leadership in the fight against global warming”.

European phase-out

AXA says it will stop insuring any new coal construction projects. It will also totally phase out its existing insurance and investments in coal in the European Union countries by 2030, and by 2040 everywhere else.

It’s estimated that approximately 400 companies with coal plant and mine expansion plans will be affected by AXA’s action.

In 2015 AXA announced it would begin withdrawing its investments and insurance from coal projects. Two years later it said it was divesting and ending insurance in oil tar sands projects in Canada, and withdrawing insurance from a number of pipelines in the US transporting tar sands-derived oil.

A number of other large insurance and investment companies have made similar moves on coal. Allianz, the Germany-based company which is Europe’s largest insurer, announced last year that it would end insurance for all coal-fuelled power plants and for coal mines: it would also completely withdraw from the sector by 2040.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. We want to accelerate our commitment in the fight against global warming”

“Banks, investors and insurers are now under great pressure to up their game on climate with new coal policy announcements”, says Kaarina Kolle of Europe Beyond Coal, a group linking various non-governmental organisations across the EU.

“This is the minimum standard for any financial institution committed to the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5°C warming limit.”

While climate scientists have welcomed moves to limit coal use, many nations are still heavily dependent on what is the most polluting of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that coal accounts for nearly 40% of electricity at present generated worldwide.

The IEA says demand rose by 1% in 2017, with a similar rise last year.  Latest statistics indicate coal use worldwide has dropped slightly this year, though total greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.

Economic slowdown

Coal consumption is forecast to drop by 11% in the US in 2019 while China, which accounts for half of total world coal consumption, is expected to use about 1% less of the fuel this year, mainly due to a slowdown in its economy.

Coal use within the EU dropped by nearly 20% in the first six months of this year.

Germany is responsible for about a third of total coal-generated power in the EU. Lignite, the most polluting coal, forms a substantial part of Germany’s energy mix.

Many countries in eastern Europe, including Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, are still heavily dependent on coal for power generation.

Eight EU countries have pledged to phase out coal use by 2030: industry analysts say other heavy coal users in the EU have to follow suit. If not, EU emissions reductions targets set under the Paris Agreement will not be met. − Climate News Network

Empires were once built on it, but coal is now too hot for many former backers as more insurers withdraw.

LONDON, 5 December, 2019 − It’s rapidly running out of friends in the financial world: coal is now too hot for many big insurers to want anything more to do with it. The burning of coal is one of the key factors behind rising emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now insurance companies, which play a vital role in the financing of coal plants, are announcing plans to withdraw from the sector, saying that backing organisations seeking to expand coal operations is incompatible with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

AXA, the French insurance and financial services conglomerate, is the latest to announce its withdrawal from coal projects, though this divesting programme will in some cases be phased in over a number of years.

“The fight against climate change requires engagement in a global collective action”, says Thomas Buberl, AXA’s chief executive officer.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, we want to accelerate our commitment and confirm our leadership in the fight against global warming”.

European phase-out

AXA says it will stop insuring any new coal construction projects. It will also totally phase out its existing insurance and investments in coal in the European Union countries by 2030, and by 2040 everywhere else.

It’s estimated that approximately 400 companies with coal plant and mine expansion plans will be affected by AXA’s action.

In 2015 AXA announced it would begin withdrawing its investments and insurance from coal projects. Two years later it said it was divesting and ending insurance in oil tar sands projects in Canada, and withdrawing insurance from a number of pipelines in the US transporting tar sands-derived oil.

A number of other large insurance and investment companies have made similar moves on coal. Allianz, the Germany-based company which is Europe’s largest insurer, announced last year that it would end insurance for all coal-fuelled power plants and for coal mines: it would also completely withdraw from the sector by 2040.

“A plus 4°C world is not insurable. As a global insurer and investor, we know that we have a key role to play. We want to accelerate our commitment in the fight against global warming”

“Banks, investors and insurers are now under great pressure to up their game on climate with new coal policy announcements”, says Kaarina Kolle of Europe Beyond Coal, a group linking various non-governmental organisations across the EU.

“This is the minimum standard for any financial institution committed to the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5°C warming limit.”

While climate scientists have welcomed moves to limit coal use, many nations are still heavily dependent on what is the most polluting of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that coal accounts for nearly 40% of electricity at present generated worldwide.

The IEA says demand rose by 1% in 2017, with a similar rise last year.  Latest statistics indicate coal use worldwide has dropped slightly this year, though total greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.

Economic slowdown

Coal consumption is forecast to drop by 11% in the US in 2019 while China, which accounts for half of total world coal consumption, is expected to use about 1% less of the fuel this year, mainly due to a slowdown in its economy.

Coal use within the EU dropped by nearly 20% in the first six months of this year.

Germany is responsible for about a third of total coal-generated power in the EU. Lignite, the most polluting coal, forms a substantial part of Germany’s energy mix.

Many countries in eastern Europe, including Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, are still heavily dependent on coal for power generation.

Eight EU countries have pledged to phase out coal use by 2030: industry analysts say other heavy coal users in the EU have to follow suit. If not, EU emissions reductions targets set under the Paris Agreement will not be met. − Climate News Network

Our children await a radioactive legacy

We are leaving our children a radioactive legacy, the lethal waste that current governments still cannot make safe.

LONDON, 26 November, 2019 − After 70 years of building and operating nuclear power plants across the world, governments are bequeathing to future generations a radioactive legacy.

They remain unable to deal with the huge quantities of highly radioactive spent fuel they produce, says a group of independent experts − and as more reactors are reaching the end of their lives, the situation is worsening fast.

That is the conclusion of the first World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR), produced by a group which says there are ever-growing challenges in waste management and no sustainable long-term solutions. They include two British academics: the economist Professor Gordon MacKerron, of the University of Sussex, and the independent radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie.

“Despite many plans and declared political intentions, huge uncertainties remain, and much of the costs and the challenges will fall onto future generations,” the report says.

Persistent risk

The waste, which can remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years, constitutes a continuous health hazard because of the routine release of radioactive gas and liquid waste into the environment. Yet it is likely to be another century before the problem is solved, the WNWR report says.

It notes: “The continued practice of storing spent nuclear fuel for long periods in pools at nuclear power plants (wet storage) constitutes a major risk to the public and to the environment.” There are now an estimated 250,000 tons of spent fuel in storage in 14 countries.

Despite its stark findings, the report makes no comment on the ethics of continuing to build nuclear stations when there is no way to get rid of the wastes they create.

The authors do not even quote the sixth report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1976, only 20 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, chaired by the physicist Sir Brian Flowers.

Beyond reasonable doubt

That said: “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.”

Successive British governments, along with the rest of the world, ignored Flowers. 40 years on, there are massive stockpiles of radioactive waste in every nuclear nation across the planet.

However, because the problem is now so vast, this latest report concentrates on describing the issues faced in the democracies of Europe where there is a lot of official information available. Even here, governments have failed to properly estimate the true cost of dealing with the waste, and most are many decades away from finding any solutions.

Finland is the only country in the world currently building a permanent repository for its high-level waste. Many other countries have tried and failed, either because the geology proved unsuitable or because of objections from those affected.

“There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”

As a result, spent fuel from reactors and other highly dangerous waste is in interim storage that carries severe safety risks, not least from loss of cooling water or terrorist attack. There are 60,000 tons of spent fuel in store in Europe alone.

The bill for dealing with the waste is huge, but no government has yet calculated accurately what it is, nor has any put aside enough funds to deal with it. By mid-2019 there were 181 closed nuclear reactors globally, but only 19 had been fully decommissioned, with just 10 restored as greenfield sites.

The report does not comment on governments’ competence or honesty, but it does make it clear they are not facing up to reality. For example, the UK has more than 100 tons of stored plutonium, for which it has no use − but it refuses to class plutonium as a waste. The report says it will cost at least £3 billion ($3.8bn) “to manage” whatever decision is reached to deal with it.

Each of the countries in Europe that has nuclear power stations is studied in the report. Spent fuel is the single most dangerous source of highly radioactive waste, and all 16 countries in Europe with highly irradiated fuel have yet to deal with it. France has the highest number of spent fuel rods with 13,990 tons in cooling ponds, Germany 8,485, the UK 7,700.

Information withheld

France has the largest unresolved stockpile of all categories of nuclear waste, plus the legacy of a uranium mining industry. The cost of decommissioning and waste management was put at €43.7 billion ($60.3bn) in 2014, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, the report says.

Looking outside Europe, the US probably has the largest and most complex volumes of nuclear waste in the world, the experts say. Yet it has no plans for dealing with it, and vast quantities of all types of waste are in temporary storage.

The authors admit that, despite their year-long study, the report cannot be comprehensive. This is because information from some countries, for example Russia and China, is not available. But they add that across the world all governments are failing to face up to the size of the task and its costs.

Although some countries had set notional dates for dealing with their wastes as far into the future as 2060, others had no idea at all. The authors promise to produce updated reports in future years. − Climate News Network

We are leaving our children a radioactive legacy, the lethal waste that current governments still cannot make safe.

LONDON, 26 November, 2019 − After 70 years of building and operating nuclear power plants across the world, governments are bequeathing to future generations a radioactive legacy.

They remain unable to deal with the huge quantities of highly radioactive spent fuel they produce, says a group of independent experts − and as more reactors are reaching the end of their lives, the situation is worsening fast.

That is the conclusion of the first World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR), produced by a group which says there are ever-growing challenges in waste management and no sustainable long-term solutions. They include two British academics: the economist Professor Gordon MacKerron, of the University of Sussex, and the independent radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie.

“Despite many plans and declared political intentions, huge uncertainties remain, and much of the costs and the challenges will fall onto future generations,” the report says.

Persistent risk

The waste, which can remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years, constitutes a continuous health hazard because of the routine release of radioactive gas and liquid waste into the environment. Yet it is likely to be another century before the problem is solved, the WNWR report says.

It notes: “The continued practice of storing spent nuclear fuel for long periods in pools at nuclear power plants (wet storage) constitutes a major risk to the public and to the environment.” There are now an estimated 250,000 tons of spent fuel in storage in 14 countries.

Despite its stark findings, the report makes no comment on the ethics of continuing to build nuclear stations when there is no way to get rid of the wastes they create.

The authors do not even quote the sixth report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1976, only 20 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, chaired by the physicist Sir Brian Flowers.

Beyond reasonable doubt

That said: “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.”

Successive British governments, along with the rest of the world, ignored Flowers. 40 years on, there are massive stockpiles of radioactive waste in every nuclear nation across the planet.

However, because the problem is now so vast, this latest report concentrates on describing the issues faced in the democracies of Europe where there is a lot of official information available. Even here, governments have failed to properly estimate the true cost of dealing with the waste, and most are many decades away from finding any solutions.

Finland is the only country in the world currently building a permanent repository for its high-level waste. Many other countries have tried and failed, either because the geology proved unsuitable or because of objections from those affected.

“There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”

As a result, spent fuel from reactors and other highly dangerous waste is in interim storage that carries severe safety risks, not least from loss of cooling water or terrorist attack. There are 60,000 tons of spent fuel in store in Europe alone.

The bill for dealing with the waste is huge, but no government has yet calculated accurately what it is, nor has any put aside enough funds to deal with it. By mid-2019 there were 181 closed nuclear reactors globally, but only 19 had been fully decommissioned, with just 10 restored as greenfield sites.

The report does not comment on governments’ competence or honesty, but it does make it clear they are not facing up to reality. For example, the UK has more than 100 tons of stored plutonium, for which it has no use − but it refuses to class plutonium as a waste. The report says it will cost at least £3 billion ($3.8bn) “to manage” whatever decision is reached to deal with it.

Each of the countries in Europe that has nuclear power stations is studied in the report. Spent fuel is the single most dangerous source of highly radioactive waste, and all 16 countries in Europe with highly irradiated fuel have yet to deal with it. France has the highest number of spent fuel rods with 13,990 tons in cooling ponds, Germany 8,485, the UK 7,700.

Information withheld

France has the largest unresolved stockpile of all categories of nuclear waste, plus the legacy of a uranium mining industry. The cost of decommissioning and waste management was put at €43.7 billion ($60.3bn) in 2014, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, the report says.

Looking outside Europe, the US probably has the largest and most complex volumes of nuclear waste in the world, the experts say. Yet it has no plans for dealing with it, and vast quantities of all types of waste are in temporary storage.

The authors admit that, despite their year-long study, the report cannot be comprehensive. This is because information from some countries, for example Russia and China, is not available. But they add that across the world all governments are failing to face up to the size of the task and its costs.

Although some countries had set notional dates for dealing with their wastes as far into the future as 2060, others had no idea at all. The authors promise to produce updated reports in future years. − Climate News Network

Global climate treaty is not working

Three out of four nations have yet to start to honour the global climate treaty. The world waits, the seas go on rising – and greenhouse gases too.

LONDON, 13 November, 2019 – Three nations in every four that vowed in the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end have failed to deliver pledges that will reduce emissions by even 40% by 2030.

In Paris in 2015, a total of 195 nations agreed that action was vital. Since then only 36 countries have taken steps to meet the targets they agreed, according to a new study by the Universal Ecological Fund. And one nation has announced that it will withdraw altogether from the agreement.

“The comprehensive examination found that with few exceptions, the pledges of the rich, middle income and poor countries are insufficient to address climate change,” said Sir Robert Watson, once chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was present at the Paris meeting, and co-author of the study. “Simply, the pledges are far too little, too late.

“Even if all climate pledges, which are voluntary, are fully implemented, they will cover less than half of what is needed to limit the acceleration of climate change in the next decade.”

“The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future”

What happens now will affect the planetary climate and its ocean systems for much longer than that for at least the next two centuries. Researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at the impact to come even if all nations were to honour all the pledges made in Paris.

They agree that the global emissions of greenhouse gases since Paris and by 2030 would alone be enough to raise global sea levels by 20 cms: half of that from China, the US, the EU, India and Russia, the top five emitters. But they add a much more ominous long-term warning

“Our results show that what we do today will have a huge effect in 2300. 20 cms is very significant; it is basically as much sea-level rise as we’ve observed over the entire 20th century. To cause that with only 15 years of emissions is quite staggering”, said Alexander Nauels, of Climate Analytics, who led the study.

“The true consequences of our emissions on sea level rise unfold over centuries, due to the slow pace at which the ocean, polar ice sheets and glaciers respond to global warming. The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future.”

And as if to add force to the need for drastic action, a new US and German study has warned that even if nations honour their pledges by 2030, sea levels around the world will go on rising, and stay at higher levels for thousands of years.

Leaking permafrost

As the polar ice retreats, and rising tides batter the shores of the Arctic Ocean, vast volumes of carbon dioxide so far imprisoned  in the permafrost of the polar coasts – 34% of all the world’s coastlines  – could escape to accelerate further warming and of course yet greater sea level rise.

Climate scientists have been wrestling for decades with what they call the carbon budget – the accounting of all the ways in which carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere and out of it again – and missed another potentially dangerous source of the greenhouse gas.

As glaciers retreat and the frozen coasts and soils thaw, this could begin to seep into the atmosphere. Laboratory experiments suggest it will seep even faster as sea levels rise and waves grow more powerful. For every gram, dry weight, of eroded permafrost, more than 4 grams of carbon dioxide would escape into the atmosphere.

“Carbon budgets and climate simulations have so far missed coastal erosion in their equations even though it might be a substantial source of carbon dioxide,” says George Tanski of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the lead author.

“Our research found that the erosion of permafrost coastlines can lead to the rapid release of significant quantities of CO2, which can be expected to increase as coastal erosion accelerates, temperatures increase, sea ice diminishes and stronger storms batter Arctic coasts.”

Early warning

That the Paris Agreement was backed up by pledges that might fail to contain global warning to an ideal target of 1.5°C was clear from the start, and scientists who looked at the promises made at the time warned that unless they were increased, they committed the world to a warming of at least 3°C above the long term average for most of human history.

The latest study from the Universal Ecological Fund now finds that not only are the pledges not enough; some are not being honoured. China and India pledged to reduce the intensity of their emissions relative to gross domestic product, but since their economies continue to grow, so will their emissions.

China already contributes more than 26% of all global emissions, India 7%. The US, which contributes 13% of all greenhouse emissions, is to quit the Paris Agreement in 2020, and has in any case reversed much of its climate legislation. Russia, which contributes 4.6% of all atmospheric carbon dioxide, has submitted no pledges.

Europe’s 28 nations, and seven others, have promised to reduce emissions by 40% by 2040. Of the remaining 152 nations, responsible for more than 36% of all emissions, 127 have submitted conditional plans, but rely upon technical assistance and funding from the wealthy nations to execute these. But the US and Australia have stopped making contributions to such funding.

Almost 70% of emissions are from fossil fuels: successful action would require the closure of 2,400 coal-fired power stations. In fact, 250 new coal-fired power stations are now under construction. The message is that governments are doing too little, too slowly, leaving horrendous future consequences. – Climate News Network

Three out of four nations have yet to start to honour the global climate treaty. The world waits, the seas go on rising – and greenhouse gases too.

LONDON, 13 November, 2019 – Three nations in every four that vowed in the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end have failed to deliver pledges that will reduce emissions by even 40% by 2030.

In Paris in 2015, a total of 195 nations agreed that action was vital. Since then only 36 countries have taken steps to meet the targets they agreed, according to a new study by the Universal Ecological Fund. And one nation has announced that it will withdraw altogether from the agreement.

“The comprehensive examination found that with few exceptions, the pledges of the rich, middle income and poor countries are insufficient to address climate change,” said Sir Robert Watson, once chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was present at the Paris meeting, and co-author of the study. “Simply, the pledges are far too little, too late.

“Even if all climate pledges, which are voluntary, are fully implemented, they will cover less than half of what is needed to limit the acceleration of climate change in the next decade.”

“The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future”

What happens now will affect the planetary climate and its ocean systems for much longer than that for at least the next two centuries. Researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at the impact to come even if all nations were to honour all the pledges made in Paris.

They agree that the global emissions of greenhouse gases since Paris and by 2030 would alone be enough to raise global sea levels by 20 cms: half of that from China, the US, the EU, India and Russia, the top five emitters. But they add a much more ominous long-term warning

“Our results show that what we do today will have a huge effect in 2300. 20 cms is very significant; it is basically as much sea-level rise as we’ve observed over the entire 20th century. To cause that with only 15 years of emissions is quite staggering”, said Alexander Nauels, of Climate Analytics, who led the study.

“The true consequences of our emissions on sea level rise unfold over centuries, due to the slow pace at which the ocean, polar ice sheets and glaciers respond to global warming. The more carbon we release now the more sea level rise we are locking in for the future.”

And as if to add force to the need for drastic action, a new US and German study has warned that even if nations honour their pledges by 2030, sea levels around the world will go on rising, and stay at higher levels for thousands of years.

Leaking permafrost

As the polar ice retreats, and rising tides batter the shores of the Arctic Ocean, vast volumes of carbon dioxide so far imprisoned  in the permafrost of the polar coasts – 34% of all the world’s coastlines  – could escape to accelerate further warming and of course yet greater sea level rise.

Climate scientists have been wrestling for decades with what they call the carbon budget – the accounting of all the ways in which carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere and out of it again – and missed another potentially dangerous source of the greenhouse gas.

As glaciers retreat and the frozen coasts and soils thaw, this could begin to seep into the atmosphere. Laboratory experiments suggest it will seep even faster as sea levels rise and waves grow more powerful. For every gram, dry weight, of eroded permafrost, more than 4 grams of carbon dioxide would escape into the atmosphere.

“Carbon budgets and climate simulations have so far missed coastal erosion in their equations even though it might be a substantial source of carbon dioxide,” says George Tanski of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the lead author.

“Our research found that the erosion of permafrost coastlines can lead to the rapid release of significant quantities of CO2, which can be expected to increase as coastal erosion accelerates, temperatures increase, sea ice diminishes and stronger storms batter Arctic coasts.”

Early warning

That the Paris Agreement was backed up by pledges that might fail to contain global warning to an ideal target of 1.5°C was clear from the start, and scientists who looked at the promises made at the time warned that unless they were increased, they committed the world to a warming of at least 3°C above the long term average for most of human history.

The latest study from the Universal Ecological Fund now finds that not only are the pledges not enough; some are not being honoured. China and India pledged to reduce the intensity of their emissions relative to gross domestic product, but since their economies continue to grow, so will their emissions.

China already contributes more than 26% of all global emissions, India 7%. The US, which contributes 13% of all greenhouse emissions, is to quit the Paris Agreement in 2020, and has in any case reversed much of its climate legislation. Russia, which contributes 4.6% of all atmospheric carbon dioxide, has submitted no pledges.

Europe’s 28 nations, and seven others, have promised to reduce emissions by 40% by 2040. Of the remaining 152 nations, responsible for more than 36% of all emissions, 127 have submitted conditional plans, but rely upon technical assistance and funding from the wealthy nations to execute these. But the US and Australia have stopped making contributions to such funding.

Almost 70% of emissions are from fossil fuels: successful action would require the closure of 2,400 coal-fired power stations. In fact, 250 new coal-fired power stations are now under construction. The message is that governments are doing too little, too slowly, leaving horrendous future consequences. – Climate News Network

Climate ‘is the election priority’ for the UK

Britain’s general election campaign is squarely focused on the UK leaving the EU. But persuasive voices say the climate “is the election priority”.

LONDON, 7 November, 2019 − The real issue facing the United Kingdom in next month’s general election is not whether to choose Brexit, to stay in the European Union or leave it, a prominent lawyer says, because the climate “is the election priority” for the UK.

With Britain due to host the November 2020 United Nations climate talks, she told a London conference, it is vital that the new government elected on 12 December takes the lead by enacting policies to tackle the climate emergency.

Farhana Yamin, an international climate change lawyer, said that currently the world was failing to tackle the climate and ecological disaster facing the planet. The UK posed as a climate leader but was “way, way behind” what was needed and did not have the policies in place to reach its own target of net zero emissions by 2050.

“Nothing less than a green industrial revolution is required to turn the situation around. A war-like mobilisation of society to stop nature being destroyed needs to be in place by next year when the climate talks are being held in Glasgow”, she said. British voters had an opportunity to choose a government that could lead the world by example.

“The fact is we already know that normal life is going to be disrupted. Change is coming, whether you like it or not. The electorate has a chance to shape that change.

Inadequate Paris Agreement

“This is going to be a climate and ecological election. The future will be very different depending on the decisions taken in the next five years – and it depends on which direction the new government wants to take,” she said.

This was because it was already clear that the commitments made in Paris in 2015 to cut greenhouse gas emissions were nowhere near enough to hold global temperature rise to safe levels. The whole pack of nations was failing, and needed to make new commitments at the Glasgow talks a year from now.

Yamin, from Pakistan, lives in Britain and is an advocate and adviser to the Marshall Islands. She has represented many members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which are most threatened by climate change, particularly sea level rise.

Talking to an audience of senior business executives and heads of environmental groups at the conference of the Fit for the Future network, she said the horrors of climate change were already apparent.

The 20 million people in Delhi suffering from toxic air pollution, and those in the Marshall Islands which she champions who are facing inundation by the sea, were just two examples of the problem, and 2020 was a crucial year to try to turn the problem round.

“We already know that normal life is going to be disrupted. Change is coming, whether you like it or not. The electorate has a chance to shape that change”

Yamin told the Climate News Network she feared that in the UK election Brexit would crowd out the much more important issue of climate change. This was not to suggest how people should vote, but she asked people to cast aside other considerations and look at the parties’ climate policies.

“Whatever government is elected now will take decisions that will have a fundamental effect on the future of the planet. Take the right decisions in this four-year term of office, and there is still a chance of turning things around,” she said.

The co-leader of the UK Green Party, Sian Berry, said at the launch of the Greens’ campaign yesterday: “Some things are even bigger than Brexit. This must be the climate election.”

Yamin took part in London’s Extinction Rebellion protests and is one of the 1,300 people arrested there: she superglued herself to the entrance of the Shell oil giant’s London HQ. That had been necessary to raise public awareness of the problem, she said.

“For me it is the most historic and meaningful election I can remember. The environmental movement is all about social justice, so people now have the opportunity to vote to live and work in an equal society,” she said. − Climate News Network

Britain’s general election campaign is squarely focused on the UK leaving the EU. But persuasive voices say the climate “is the election priority”.

LONDON, 7 November, 2019 − The real issue facing the United Kingdom in next month’s general election is not whether to choose Brexit, to stay in the European Union or leave it, a prominent lawyer says, because the climate “is the election priority” for the UK.

With Britain due to host the November 2020 United Nations climate talks, she told a London conference, it is vital that the new government elected on 12 December takes the lead by enacting policies to tackle the climate emergency.

Farhana Yamin, an international climate change lawyer, said that currently the world was failing to tackle the climate and ecological disaster facing the planet. The UK posed as a climate leader but was “way, way behind” what was needed and did not have the policies in place to reach its own target of net zero emissions by 2050.

“Nothing less than a green industrial revolution is required to turn the situation around. A war-like mobilisation of society to stop nature being destroyed needs to be in place by next year when the climate talks are being held in Glasgow”, she said. British voters had an opportunity to choose a government that could lead the world by example.

“The fact is we already know that normal life is going to be disrupted. Change is coming, whether you like it or not. The electorate has a chance to shape that change.

Inadequate Paris Agreement

“This is going to be a climate and ecological election. The future will be very different depending on the decisions taken in the next five years – and it depends on which direction the new government wants to take,” she said.

This was because it was already clear that the commitments made in Paris in 2015 to cut greenhouse gas emissions were nowhere near enough to hold global temperature rise to safe levels. The whole pack of nations was failing, and needed to make new commitments at the Glasgow talks a year from now.

Yamin, from Pakistan, lives in Britain and is an advocate and adviser to the Marshall Islands. She has represented many members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which are most threatened by climate change, particularly sea level rise.

Talking to an audience of senior business executives and heads of environmental groups at the conference of the Fit for the Future network, she said the horrors of climate change were already apparent.

The 20 million people in Delhi suffering from toxic air pollution, and those in the Marshall Islands which she champions who are facing inundation by the sea, were just two examples of the problem, and 2020 was a crucial year to try to turn the problem round.

“We already know that normal life is going to be disrupted. Change is coming, whether you like it or not. The electorate has a chance to shape that change”

Yamin told the Climate News Network she feared that in the UK election Brexit would crowd out the much more important issue of climate change. This was not to suggest how people should vote, but she asked people to cast aside other considerations and look at the parties’ climate policies.

“Whatever government is elected now will take decisions that will have a fundamental effect on the future of the planet. Take the right decisions in this four-year term of office, and there is still a chance of turning things around,” she said.

The co-leader of the UK Green Party, Sian Berry, said at the launch of the Greens’ campaign yesterday: “Some things are even bigger than Brexit. This must be the climate election.”

Yamin took part in London’s Extinction Rebellion protests and is one of the 1,300 people arrested there: she superglued herself to the entrance of the Shell oil giant’s London HQ. That had been necessary to raise public awareness of the problem, she said.

“For me it is the most historic and meaningful election I can remember. The environmental movement is all about social justice, so people now have the opportunity to vote to live and work in an equal society,” she said. − Climate News Network

Water stress rises as more wells run dry

Soon, communities and even nations could be drawing water faster than the skies can replenish it. As the wells run dry, so will the rivers.

LONDON, 9 October, 2019 − Within three decades, almost 80% of the lands that depend on groundwater will start to reach their natural irrigation limits as the wells run dry.

In a world of increasing extremes of drought and rainfall, driven by rising global temperatures and potentially catastrophic climate change, the water will start to run out.

It is happening already: in 20% of those water catchments in which farmers and cities rely on pumped groundwater, the flow of streams and rivers has fallen and the surface flow has dwindled, changed direction or stopped altogether.

“The effects can be seen already in the Midwest of the United States and in the Indus Valley project between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at the University of Freiburg.

Groundwater – the billions of tonnes locked in the soils and bedrock, held in vast chalk and limestone aquifers and silently flowing through cracks in other sediments – is the terrestrial planet’s biggest single store of the liquid that sustains all life.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached for regions in southern and central Europe as well as in North African countries”

Groundwater supplies the inland streams and rivers, and the flow from tributaries is an indicator of the levels of water already in the ground.

For thousands of years, communities have drawn water from wells in the dry season and relied on wet season rainfall to replenish it. But as human numbers have grown, as agriculture has commandeered more and more of the land, and as cities have burgeoned, demand has in some places begun to outstrip supply. The fear is that rising average temperatures will intensify the problem.

Dr de Graaf and colleagues from the Netherlands and Canada report in the journal Nature that they used computer simulations to establish the likely pattern of withdrawal and flow. The news is not good.

“We estimate that, by 2050, environmental flow limits will be reached for approximately 42% to 79% of the watershed in which there is groundwater pumping worldwide, and this will generally occur before substantial losses in groundwater storage are experienced,” they write.

That drylands – home to billions of people – will experience water stress with rising temperatures is not news. Climate scientists have been issuing warnings for years.

Ground level drops

And demand for groundwater has increased with the growth of the population and the worldwide growth of the cities: some US cities are at risk of coastal flooding just because so much groundwater has been extracted that the ground itself has been lowered.

The important thing about the latest research is that it sets – albeit broadly – a timetable and a map of where the water stress is likely to be experienced first.

In a hotter world, plants and animals will demand more water. But in a hotter world, the probability of extremes of drought increases.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached also for regions in southern and central Europe – such as Portugal, Spain and Italy – as well as in North African countries,” Dr de Graaf warned.

“Climate change may even accelerate this process, as we expect less precipitation, which will further increase the extraction of groundwater and cause dry areas to dry out completely.” − Climate News Network

Soon, communities and even nations could be drawing water faster than the skies can replenish it. As the wells run dry, so will the rivers.

LONDON, 9 October, 2019 − Within three decades, almost 80% of the lands that depend on groundwater will start to reach their natural irrigation limits as the wells run dry.

In a world of increasing extremes of drought and rainfall, driven by rising global temperatures and potentially catastrophic climate change, the water will start to run out.

It is happening already: in 20% of those water catchments in which farmers and cities rely on pumped groundwater, the flow of streams and rivers has fallen and the surface flow has dwindled, changed direction or stopped altogether.

“The effects can be seen already in the Midwest of the United States and in the Indus Valley project between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at the University of Freiburg.

Groundwater – the billions of tonnes locked in the soils and bedrock, held in vast chalk and limestone aquifers and silently flowing through cracks in other sediments – is the terrestrial planet’s biggest single store of the liquid that sustains all life.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached for regions in southern and central Europe as well as in North African countries”

Groundwater supplies the inland streams and rivers, and the flow from tributaries is an indicator of the levels of water already in the ground.

For thousands of years, communities have drawn water from wells in the dry season and relied on wet season rainfall to replenish it. But as human numbers have grown, as agriculture has commandeered more and more of the land, and as cities have burgeoned, demand has in some places begun to outstrip supply. The fear is that rising average temperatures will intensify the problem.

Dr de Graaf and colleagues from the Netherlands and Canada report in the journal Nature that they used computer simulations to establish the likely pattern of withdrawal and flow. The news is not good.

“We estimate that, by 2050, environmental flow limits will be reached for approximately 42% to 79% of the watershed in which there is groundwater pumping worldwide, and this will generally occur before substantial losses in groundwater storage are experienced,” they write.

That drylands – home to billions of people – will experience water stress with rising temperatures is not news. Climate scientists have been issuing warnings for years.

Ground level drops

And demand for groundwater has increased with the growth of the population and the worldwide growth of the cities: some US cities are at risk of coastal flooding just because so much groundwater has been extracted that the ground itself has been lowered.

The important thing about the latest research is that it sets – albeit broadly – a timetable and a map of where the water stress is likely to be experienced first.

In a hotter world, plants and animals will demand more water. But in a hotter world, the probability of extremes of drought increases.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached also for regions in southern and central Europe – such as Portugal, Spain and Italy – as well as in North African countries,” Dr de Graaf warned.

“Climate change may even accelerate this process, as we expect less precipitation, which will further increase the extraction of groundwater and cause dry areas to dry out completely.” − Climate News Network

Healthcare can worsen global climate crisis

Healthcare workers urging zero carbon emissions say chemicals used increasingly to anaesthetise patients are potent greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 11 September, 2019 − If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter on the planet, according to a new report. Its authors, who argue for zero carbon emissions, say it is the first-ever estimate of healthcare’s global climate footprint.

While fossil fuel burning is responsible for more than half of the footprint, the report says there are several other causes, including the gases used to ensure that patients undergoing surgery feel no pain.

It is produced by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international NGO seeking to change healthcare worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and works for environmental health and justice globally. It was produced in collaboration with Arup.

The report says the European Union healthcare sector is the third largest emitter, accounting for 12% of the global healthcare climate footprint. More than half of healthcare’s worldwide emissions come from the top three emitters – the EU, the US and China. The report includes a breakdown for each EU member state.

An earlier report, published in May this year in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the health care sectors of the 36 countries sampled were together responsible in 2014 for 1.6 GtCO2e (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), or 4.4% of the total emissions from these nations, and 4.4% is the total used in the HCWH report.

(Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect, usually over a century.)

“Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease”

HCWH says well over half of healthcare’s global climate footprint comes from fossil fuel combustion. But it identifies several other causes for concern as well. One is the range of gases used in anaesthesia to ensure  patients remain unconscious during surgery.

These are powerful greenhouse gases. Commonly used anaesthetics include nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas, and three fluorinated gases: sevoflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane. At present, the greater part of these gases enter the atmosphere after use.

Research by the UK National Health Service (NHS) Sustainable Development Unit shows the country’s anaesthetic gas footprint is 1.7%, most of it attributable to nitrous oxide use.

The UN climate change convention (UNFCCC) found that in 2014 a group of developed nations with 15% of the global population, 57% of the global GDP and 73% of global health expenditure was also responsible for 7 MtCO2e of medical nitrous oxide use. (“MtCO2e” means “million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”.)

The UNFCCC concluded that the full impact of the gas’s global use in anaesthesia “can be expected to be substantially greater”.

Use is growing

For fluorinated gases used in anaesthesia, global emissions to the  atmosphere in 2014 were estimated to add 0.2% to the global health care footprint. Because of the growing use of these gases, increasingly chosen  in preference to nitrous oxide, the footprint from anaesthetic gases is also likely to increase.

In measured tones, HCWH says: “Wider adoption of waste anaesthetic capture systems has the potential to be a high impact health care-specific climate mitigation measure” – or in other words, trap them and dispose of them carefully before they can just escape through an open window to join the other GHGs already in the atmosphere.

But HCWH adds a warning: “For many individual health facilities and systems of hospitals the proportion of the contribution of both nitrous oxide and fluorinated anaesthetic gases to their climate footprint can be significantly higher.

“For instance, Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil found that GHG emissions from nitrous oxide contributed to nearly 35% of their total reported GHG emissions in 2013.”

Its report said choosing to use desflurane instead of nitrous oxide meant a ten-fold increase in anaesthetic gas emissions.

Other remedies available

The HCWH report also sounds the alert about metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), devices which are typically used for the treatment of asthma and other respiratory conditions, and which use hydrofluorocarbons as propellants. These are also highly potent greenhouse gases, with warming potentials between 1,480 and 2,900 times that of carbon dioxide.

Again, though, the report says the full global emissions from MDIs will probably be much greater than today’s figure. Alternative ways of using MDIs, such as dry powder -based inhalers, it says, are available and provide the same medicines without the high global warming potential propellants.

The report argues for the transformation of the healthcare sector so that it meets the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise attributable to climate change to 1.5°C.

HCWH says hospitals and health systems should follow the example of the thousands of hospitals already moving toward climate-smart healthcare via the Health Care Climate Challenge and other initiatives.

Welcoming the report, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said hospitals and other health sector facilities were a source of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change: “Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease.”− Climate News Network

Healthcare workers urging zero carbon emissions say chemicals used increasingly to anaesthetise patients are potent greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 11 September, 2019 − If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter on the planet, according to a new report. Its authors, who argue for zero carbon emissions, say it is the first-ever estimate of healthcare’s global climate footprint.

While fossil fuel burning is responsible for more than half of the footprint, the report says there are several other causes, including the gases used to ensure that patients undergoing surgery feel no pain.

It is produced by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international NGO seeking to change healthcare worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and works for environmental health and justice globally. It was produced in collaboration with Arup.

The report says the European Union healthcare sector is the third largest emitter, accounting for 12% of the global healthcare climate footprint. More than half of healthcare’s worldwide emissions come from the top three emitters – the EU, the US and China. The report includes a breakdown for each EU member state.

An earlier report, published in May this year in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the health care sectors of the 36 countries sampled were together responsible in 2014 for 1.6 GtCO2e (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), or 4.4% of the total emissions from these nations, and 4.4% is the total used in the HCWH report.

(Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect, usually over a century.)

“Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease”

HCWH says well over half of healthcare’s global climate footprint comes from fossil fuel combustion. But it identifies several other causes for concern as well. One is the range of gases used in anaesthesia to ensure  patients remain unconscious during surgery.

These are powerful greenhouse gases. Commonly used anaesthetics include nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas, and three fluorinated gases: sevoflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane. At present, the greater part of these gases enter the atmosphere after use.

Research by the UK National Health Service (NHS) Sustainable Development Unit shows the country’s anaesthetic gas footprint is 1.7%, most of it attributable to nitrous oxide use.

The UN climate change convention (UNFCCC) found that in 2014 a group of developed nations with 15% of the global population, 57% of the global GDP and 73% of global health expenditure was also responsible for 7 MtCO2e of medical nitrous oxide use. (“MtCO2e” means “million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”.)

The UNFCCC concluded that the full impact of the gas’s global use in anaesthesia “can be expected to be substantially greater”.

Use is growing

For fluorinated gases used in anaesthesia, global emissions to the  atmosphere in 2014 were estimated to add 0.2% to the global health care footprint. Because of the growing use of these gases, increasingly chosen  in preference to nitrous oxide, the footprint from anaesthetic gases is also likely to increase.

In measured tones, HCWH says: “Wider adoption of waste anaesthetic capture systems has the potential to be a high impact health care-specific climate mitigation measure” – or in other words, trap them and dispose of them carefully before they can just escape through an open window to join the other GHGs already in the atmosphere.

But HCWH adds a warning: “For many individual health facilities and systems of hospitals the proportion of the contribution of both nitrous oxide and fluorinated anaesthetic gases to their climate footprint can be significantly higher.

“For instance, Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil found that GHG emissions from nitrous oxide contributed to nearly 35% of their total reported GHG emissions in 2013.”

Its report said choosing to use desflurane instead of nitrous oxide meant a ten-fold increase in anaesthetic gas emissions.

Other remedies available

The HCWH report also sounds the alert about metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), devices which are typically used for the treatment of asthma and other respiratory conditions, and which use hydrofluorocarbons as propellants. These are also highly potent greenhouse gases, with warming potentials between 1,480 and 2,900 times that of carbon dioxide.

Again, though, the report says the full global emissions from MDIs will probably be much greater than today’s figure. Alternative ways of using MDIs, such as dry powder -based inhalers, it says, are available and provide the same medicines without the high global warming potential propellants.

The report argues for the transformation of the healthcare sector so that it meets the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise attributable to climate change to 1.5°C.

HCWH says hospitals and health systems should follow the example of the thousands of hospitals already moving toward climate-smart healthcare via the Health Care Climate Challenge and other initiatives.

Welcoming the report, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said hospitals and other health sector facilities were a source of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change: “Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease.”− Climate News Network

Climate change underlies Europe’s rapid warming

From the edge of the Arctic to almost the Tropic of Cancer, Europe’s rapid warming is evidenced by hotter summers − and winters.

LONDON, 5 September, 2019 − Europe’s rapid warming means the world’s hottest property could now be on the continent. It has seen the strongest intensification of heat waves anywhere in the world in the last 70 years. The hottest of hot summers are now 2.3°C hotter than they used to be.

And winter extremes of cold are dwindling. The number of extremely cold days has fallen twofold or even threefold, and the coldest days are now 3°C milder than they used to be, according to readings from 94% of the continent’s weather stations.

This, say Swiss scientists, adds up to “a climate change signal that cannot be explained by internal variability.”

That is, thanks to a steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, Europe is warming even faster than global climate models predict.

“In at least one region of the globe, global heating is already happening, and at a rate faster than predicted”

“Even at this regional scale over Europe we can see that these trends are much larger than what we would expect from natural variability,” said Ruth Lorenz, a researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, also known as ETH Zurich. “That’s really a signal from climate change.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they looked at observations and measurements from around 1,000 weather stations between 1950 and 2018 and then analysed the top 1% of the highest extremes of heat and humidity, and the top 1% of coldest days during the same timespan.

Since 1950, the number of days of extreme heat in Europe has tripled. The number of extreme cold days has been reduced, twofold in some places, and by a factor of three in others.

Accelerating change

For years, researchers have been predicting ever-greater extremes for Europe. They have warned that rising temperatures will hit the continent both economically and in health terms, and that as the thermometer rises so will the hazards of fire and drought.

Researchers have even checked the changes in land use in the last three decades to find that political changes – the collapse of the Soviet Union and the formation of the 28-state European Union – helped damp down what still proved one of the worst heat waves ever recorded, in 2003.

But research has largely focused on what could happen if global heating continues, and fossil fuel use continues to grow. What the latest study demonstrates is that in at least one region of the globe, global heating is already happening, and at a rate faster than predicted.

And the rate of change is accelerating. The number of extreme hot days overall has trebled since 1950, but the frequency of these has doubled just between 1996 and 2018. − Climate News Network

From the edge of the Arctic to almost the Tropic of Cancer, Europe’s rapid warming is evidenced by hotter summers − and winters.

LONDON, 5 September, 2019 − Europe’s rapid warming means the world’s hottest property could now be on the continent. It has seen the strongest intensification of heat waves anywhere in the world in the last 70 years. The hottest of hot summers are now 2.3°C hotter than they used to be.

And winter extremes of cold are dwindling. The number of extremely cold days has fallen twofold or even threefold, and the coldest days are now 3°C milder than they used to be, according to readings from 94% of the continent’s weather stations.

This, say Swiss scientists, adds up to “a climate change signal that cannot be explained by internal variability.”

That is, thanks to a steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, Europe is warming even faster than global climate models predict.

“In at least one region of the globe, global heating is already happening, and at a rate faster than predicted”

“Even at this regional scale over Europe we can see that these trends are much larger than what we would expect from natural variability,” said Ruth Lorenz, a researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, also known as ETH Zurich. “That’s really a signal from climate change.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they looked at observations and measurements from around 1,000 weather stations between 1950 and 2018 and then analysed the top 1% of the highest extremes of heat and humidity, and the top 1% of coldest days during the same timespan.

Since 1950, the number of days of extreme heat in Europe has tripled. The number of extreme cold days has been reduced, twofold in some places, and by a factor of three in others.

Accelerating change

For years, researchers have been predicting ever-greater extremes for Europe. They have warned that rising temperatures will hit the continent both economically and in health terms, and that as the thermometer rises so will the hazards of fire and drought.

Researchers have even checked the changes in land use in the last three decades to find that political changes – the collapse of the Soviet Union and the formation of the 28-state European Union – helped damp down what still proved one of the worst heat waves ever recorded, in 2003.

But research has largely focused on what could happen if global heating continues, and fossil fuel use continues to grow. What the latest study demonstrates is that in at least one region of the globe, global heating is already happening, and at a rate faster than predicted.

And the rate of change is accelerating. The number of extreme hot days overall has trebled since 1950, but the frequency of these has doubled just between 1996 and 2018. − Climate News Network

Fracking’s methane leaks drive climate heat

One likely cause of the inexorable rise in global heat is fracking’s methane leaks from the shale gas industry.

LONDON, 14 August, 2019 − An atmospheric methane rise that will speed up global temperature rise is probably being caused mainly by the gas industry’s fracking methane leaks in North America, a new study says.

The analysis, confirming environmentalists’ worst fears about fracking, is a serious blow to the industry, which claims the gas it produces is cleaner than coal and is needed in the interim before renewables can replace fossil fuels.

The study is the work of a scientist from Cornell University in the US who has examined the rapid rise in methane concentrations in the atmosphere since 2008. He has found that the gas’s carbon composition has changed.

His research suggests that methane from biological sources such as cows and bogs has less carbon-13 relative to carbon-12 (denoting the weight of the carbon atom at the centre of the methane molecule) than does methane from conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels such as coal.

The conclusion is that the process of forcing chemicals and water into rock to release gas – the process known as fracking – causes the increased methane emissions. The fracking industry has boomed, and the “signature” of the carbon in the atmosphere points directly to that as the cause.

“If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming”

The scientist, Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, said: “This recent increase in methane is massive. It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen, and shale gas is a major player.” His study is published in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Professor Howarth said about two thirds of all new gas production over the last decade had been shale gas from the US and Canada. Previous studies had concluded erroneously that biological sources were the cause of rising methane, but the analysis of the gas showed it came from fracking.

Atmospheric methane levels rose during the last two decades of the 20th century but then levelled off for about a decade. Then they increased dramatically from 2008 to 2014, from about 570 teragrams (570 billion tonnes) annually to about 595 teragrams, because of global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

Methane is an intense but short-lived contributor to climate change. It traps heat in the atmosphere far more efficiently than carbon dioxide can, but over a much shorter period, because it breaks down quickly and can disperse completely in a few years.

Industry hopes dashed

Professor Howarth says: “If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

The findings will be a serious blow to the hopes of the fracking industry to expand into Europe and other parts of the world. Already there is considerable resistance to fracking, and it has been banned in some EU countries, including France, Germany and Ireland.

But others − including the United Kingdom, which has recently declared a climate emergency − have encouraged fracking, despite growing public opposition.

The fact that fracking is now suspected of causing climate change to accelerate will make it extremely hard for governments to continue to encourage the industry. − Climate News Network

One likely cause of the inexorable rise in global heat is fracking’s methane leaks from the shale gas industry.

LONDON, 14 August, 2019 − An atmospheric methane rise that will speed up global temperature rise is probably being caused mainly by the gas industry’s fracking methane leaks in North America, a new study says.

The analysis, confirming environmentalists’ worst fears about fracking, is a serious blow to the industry, which claims the gas it produces is cleaner than coal and is needed in the interim before renewables can replace fossil fuels.

The study is the work of a scientist from Cornell University in the US who has examined the rapid rise in methane concentrations in the atmosphere since 2008. He has found that the gas’s carbon composition has changed.

His research suggests that methane from biological sources such as cows and bogs has less carbon-13 relative to carbon-12 (denoting the weight of the carbon atom at the centre of the methane molecule) than does methane from conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels such as coal.

The conclusion is that the process of forcing chemicals and water into rock to release gas – the process known as fracking – causes the increased methane emissions. The fracking industry has boomed, and the “signature” of the carbon in the atmosphere points directly to that as the cause.

“If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming”

The scientist, Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, said: “This recent increase in methane is massive. It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen, and shale gas is a major player.” His study is published in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Professor Howarth said about two thirds of all new gas production over the last decade had been shale gas from the US and Canada. Previous studies had concluded erroneously that biological sources were the cause of rising methane, but the analysis of the gas showed it came from fracking.

Atmospheric methane levels rose during the last two decades of the 20th century but then levelled off for about a decade. Then they increased dramatically from 2008 to 2014, from about 570 teragrams (570 billion tonnes) annually to about 595 teragrams, because of global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

Methane is an intense but short-lived contributor to climate change. It traps heat in the atmosphere far more efficiently than carbon dioxide can, but over a much shorter period, because it breaks down quickly and can disperse completely in a few years.

Industry hopes dashed

Professor Howarth says: “If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

The findings will be a serious blow to the hopes of the fracking industry to expand into Europe and other parts of the world. Already there is considerable resistance to fracking, and it has been banned in some EU countries, including France, Germany and Ireland.

But others − including the United Kingdom, which has recently declared a climate emergency − have encouraged fracking, despite growing public opposition.

The fact that fracking is now suspected of causing climate change to accelerate will make it extremely hard for governments to continue to encourage the industry. − Climate News Network

European Union helped to cool 2003 heatwave

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Balkan water reserves may soon run short

South-east Europe faces problems in the next decade as Balkan water reserves are expected to falter, imperilling hydropower.

TIRANA, Albania, 8 August, 2019 − The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality. − Climate News Network

South-east Europe faces problems in the next decade as Balkan water reserves are expected to falter, imperilling hydropower.

TIRANA, Albania, 8 August, 2019 − The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality. − Climate News Network