Tag Archives: Global threats

Polar concerns rise as ice now melts ever faster

An Antarctic glacier gathers pace. In the north, the Arctic ice thins faster. Racing climate heat is feeding polar concerns.

LONDON, 15 June, 2021 − An Antarctic glacier has begun to move more quickly towards the open ocean, as the shelf of sea ice that once held it back starts to collapse. The water in that one glacier is enough to raise global sea levels by half a metre. And that’s not all that’s raising polar concerns across the scientific world.

At the other end of the Earth global heating is accelerating the loss of Arctic ice. A new study reports that the thinning of sea ice in three separate coastal regions could now be happening twice as fast.

Both findings are linked to the inexorable rise in global average temperatures as the profligate use of fossil fuels heightens the ratio of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

Antarctic scientists have been worrying about warming in Antarctica for years. And they have been anxiously watching the Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica for decades.

Glaciers move at the proverbial glacial pace towards the sea, to be held in check, in the polar oceans, by vast shelves of sea ice. Between 2017 and 2020 the ice shelves have undergone a series of collapses and lost one fifth of their area, possibly because the glacier has been accelerating.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic”

“We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things could actually go much quicker than expected,” said Ian Joughin, of the University of Washington in the US.

“The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace. Things could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

He and his colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that the Pine Island glacier has already become Antarctica’s biggest contributor to sea level rise. The pace of flow remained fairly steady from 2009 to 2017, but they found that data from Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite system showed an acceleration of 12% in the past three years.

The Pine Island glacier contains roughly 180 trillion tonnes of ice, enough to raise global sea levels by 0.5 metres. Researchers had calculated that it might take a century or more for slowly-warming polar waters to thin the ice shelves to the point where they could no longer stem the glacier flow. But it now seems that the big player in the shelf ice collapse is the glacier itself, as the flow rate increases.

“The loss of Pine Island’s ice shelf now looks possibly like it could occur in the next decade or two, as opposed to the melt-driven sub-surface change playing out over more than 100 or more years,” said Pierre Dutrieux of the British Antarctic Survey, a co-author. “So it’s a potentially much more rapid and abrupt change.”

Snow fall dwindles

Abrupt change, too, may be on the way in the Arctic Ocean. British researchers used a new computer simulation to explore measurements from Europe’s CryoSat-2 satellite. The scientists report in the journal The Cryosphere that the thinning of ice in the Laptev and Kara Seas north of Siberia, and the Chukchi Sea between Siberia and Alaska, has stepped up by 70%, 98% and 110% respectively.

Sea ice diminishes each summer and forms again each winter; each successive summer reveals an ever-greater loss, as the ice itself thins and the area covered by ice dwindles.

Calculations of ice thickness have always allowed for the falls of fresh winter snow. But since the formation of sea ice has been later every year, there has been less time for the snow to accumulate. Such things make a difference.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic,” said Robbie Mallett, of University College London.

“It is important as thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, stopping the ocean from warming up the atmosphere in winter, and protecting the ocean from sunshine in summer. Thinner ice is also less likely to survive the summer melt.” − Climate News Network

An Antarctic glacier gathers pace. In the north, the Arctic ice thins faster. Racing climate heat is feeding polar concerns.

LONDON, 15 June, 2021 − An Antarctic glacier has begun to move more quickly towards the open ocean, as the shelf of sea ice that once held it back starts to collapse. The water in that one glacier is enough to raise global sea levels by half a metre. And that’s not all that’s raising polar concerns across the scientific world.

At the other end of the Earth global heating is accelerating the loss of Arctic ice. A new study reports that the thinning of sea ice in three separate coastal regions could now be happening twice as fast.

Both findings are linked to the inexorable rise in global average temperatures as the profligate use of fossil fuels heightens the ratio of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

Antarctic scientists have been worrying about warming in Antarctica for years. And they have been anxiously watching the Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica for decades.

Glaciers move at the proverbial glacial pace towards the sea, to be held in check, in the polar oceans, by vast shelves of sea ice. Between 2017 and 2020 the ice shelves have undergone a series of collapses and lost one fifth of their area, possibly because the glacier has been accelerating.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic”

“We may not have the luxury of waiting for slow changes on Pine Island; things could actually go much quicker than expected,” said Ian Joughin, of the University of Washington in the US.

“The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace. Things could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

He and his colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that the Pine Island glacier has already become Antarctica’s biggest contributor to sea level rise. The pace of flow remained fairly steady from 2009 to 2017, but they found that data from Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite system showed an acceleration of 12% in the past three years.

The Pine Island glacier contains roughly 180 trillion tonnes of ice, enough to raise global sea levels by 0.5 metres. Researchers had calculated that it might take a century or more for slowly-warming polar waters to thin the ice shelves to the point where they could no longer stem the glacier flow. But it now seems that the big player in the shelf ice collapse is the glacier itself, as the flow rate increases.

“The loss of Pine Island’s ice shelf now looks possibly like it could occur in the next decade or two, as opposed to the melt-driven sub-surface change playing out over more than 100 or more years,” said Pierre Dutrieux of the British Antarctic Survey, a co-author. “So it’s a potentially much more rapid and abrupt change.”

Snow fall dwindles

Abrupt change, too, may be on the way in the Arctic Ocean. British researchers used a new computer simulation to explore measurements from Europe’s CryoSat-2 satellite. The scientists report in the journal The Cryosphere that the thinning of ice in the Laptev and Kara Seas north of Siberia, and the Chukchi Sea between Siberia and Alaska, has stepped up by 70%, 98% and 110% respectively.

Sea ice diminishes each summer and forms again each winter; each successive summer reveals an ever-greater loss, as the ice itself thins and the area covered by ice dwindles.

Calculations of ice thickness have always allowed for the falls of fresh winter snow. But since the formation of sea ice has been later every year, there has been less time for the snow to accumulate. Such things make a difference.

“The thickness of the sea ice is a sensitive indicator of the health of the Arctic,” said Robbie Mallett, of University College London.

“It is important as thicker ice acts as an insulating blanket, stopping the ocean from warming up the atmosphere in winter, and protecting the ocean from sunshine in summer. Thinner ice is also less likely to survive the summer melt.” − Climate News Network

Maggot burgers can help to solve world hunger

Fancy maggot burgers for dinner? Eating animals and plants which revolt many of us could cut hunger caused by climate change.

LONDON, 14 June, 2021 − A diet of maggot burgers, green slime and seaweed may not appeal to most people, but scientists say it will be essential if the world is to avoid widespread malnutrition.

These “novel foods”, as the researchers beguilingly call them, may sound disgusting to some cultures, but the idea behind them is strictly serious. It does not recommend eating the ingredients raw, or even cooked, but processed into more familiar foods.

It has been developed by a team at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge, UK, who accept that knowing what a recipe contains is a potential barrier to novel foods, so “consideration must be given to (people’s) gastronomic preferences.” Their research is published in the journal Nature Food.

One way to sidestep the problem of repugnance could be to make pasta, burgers, energy bars and similar foods to look and taste just as they always do, while containing insect larvae or micro- and macro-algae.

“Foods like sugar kelp, flies, mealworms and single-celled algae such as chlorella, have the potential to provide healthy, risk-resilient diets that can address malnutrition around the world,” said Dr Asaf Tzachor, first author of the report.

Millions at risk

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks − floods and frosts, droughts and dry spells, pathogens and parasites − which marginal improvements in productivity won’t change. To future-proof our food supply we need to integrate completely new ways of farming into the current system.”

The team says the recent shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with wildfires and droughts in North America, outbreaks of African swine fever affecting pigs in Asia and Europe, and swarms of desert locusts in East Africa, has shown how vulnerable the world’s harvests and distribution networks are to events beyond human control – and how increasing millions of people will suffer unless we adopt novel foods. The problem will only grow as climate heating intensifies.

These new foods can be grown in controlled environments in huge quantities almost anywhere, because they are not weather-dependent. This means they could be produced where malnutrition is already prevalent, improving the diet of children who suffer stunted growth.

Currently two billion people endure food insecurity, with 690 million more undernourished, among them 340 million children fed a poor diet.

Algae, seaweed and the larvae of soldier flies, mealworms and houseflies can be grown in closed environments in containers stacked one on another. Although each species has slightly different needs insect and algae farms, once established, could use multiple containers and automatic systems. They would also offer the added benefit of using organic waste as a food stock for both flies and algae.

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks”

They would avoid the problems of adverse weather suffered by other farming systems, and would eliminate food poisoning like salmonella. Proper management would let growers adjust production to meet changing demand.

One other advantage is that these systems could operate in any climate, so could be used in parts of the world where the food was to be consumed, cutting down the need for long supply chains. This would be particularly important in places like the Pacific islands where, the researchers say, “feeble agriculture and consumption of nutrient-poor foods contribute to stunting in children, and iron-deficiency anaemia in women of reproductive age.”

However, even though these new systems do not depend on weather or even light, they do need other stable conditions, particularly good electricity supplies. So it would be important to make sure that the novel food factories were set up in places where management was protected from sudden outside shocks and interruptions of supply. They would also have to be shielded from potential contamination.

The researchers urge “scientists, engineers, investors and policymakers to consider future foods as a malnutrition mitigation pathway.” Catherine Richards, a doctoral researcher at CSER, said: “Advances in technology open up many possibilities for alternative food supply systems that are more risk-resilient, and can efficiently supply sustainable nutrition to billions of people.

“The coronavirus pandemic is just one example of increasing threats to our globalised food system. Diversifying our diet with these future foods will be important in achieving food security for all.” − Climate News Network

Fancy maggot burgers for dinner? Eating animals and plants which revolt many of us could cut hunger caused by climate change.

LONDON, 14 June, 2021 − A diet of maggot burgers, green slime and seaweed may not appeal to most people, but scientists say it will be essential if the world is to avoid widespread malnutrition.

These “novel foods”, as the researchers beguilingly call them, may sound disgusting to some cultures, but the idea behind them is strictly serious. It does not recommend eating the ingredients raw, or even cooked, but processed into more familiar foods.

It has been developed by a team at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge, UK, who accept that knowing what a recipe contains is a potential barrier to novel foods, so “consideration must be given to (people’s) gastronomic preferences.” Their research is published in the journal Nature Food.

One way to sidestep the problem of repugnance could be to make pasta, burgers, energy bars and similar foods to look and taste just as they always do, while containing insect larvae or micro- and macro-algae.

“Foods like sugar kelp, flies, mealworms and single-celled algae such as chlorella, have the potential to provide healthy, risk-resilient diets that can address malnutrition around the world,” said Dr Asaf Tzachor, first author of the report.

Millions at risk

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks − floods and frosts, droughts and dry spells, pathogens and parasites − which marginal improvements in productivity won’t change. To future-proof our food supply we need to integrate completely new ways of farming into the current system.”

The team says the recent shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with wildfires and droughts in North America, outbreaks of African swine fever affecting pigs in Asia and Europe, and swarms of desert locusts in East Africa, has shown how vulnerable the world’s harvests and distribution networks are to events beyond human control – and how increasing millions of people will suffer unless we adopt novel foods. The problem will only grow as climate heating intensifies.

These new foods can be grown in controlled environments in huge quantities almost anywhere, because they are not weather-dependent. This means they could be produced where malnutrition is already prevalent, improving the diet of children who suffer stunted growth.

Currently two billion people endure food insecurity, with 690 million more undernourished, among them 340 million children fed a poor diet.

Algae, seaweed and the larvae of soldier flies, mealworms and houseflies can be grown in closed environments in containers stacked one on another. Although each species has slightly different needs insect and algae farms, once established, could use multiple containers and automatic systems. They would also offer the added benefit of using organic waste as a food stock for both flies and algae.

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks”

They would avoid the problems of adverse weather suffered by other farming systems, and would eliminate food poisoning like salmonella. Proper management would let growers adjust production to meet changing demand.

One other advantage is that these systems could operate in any climate, so could be used in parts of the world where the food was to be consumed, cutting down the need for long supply chains. This would be particularly important in places like the Pacific islands where, the researchers say, “feeble agriculture and consumption of nutrient-poor foods contribute to stunting in children, and iron-deficiency anaemia in women of reproductive age.”

However, even though these new systems do not depend on weather or even light, they do need other stable conditions, particularly good electricity supplies. So it would be important to make sure that the novel food factories were set up in places where management was protected from sudden outside shocks and interruptions of supply. They would also have to be shielded from potential contamination.

The researchers urge “scientists, engineers, investors and policymakers to consider future foods as a malnutrition mitigation pathway.” Catherine Richards, a doctoral researcher at CSER, said: “Advances in technology open up many possibilities for alternative food supply systems that are more risk-resilient, and can efficiently supply sustainable nutrition to billions of people.

“The coronavirus pandemic is just one example of increasing threats to our globalised food system. Diversifying our diet with these future foods will be important in achieving food security for all.” − Climate News Network

Pathway to global climate catastrophe is clear

Global climate catastrophe could be nearer than we think. New research suggests how it could happen.

LONDON, 8 June, 2021 − Here is a set of circumstances that could trigger global climate catastrophe. The Greenland ice sheet could begin a process of irreversible melting.

As it does, greater quantities of fresh water would flood into the Arctic Ocean, to further slow the already slowing Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, that great flow of water sometimes called the Gulf Stream that  distributes warmth from the tropics.

But as the Atlantic flow weakens, so rises the probability of increased and sustained drought and dieback in the Amazon rainforest: the entire region could begin to tip inexorably into savannah.

And the Southern Ocean would begin to warm: it could warm enough to hasten the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, to accelerate the rise of global sea levels and intensify the whole machinery of global heating.

Alarmingly, this process could begin to happen while global temperatures are still not much higher than they are now: 1.5°C has been repeatedly described as the limit beyond which global average temperatures should not rise, but the official global agreed target is a limit of 2°C.

In fact, the chance of a cascade of domino effects − of tipping points that trigger other climate tipping points − could begin somewhere between those two figures, and the probability rises thereafter.

No way back

And, researchers warn, when they say irreversible, they mean it. Once the Greenland ice sheet starts to slide into the sea, there will be no stopping it. The only question is how swiftly all these things could happen.

“Once triggered, the actual tipping process might take several years up to millennia, depending on the respective response times of the system,” the scientists write in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

It’s a scenario, not a prediction. It’s a calculation of possibilities and probabilities inherent in the process of global warming and climate change. It’s an identification of the way atmospheric warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human economies can and might change the climate system that drives planetary weather.

“We provide risk analysis, not a prediction, yet our findings still raise concern,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the authors.

She and her colleagues base their study on computer simulations of planetary response to temperature rise. And one third of those simulations suggest that if the world reaches 2°C, then one of those elements could begin to tip towards irreversible change, and at the same time trigger other tipping points.

“We’re shifting the odds, and not to our favour − the risk is clearly increasing the more we heat our planet,” said her colleague and co-author Jonathan Donges. “It rises substantially between 1°C and 3°C.

“Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system”

“If greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change cannot be halted, the upper level of this warming range could most likely be crossed by the end of this century. With even higher temperatures, more tipping cascades are to be expected, with long-term devastating effects.”

Climate science has been concerned with the idea of tipping points − temperatures beyond which climate change might be irreversible − for decades. There have been repeated findings that some of these might be nearer than anybody had suspected.

Greenland is in effect the reservoir of most of the Northern hemisphere’s ice − enough to raise sea levels by seven metres − and it is melting at an ever-accelerating rate.

Researchers have again and again identified a possible faltering of the Atlantic current, to warn of a paradoxical consequence: if the Gulf Stream slows, then average temperatures in western Europe could actually fall in a globally-heating world.

The Amazon rainforest − a vital part of the planet’s climate machinery since the end of the last Ice Age − has been hit not just by human degradation but by drought and forest fire, and could be about to slide into permanent savannah.

Overshoot nears

And scientists in Antarctica have been warning for a decade of thinning ice sheets, and accelerating glaciers.

The planet has already warmed by more than a degree Celsius in the last century or so. There is a high chance that some time this decade the annual average planetary temperature could pass the 1.5°C threshold, if only temporarily.

Right now, although 195 nations in Paris in 2015 committed themselves to a target of “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world is heading for a temperature rise by the end of the century of more than 3°C.

The authors concede that their results contain a lot of uncertainties: there is more research to be done. But that doesn’t mean there is no urgency.

“Our analysis is conservative in the sense that several interactions and tipping elements are not yet considered”, said Professor Winkelmann. It would hence be a daring bet to hope that the uncertainties play out in a good way, given what is at stake.

“From a precautionary perspective, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system, and potentially causing domino effects.” − Climate News Network

Global climate catastrophe could be nearer than we think. New research suggests how it could happen.

LONDON, 8 June, 2021 − Here is a set of circumstances that could trigger global climate catastrophe. The Greenland ice sheet could begin a process of irreversible melting.

As it does, greater quantities of fresh water would flood into the Arctic Ocean, to further slow the already slowing Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, that great flow of water sometimes called the Gulf Stream that  distributes warmth from the tropics.

But as the Atlantic flow weakens, so rises the probability of increased and sustained drought and dieback in the Amazon rainforest: the entire region could begin to tip inexorably into savannah.

And the Southern Ocean would begin to warm: it could warm enough to hasten the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, to accelerate the rise of global sea levels and intensify the whole machinery of global heating.

Alarmingly, this process could begin to happen while global temperatures are still not much higher than they are now: 1.5°C has been repeatedly described as the limit beyond which global average temperatures should not rise, but the official global agreed target is a limit of 2°C.

In fact, the chance of a cascade of domino effects − of tipping points that trigger other climate tipping points − could begin somewhere between those two figures, and the probability rises thereafter.

No way back

And, researchers warn, when they say irreversible, they mean it. Once the Greenland ice sheet starts to slide into the sea, there will be no stopping it. The only question is how swiftly all these things could happen.

“Once triggered, the actual tipping process might take several years up to millennia, depending on the respective response times of the system,” the scientists write in the journal Earth System Dynamics.

It’s a scenario, not a prediction. It’s a calculation of possibilities and probabilities inherent in the process of global warming and climate change. It’s an identification of the way atmospheric warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions from human economies can and might change the climate system that drives planetary weather.

“We provide risk analysis, not a prediction, yet our findings still raise concern,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the authors.

She and her colleagues base their study on computer simulations of planetary response to temperature rise. And one third of those simulations suggest that if the world reaches 2°C, then one of those elements could begin to tip towards irreversible change, and at the same time trigger other tipping points.

“We’re shifting the odds, and not to our favour − the risk is clearly increasing the more we heat our planet,” said her colleague and co-author Jonathan Donges. “It rises substantially between 1°C and 3°C.

“Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system”

“If greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting climate change cannot be halted, the upper level of this warming range could most likely be crossed by the end of this century. With even higher temperatures, more tipping cascades are to be expected, with long-term devastating effects.”

Climate science has been concerned with the idea of tipping points − temperatures beyond which climate change might be irreversible − for decades. There have been repeated findings that some of these might be nearer than anybody had suspected.

Greenland is in effect the reservoir of most of the Northern hemisphere’s ice − enough to raise sea levels by seven metres − and it is melting at an ever-accelerating rate.

Researchers have again and again identified a possible faltering of the Atlantic current, to warn of a paradoxical consequence: if the Gulf Stream slows, then average temperatures in western Europe could actually fall in a globally-heating world.

The Amazon rainforest − a vital part of the planet’s climate machinery since the end of the last Ice Age − has been hit not just by human degradation but by drought and forest fire, and could be about to slide into permanent savannah.

Overshoot nears

And scientists in Antarctica have been warning for a decade of thinning ice sheets, and accelerating glaciers.

The planet has already warmed by more than a degree Celsius in the last century or so. There is a high chance that some time this decade the annual average planetary temperature could pass the 1.5°C threshold, if only temporarily.

Right now, although 195 nations in Paris in 2015 committed themselves to a target of “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world is heading for a temperature rise by the end of the century of more than 3°C.

The authors concede that their results contain a lot of uncertainties: there is more research to be done. But that doesn’t mean there is no urgency.

“Our analysis is conservative in the sense that several interactions and tipping elements are not yet considered”, said Professor Winkelmann. It would hence be a daring bet to hope that the uncertainties play out in a good way, given what is at stake.

“From a precautionary perspective, rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is indispensable to limit the risks of crossing tipping points in the climate system, and potentially causing domino effects.” − Climate News Network

Buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

Global heating causes 1 in 3 heat-related deaths

In a heatwave, global warming driven by fossil fuels becomes an act of self-harm. It causes 1 in 3 heat-related deaths.

LONDON, 1 June, 2021 − As temperatures rise, so do the numbers of people dying from heat stroke and other temperature-related health conditions. And now statisticians can separate the extra hazard delivered by global heating: 1 in 3 heat-related deaths now occurs because of the profligate use of fossil fuels for the last century.

The additional stress of heat caused entirely by human action now claims 172 lives in Rome every year; 189 in Athens, 177 in Madrid and even 82 Londoners. Across the Atlantic, the extra greenhouse gas kills 141 New Yorkers annually and 136 in Santiago, Chile. In Bangkok, 146 perish because of anthropogenic heat stress; in Tokyo, 156, in Ho Chi Minh City, 137.

Extreme heat kills: it can do so in at least 27 different ways. Extremes of heat are a summer hazard even in temperate climate zones. Annual averages might suggest pleasantly warm conditions, but that’s not a reliable guide: summers have always arrived with the risk of sometimes murderous heat.

But all the evidence from past decades suggests that global average temperatures have risen by at least one degree Celsius in the last hundred years. And with that rise in temperature, so has the risk of more prolonged, more intense and more frequent extremes of heat risen too.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change”

An international consortium of 68 researchers reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that daily temperature readings and mortality tables from 732 centres in 43 countries revealed what rising levels of mercury driven by human activity so far could do for mortality and morbidity associated with heat.

The findings are likely to be conservative: some tropical regions with the highest risk of extreme heat and very high rates of population growth were excluded because the daily death figures were not available.

Not surprisingly, the proportion of death from heat extremes attributable to climate change varied: from 20% to more than 75%, delivering an average of 37%, or one death in three. And these extra deaths occurred between 1991 and 2018. That is, climate change is silently claiming lives already.

The study is not the first to try to quantify the extra cost of global heating driven by fossil fuel use. Extreme events happen anyway: climate change tends to make them more extreme, and in May researchers tried to estimate the extra lives lost and the additional homes flooded during one terrible storm made even more terrible by human-triggered sea level rise.

Worse to come

There is now a huge body of evidence to suggest that more frequent and more devastating extremes of heat are on the way.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change or adapt,” said Ana M. Vicedo-Cabrera of the University of Bern in Switzerland, the first author.

“So far the global average temperature has only increased by about 1°C, which is a fraction of what we could face if emissions continue to grow unchecked.”

And her co-author Antonio Gasparrini of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added: “The message is clear: climate change will not just have devastating impacts in the future, but every continent is already experiencing the dire consequences of human activities on the planet. We must act now.” − Climate News Network

In a heatwave, global warming driven by fossil fuels becomes an act of self-harm. It causes 1 in 3 heat-related deaths.

LONDON, 1 June, 2021 − As temperatures rise, so do the numbers of people dying from heat stroke and other temperature-related health conditions. And now statisticians can separate the extra hazard delivered by global heating: 1 in 3 heat-related deaths now occurs because of the profligate use of fossil fuels for the last century.

The additional stress of heat caused entirely by human action now claims 172 lives in Rome every year; 189 in Athens, 177 in Madrid and even 82 Londoners. Across the Atlantic, the extra greenhouse gas kills 141 New Yorkers annually and 136 in Santiago, Chile. In Bangkok, 146 perish because of anthropogenic heat stress; in Tokyo, 156, in Ho Chi Minh City, 137.

Extreme heat kills: it can do so in at least 27 different ways. Extremes of heat are a summer hazard even in temperate climate zones. Annual averages might suggest pleasantly warm conditions, but that’s not a reliable guide: summers have always arrived with the risk of sometimes murderous heat.

But all the evidence from past decades suggests that global average temperatures have risen by at least one degree Celsius in the last hundred years. And with that rise in temperature, so has the risk of more prolonged, more intense and more frequent extremes of heat risen too.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change”

An international consortium of 68 researchers reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that daily temperature readings and mortality tables from 732 centres in 43 countries revealed what rising levels of mercury driven by human activity so far could do for mortality and morbidity associated with heat.

The findings are likely to be conservative: some tropical regions with the highest risk of extreme heat and very high rates of population growth were excluded because the daily death figures were not available.

Not surprisingly, the proportion of death from heat extremes attributable to climate change varied: from 20% to more than 75%, delivering an average of 37%, or one death in three. And these extra deaths occurred between 1991 and 2018. That is, climate change is silently claiming lives already.

The study is not the first to try to quantify the extra cost of global heating driven by fossil fuel use. Extreme events happen anyway: climate change tends to make them more extreme, and in May researchers tried to estimate the extra lives lost and the additional homes flooded during one terrible storm made even more terrible by human-triggered sea level rise.

Worse to come

There is now a huge body of evidence to suggest that more frequent and more devastating extremes of heat are on the way.

“We expect the proportion of heat-related deaths to continue to grow if we don’t do something about climate change or adapt,” said Ana M. Vicedo-Cabrera of the University of Bern in Switzerland, the first author.

“So far the global average temperature has only increased by about 1°C, which is a fraction of what we could face if emissions continue to grow unchecked.”

And her co-author Antonio Gasparrini of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added: “The message is clear: climate change will not just have devastating impacts in the future, but every continent is already experiencing the dire consequences of human activities on the planet. We must act now.” − Climate News Network

Faster Greenland ice melt could be unstoppable

A rapid thaw could destroy a whole ice sheet if the faster Greenland ice melt scientists have found spreads across the island.

LONDON, 24 May, 2021 − Researchers say the faster Greenland ice melt affecting part of the island could mean a large area is on the verge of irreversible loss. Their new study shows that the central western region of the ice sheet is near what climate scientists call “a tipping point.”

That is, once the ice starts to slide away, most of it will tip into the sea, to raise global sea levels and potentially to trigger the collapse of the great Atlantic Ocean current that enhances the climate of north-west Europe.

“We have found evidence that the central western part of the Greenland ice sheet has been destabilising and is now close to a critical transition,” said Niklas Boers, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Our results suggest there will be substantially enhanced melting in the future − which is quite worrying.”

Dr Boers and his colleague Martin Rypdal of the Arctic University of Norway report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at data since 1880 of melt rates and ice-sheet altitude shifts of a region called the Jakobshavn basin in the central western region of the northern hemisphere’s biggest single block of ice − a block big enough to raise global sea levels by seven metres, were it all to melt.

And what they saw was something alarming: evidence that surface melting is beginning to accelerate. The conclusion, for now, is tentative.

“It’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels”

“We might be seeing the beginning of a large scale destabilisation, but at the moment we cannot tell, unfortunately,” Dr Boers said. “So far the signals we see are only regional, but that might simply be due to the scarcity of accurate and long-term data for other parts of the ice sheet.”

The region is home to the Jakobshavn glacier, which began to accelerate its flow to the sea this century, but the alarm is consistent with other studies of the mass of ice piled up on Greenland.

For most of the last 10,000 years or so, the summer loss of ice through melt and glacial flow has been replaced by winter snow. But in recent years, other research teams have warned, repeatedly, that the rate of  melting of Greenland’s surface ice has increased, in ways that really could threaten the stability of the entire sheet. Last year, ice loss reached a new record.

Greenland’s ice sheet is high: colder, therefore, at altitude. As the surface melts, the elevation becomes lower, and therefore increasingly warmer. So once the high ground surface begins to melt away, it could reach a level below which there is no obvious reason why the process should stop.

Climate computer simulations predict a threshold of global average temperature change that could, in effect, start a process in which the loss of the entire ice sheet would become inevitable. The loss would happen over hundreds of years, or perhaps thousands, but once begun it would continue inexorably.

Extreme Arctic warming

Global sea levels would rise at ever faster rates, and the arrival of so much fresh water in the north Atlantic would be enough to interfere with the ocean circulation.

For years oceanographers have been warning that the existing current, which takes warm tropical water as far north as the Arctic, could weaken, or fail, with unpredictable and uncomfortable consequences for north European nations.

The only way to stop Greenland’s accelerated melt, once it reaches a critical point, would be to lower the temperature of the whole planet back to that which was normal more than 200 years ago. That is unlikely to happen. Instead, for the moment, the evidence is that average temperatures worldwide could rise by 3°C or more by 2100. The Arctic, however, is likely to become much, much warmer.

“So practically, the current and near-future mass loss will be irreversible,” said Dr Boers, “That’s why it’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and restabilise the ice sheet and our climate.” − Climate News Network

A rapid thaw could destroy a whole ice sheet if the faster Greenland ice melt scientists have found spreads across the island.

LONDON, 24 May, 2021 − Researchers say the faster Greenland ice melt affecting part of the island could mean a large area is on the verge of irreversible loss. Their new study shows that the central western region of the ice sheet is near what climate scientists call “a tipping point.”

That is, once the ice starts to slide away, most of it will tip into the sea, to raise global sea levels and potentially to trigger the collapse of the great Atlantic Ocean current that enhances the climate of north-west Europe.

“We have found evidence that the central western part of the Greenland ice sheet has been destabilising and is now close to a critical transition,” said Niklas Boers, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Our results suggest there will be substantially enhanced melting in the future − which is quite worrying.”

Dr Boers and his colleague Martin Rypdal of the Arctic University of Norway report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at data since 1880 of melt rates and ice-sheet altitude shifts of a region called the Jakobshavn basin in the central western region of the northern hemisphere’s biggest single block of ice − a block big enough to raise global sea levels by seven metres, were it all to melt.

And what they saw was something alarming: evidence that surface melting is beginning to accelerate. The conclusion, for now, is tentative.

“It’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels”

“We might be seeing the beginning of a large scale destabilisation, but at the moment we cannot tell, unfortunately,” Dr Boers said. “So far the signals we see are only regional, but that might simply be due to the scarcity of accurate and long-term data for other parts of the ice sheet.”

The region is home to the Jakobshavn glacier, which began to accelerate its flow to the sea this century, but the alarm is consistent with other studies of the mass of ice piled up on Greenland.

For most of the last 10,000 years or so, the summer loss of ice through melt and glacial flow has been replaced by winter snow. But in recent years, other research teams have warned, repeatedly, that the rate of  melting of Greenland’s surface ice has increased, in ways that really could threaten the stability of the entire sheet. Last year, ice loss reached a new record.

Greenland’s ice sheet is high: colder, therefore, at altitude. As the surface melts, the elevation becomes lower, and therefore increasingly warmer. So once the high ground surface begins to melt away, it could reach a level below which there is no obvious reason why the process should stop.

Climate computer simulations predict a threshold of global average temperature change that could, in effect, start a process in which the loss of the entire ice sheet would become inevitable. The loss would happen over hundreds of years, or perhaps thousands, but once begun it would continue inexorably.

Extreme Arctic warming

Global sea levels would rise at ever faster rates, and the arrival of so much fresh water in the north Atlantic would be enough to interfere with the ocean circulation.

For years oceanographers have been warning that the existing current, which takes warm tropical water as far north as the Arctic, could weaken, or fail, with unpredictable and uncomfortable consequences for north European nations.

The only way to stop Greenland’s accelerated melt, once it reaches a critical point, would be to lower the temperature of the whole planet back to that which was normal more than 200 years ago. That is unlikely to happen. Instead, for the moment, the evidence is that average temperatures worldwide could rise by 3°C or more by 2100. The Arctic, however, is likely to become much, much warmer.

“So practically, the current and near-future mass loss will be irreversible,” said Dr Boers, “That’s why it’s high time we dramatically and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and restabilise the ice sheet and our climate.” − Climate News Network

There will be no silver bullet for climate change

There is no silver bullet for climate change, no one answer. To save civilisation, nations must co-operate on five fronts.

LONDON, 20 May, 2021 − The world could meet a global commitment made six years ago to limit climate heating to no more than 1.5°C by the century’s end − but only by taking urgent and challenging action on five separate fronts, by doing so at speed, and ceasing to dream of a silver bullet for climate change.

In 2015, the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to try to contain the inexorable rise in planetary temperatures by the century’s end, to “well below” 2°C above the historic average before the emergence of coal, oil and gas as fuel to power population growth, technological advance and the global economy.

But by 2021, the planet was already 1.2°C warmer than the historic levels, and research has repeatedly confirmed that so far all the commitments made at Paris will leave the world 3°C or more warmer. And this extra degree or more Celsius could have catastrophic consequences.

These include devastating sea level rise, murderous levels of heat extremes for 500 million people or more, and premature loss of life on huge scales, along with loss of health for even greater numbers.

Now an international team of distinguished climate scientists reports in the journal Environmental Research Letters that its members looked in detail at the action necessary to keep the promises made in Paris.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution”

And they have bleak news for the advocates of gradual change: there is no silver bullet, no engineering solution, no single answer that can address the challenge.

The researchers combed through 414 scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, and found only 50 that had a chance of restraining temperature rise to 1.5°C in the next eight decades. They also looked at five different kinds of global action that could reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, to find that no single one of them meets the Paris target.

So the world will have to drastically reduce fossil fuel use to almost zero. It will have to restore and protect the natural wilderness − forests, wetlands, grasslands, mangrove forests and so on. Researchers will have to find how to draw down carbon from the atmosphere in ever-greater quantities and then identify ways of storing it for aeons.

Humankind will have to switch to a sustainable plant-based diet on international scales to help reduce emissions of  methane, nitrous oxide and other potent greenhouse gases. Industry, too, will have look for new efficiencies.

Daunting prospect

The switch away from carbon-based fuels is by far the most urgent step to be taken. “Yet we can’t do away with the other strategies,” said Lila Warszawski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

“Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for instance storing it underground also proves to be almost indispensable. Land use must become a net carbon sink, for instance by re-wetting peatlands or afforestation. Finally, emissions of the powerful gas methane must be cut from animal production, but also from leaks in oil and gas extraction. This is quite a list.”

And Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter in the UK, reinforced the message. “This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,” he said.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Otherwise those most vulnerable to climate change are going to bear the brunt of missing the 1.5°C target. This is a system-wide challenge − piecemeal actions and rhetorical commitments are not going to be enough.” − Climate News Network

There is no silver bullet for climate change, no one answer. To save civilisation, nations must co-operate on five fronts.

LONDON, 20 May, 2021 − The world could meet a global commitment made six years ago to limit climate heating to no more than 1.5°C by the century’s end − but only by taking urgent and challenging action on five separate fronts, by doing so at speed, and ceasing to dream of a silver bullet for climate change.

In 2015, the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to try to contain the inexorable rise in planetary temperatures by the century’s end, to “well below” 2°C above the historic average before the emergence of coal, oil and gas as fuel to power population growth, technological advance and the global economy.

But by 2021, the planet was already 1.2°C warmer than the historic levels, and research has repeatedly confirmed that so far all the commitments made at Paris will leave the world 3°C or more warmer. And this extra degree or more Celsius could have catastrophic consequences.

These include devastating sea level rise, murderous levels of heat extremes for 500 million people or more, and premature loss of life on huge scales, along with loss of health for even greater numbers.

Now an international team of distinguished climate scientists reports in the journal Environmental Research Letters that its members looked in detail at the action necessary to keep the promises made in Paris.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution”

And they have bleak news for the advocates of gradual change: there is no silver bullet, no engineering solution, no single answer that can address the challenge.

The researchers combed through 414 scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, and found only 50 that had a chance of restraining temperature rise to 1.5°C in the next eight decades. They also looked at five different kinds of global action that could reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, to find that no single one of them meets the Paris target.

So the world will have to drastically reduce fossil fuel use to almost zero. It will have to restore and protect the natural wilderness − forests, wetlands, grasslands, mangrove forests and so on. Researchers will have to find how to draw down carbon from the atmosphere in ever-greater quantities and then identify ways of storing it for aeons.

Humankind will have to switch to a sustainable plant-based diet on international scales to help reduce emissions of  methane, nitrous oxide and other potent greenhouse gases. Industry, too, will have look for new efficiencies.

Daunting prospect

The switch away from carbon-based fuels is by far the most urgent step to be taken. “Yet we can’t do away with the other strategies,” said Lila Warszawski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

“Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for instance storing it underground also proves to be almost indispensable. Land use must become a net carbon sink, for instance by re-wetting peatlands or afforestation. Finally, emissions of the powerful gas methane must be cut from animal production, but also from leaks in oil and gas extraction. This is quite a list.”

And Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter in the UK, reinforced the message. “This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,” he said.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Otherwise those most vulnerable to climate change are going to bear the brunt of missing the 1.5°C target. This is a system-wide challenge − piecemeal actions and rhetorical commitments are not going to be enough.” − Climate News Network

Drastic methane cuts are both urgent and possible

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

A warmer, drier world’s deeper wells spell trouble

A warmer world could for billions be drier. The resultant deeper wells spell trouble for those reliant on groundwater.

LONDON, 26 April, 2021 − As many as one fifth of the world’s wells could be about to run dry, as levels of the subterranean water table continue to fall. And if they do, the resultant deeper wells spell trouble for billions of people who will face diminishing supplies of clean water, and water for their crops.

Most of the world’s freshwater is truly out of sight: 96% of all available water is held in aquifers, rock and sediment layers just below, and sometimes well below, the Earth’s surface. It sustains almost half of global agriculture. The world’s drylands are also home to more than a third of all humanity.

All this is at risk because in many places water tables are falling. According to a new study in the journal Science, if groundwater levels decline a few metres more, then the wells will run dry. Somewhere between 6% and 20% of the world’s wells are no more than five metres deeper than the water table.

And water levels almost certainly will decline. Researchers have for years been warning about global demand for groundwater. In urban areas the demand has been so great that many cities are literally going downhill: throughout the 20th century Tokyo sank by four metres, Shanghai in China and New Orleans in the US by two to three metres.

“Wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines”

Climate change − which promises to distort global rainfall patterns still further − is steadily scorching the world’s already parched regions and as a consequence groundwater is being extracted at an accelerated rate.

And that means more water stress for millions. All the evidence is that, as greenhouse gas emissions rise as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use, things could get a lot worse.

Californian scientists report that they compiled 39 million records of groundwater well locations, along with their depths, the reasons they were sunk, and the dates they were dug, in 40 countries that collectively make up 40% of all the lands free of ice. This landscape accounts for probably half of all groundwater extraction.

To test their simulations of overall groundwater availability, they compiled and analysed 100 million measurements made in a million wells monitored individually, and they found that in half of these there were seasonal fluctuations of around a metre or more.

Newer means deeper

They checked the big picture of water table decline against 15 years of data from the US space agency Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites.

They also looked at the age data of their sample, to find that in many areas, the newer the well, the more likely it was to be deeper than an old well. That alone was evidence of gradually falling water tables.

“From India to the United States, wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines,” the authors write. “In California’s Central Valley and several other agricultural hubs around the globe, typical agricultural wells are deeper than domestic wells; as a result, domestic wells are running dry…”

Where wells are already running dry, that decline will continue, and even expand into areas that have not yet seen any depletion. And, they warn, it may not help to simply sink even deeper wells: the costs would become prohibitive and the water quality at greater depth might anyway be not good enough. − Climate News Network

A warmer world could for billions be drier. The resultant deeper wells spell trouble for those reliant on groundwater.

LONDON, 26 April, 2021 − As many as one fifth of the world’s wells could be about to run dry, as levels of the subterranean water table continue to fall. And if they do, the resultant deeper wells spell trouble for billions of people who will face diminishing supplies of clean water, and water for their crops.

Most of the world’s freshwater is truly out of sight: 96% of all available water is held in aquifers, rock and sediment layers just below, and sometimes well below, the Earth’s surface. It sustains almost half of global agriculture. The world’s drylands are also home to more than a third of all humanity.

All this is at risk because in many places water tables are falling. According to a new study in the journal Science, if groundwater levels decline a few metres more, then the wells will run dry. Somewhere between 6% and 20% of the world’s wells are no more than five metres deeper than the water table.

And water levels almost certainly will decline. Researchers have for years been warning about global demand for groundwater. In urban areas the demand has been so great that many cities are literally going downhill: throughout the 20th century Tokyo sank by four metres, Shanghai in China and New Orleans in the US by two to three metres.

“Wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines”

Climate change − which promises to distort global rainfall patterns still further − is steadily scorching the world’s already parched regions and as a consequence groundwater is being extracted at an accelerated rate.

And that means more water stress for millions. All the evidence is that, as greenhouse gas emissions rise as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use, things could get a lot worse.

Californian scientists report that they compiled 39 million records of groundwater well locations, along with their depths, the reasons they were sunk, and the dates they were dug, in 40 countries that collectively make up 40% of all the lands free of ice. This landscape accounts for probably half of all groundwater extraction.

To test their simulations of overall groundwater availability, they compiled and analysed 100 million measurements made in a million wells monitored individually, and they found that in half of these there were seasonal fluctuations of around a metre or more.

Newer means deeper

They checked the big picture of water table decline against 15 years of data from the US space agency Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites.

They also looked at the age data of their sample, to find that in many areas, the newer the well, the more likely it was to be deeper than an old well. That alone was evidence of gradually falling water tables.

“From India to the United States, wells are already running dry because of groundwater level declines,” the authors write. “In California’s Central Valley and several other agricultural hubs around the globe, typical agricultural wells are deeper than domestic wells; as a result, domestic wells are running dry…”

Where wells are already running dry, that decline will continue, and even expand into areas that have not yet seen any depletion. And, they warn, it may not help to simply sink even deeper wells: the costs would become prohibitive and the water quality at greater depth might anyway be not good enough. − Climate News Network

UN declares 2021 is ‘year for action’ on climate

The year of plague and fire, record heat, melting ice and rising seas: who’s surprised 2021 is UN’s “year for action”?

LONDON, 23 April, 2021 − The world’s most authoritative global forecasters have soberly confirmed conclusions first outlined in January. The year 2020, the year of Covid-19, of planet-wide economic slowdown, did almost nothing to damp global heating, which is why the UN says 2021 must be a “year of action”.

Even at a point in the natural weather cycle in which tropical conditions should have been cooler, it was hotter: one of the three warmest years on record.

The decade 2011-2020 is now the hottest on record. Global average temperatures reached 1.2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere − for most of human history around 285 parts per million − have now reached 410 ppm. This year they could reach 414 ppm, thanks to ever-greater use of fossil fuels.

Relentless change

Six years after the nations of the world vowed, in Paris in 2015, to act to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2°C, and ideally at 1.5°C, the last six years have all been the warmest since records began.

All this is catalogued in the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report State of the Global Climate 2020. It is the 28th such report since 1993. It simply confirms and underscores provisional conclusions published in January.

“The basic message remains the same, and we now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea as well as other changes like sea level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and changes in precipitation patterns,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general.

“All key climate indicators and associated impact information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies.”

“The bottom line? The way we are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences”

The report appeared as US President Biden convened a virtual summit on climate. It showed, said UN secretary-general António Guterres, that there is no time to waste: “The climate is changing and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This is the year for action.”

In the 2020 summer, the Arctic sea ice dwindled, for only the second time in recorded history, to below below 4 million square kilometres. The Greenland ice sheet lost 152 billion tonnes of ice between September 2019 and August 2020. The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing between 175 and 225 billion tonnes of ice a year in meltwater.

Because such loses are difficult to imagine, the report helpfully points out that 200 billion tonnes is about twice the annual discharge of the river Rhine into the North Sea.

It was a year of record temperatures: the mercury reached 38°C in the town of Verkhoyansk in the Siberian Arctic. Death Valley in California recorded an all-time global record of 54.4°C. Cuba, Dominica, Grenada and Puerto Rico all experienced record national temperatures. In a suburb of Australia’s city Sydney, the thermometer tipped 48.9°C.

Same but worse

Heavy rain and floods in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa triggered destructive swarms of the desert locust. An estimated 690 million people − 9% of humankind − were undernourished. The US saw its largest wildfires ever. Until 2020, the record number of hurricanes to hit the US coasts had stood at nine. Last year there were 12: one of these, Hurricane Laura, caused $19bn in losses.

Scientists have greeted the report with weary resignation and impatience. “Here we go again: 28 issues since the annual exercise began, the message is the same, yet incrementally worse. More floods, fires, heatwaves, storms, melting ice, and natural and human impacts,” said Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London.

“Especially worrisome is that, despite the societal impact of Covid, the signals − atmospheric greenhouse concentrations, ocean heat content, decadal temperature − continued to rise, in some cases with clear acceleration. With estimates of the global mean temperature rise since pre-industrial times now in the range 1.15-1.28°C, the 1.5°C Paris guard-rail is close to being breached.

“The bottom line? The way we have organised and are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences.” − Climate News Network

The year of plague and fire, record heat, melting ice and rising seas: who’s surprised 2021 is UN’s “year for action”?

LONDON, 23 April, 2021 − The world’s most authoritative global forecasters have soberly confirmed conclusions first outlined in January. The year 2020, the year of Covid-19, of planet-wide economic slowdown, did almost nothing to damp global heating, which is why the UN says 2021 must be a “year of action”.

Even at a point in the natural weather cycle in which tropical conditions should have been cooler, it was hotter: one of the three warmest years on record.

The decade 2011-2020 is now the hottest on record. Global average temperatures reached 1.2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere − for most of human history around 285 parts per million − have now reached 410 ppm. This year they could reach 414 ppm, thanks to ever-greater use of fossil fuels.

Relentless change

Six years after the nations of the world vowed, in Paris in 2015, to act to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2°C, and ideally at 1.5°C, the last six years have all been the warmest since records began.

All this is catalogued in the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report State of the Global Climate 2020. It is the 28th such report since 1993. It simply confirms and underscores provisional conclusions published in January.

“The basic message remains the same, and we now have 28 more years of data that show significant temperature increases over land and sea as well as other changes like sea level rise, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and changes in precipitation patterns,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general.

“All key climate indicators and associated impact information in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies.”

“The bottom line? The way we are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences”

The report appeared as US President Biden convened a virtual summit on climate. It showed, said UN secretary-general António Guterres, that there is no time to waste: “The climate is changing and the impacts are already too costly for people and the planet. This is the year for action.”

In the 2020 summer, the Arctic sea ice dwindled, for only the second time in recorded history, to below below 4 million square kilometres. The Greenland ice sheet lost 152 billion tonnes of ice between September 2019 and August 2020. The Antarctic ice sheet has been losing between 175 and 225 billion tonnes of ice a year in meltwater.

Because such loses are difficult to imagine, the report helpfully points out that 200 billion tonnes is about twice the annual discharge of the river Rhine into the North Sea.

It was a year of record temperatures: the mercury reached 38°C in the town of Verkhoyansk in the Siberian Arctic. Death Valley in California recorded an all-time global record of 54.4°C. Cuba, Dominica, Grenada and Puerto Rico all experienced record national temperatures. In a suburb of Australia’s city Sydney, the thermometer tipped 48.9°C.

Same but worse

Heavy rain and floods in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa triggered destructive swarms of the desert locust. An estimated 690 million people − 9% of humankind − were undernourished. The US saw its largest wildfires ever. Until 2020, the record number of hurricanes to hit the US coasts had stood at nine. Last year there were 12: one of these, Hurricane Laura, caused $19bn in losses.

Scientists have greeted the report with weary resignation and impatience. “Here we go again: 28 issues since the annual exercise began, the message is the same, yet incrementally worse. More floods, fires, heatwaves, storms, melting ice, and natural and human impacts,” said Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London.

“Especially worrisome is that, despite the societal impact of Covid, the signals − atmospheric greenhouse concentrations, ocean heat content, decadal temperature − continued to rise, in some cases with clear acceleration. With estimates of the global mean temperature rise since pre-industrial times now in the range 1.15-1.28°C, the 1.5°C Paris guard-rail is close to being breached.

“The bottom line? The way we have organised and are running human affairs is destabilising the climate system, with predictable and increasingly dire consequences.” − Climate News Network