Tag Archives: Global threats

Global heating may go on for five more centuries

Global heating now means more warming for 500 years ahead, even if all greenhouse emissions stop. Or is that too simple?

LONDON, 20 November, 2020 − Norwegian scientists have mapped the future of the Earth in a regime of climate change and have come to an uncomfortable conclusion: it’s likely that global heating will persist until around the year 2500.

Even if human beings immediately ceased all use of fossil fuels that spill greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere, the world would be committed to warming for the next five centuries, they suggest.

By then global temperatures would be at least 3°C higher, and sea levels three metres higher, than they would have been in 1850. Even with a dramatic halt to the emissions that fuel global heating, they warn in the journal Scientific Reports, the Arctic ice would go on melting, water vapour would continue to build up in the atmosphere, the permafrost would continue to thaw and vast reservoirs of ancient carbon that had been trapped in the once-frozen ground would escape into the atmosphere.

The message − one that comes hedged with caution − is that to keep continental temperatures and sea levels as they were for most of human history, nations should have started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions six decades ago.

And to slow the warming that might now be inexorable, nations must unite to somehow remove 33 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) − an almost unimaginable volume − from the atmosphere every year from now on.

Challenged by colleagues

Caution is necessary because, as the researchers themselves point out, the finding presents an extremely simple model of cause and effect on a simulated planet not unlike Earth, but without the untidy mosaic of natural and human processes that directly influence the rate at which CO2 builds up in the atmosphere.

And the two scientists who wrote the study directly urge other climate researchers to check their findings with more sophisticated simulations. They have made a stab at predicting the future, and they know it could be wrong.

But if it isn’t wrong, then the message is that profligate human use of fossil fuels, combined with heedless destruction of many of the planet’s natural ecosystems, and then topped with the massive construction of human cities, industries and travel networks, may have already pushed the planet past a tipping point, beyond which the slide into potentially catastrophic climate change has become inexorable.

And they are not the first to make such a suggestion. Nor are they the first to warn that what had once been trailed as a notional “worst case” scenario has of late increasingly begun to look like modern reality.

The finding has been comprehensively challenged by British scientists, not because it could be wrong, but because the simulation is too simple, and doesn’t incorporate many of the processes that happen in the real world. One distinguished researcher called it “a toy model”.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100”

But almost all who commented also conceded that to steer the planet away from permanent and devastating climate change, nations may have left concerted and sustained action a bit late.

Reduction of carbon emissions to zero in the next three decades would be just a start. And the world would go on warming for some time, just as a reaction to the extra carbon dioxide already spilled into the atmosphere in the last three decades.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100,” said Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College, London.

“If this study is confirmed, then we may have to continue drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere way beyond the end of this century. And I would suggest that if we have been able to successfully deal with climate change in this century, we really will not have to worry about dealing with a much smaller warming over the next 400 years.”

But even as both the authors and their critics warn that the outcome should be treated with caution, other research has almost coincidentally begun to suggest that the world may be nearing a tipping point.

Positive feedback?

Last month German scientists contemplated the increasing loss of ice in the Arctic − all the sea ice could have vanished in summer before mid-century − and in the mountain regions worldwide, and reasoned that, instead of reflecting radiation back into space, the darker ocean or rock revealed beneath the ice would absorb it, to increase rates of warming.

They warn in Nature Communications that this process alone could increase long-term global warming by 0.43°C, to accelerate yet more thawing of the permafrost: an example of the vicious circle that could go on delivering climate change by exactly the kind of positive feedback the Norwegian scientists fear.

And in one respect, their fellow scientists agree with them: further warming is already “baked in” to the future climate. Even if the world turns off greenhouse gas emissions right now, global heating will continue for decades. For how long, and how swiftly, is difficult to calculate.

“Even if the paper is right in every respect and we are already committed to at least 3°C warming if we stop emissions tomorrow, this warming will take 500 years,” said Andrew Watson, of the University of Exeter.

“This is preferable to 3°C warming over 100 years, which would be far more disruptive and might happen if we don’t cut emissions.” − Climate News Network

Global heating now means more warming for 500 years ahead, even if all greenhouse emissions stop. Or is that too simple?

LONDON, 20 November, 2020 − Norwegian scientists have mapped the future of the Earth in a regime of climate change and have come to an uncomfortable conclusion: it’s likely that global heating will persist until around the year 2500.

Even if human beings immediately ceased all use of fossil fuels that spill greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere, the world would be committed to warming for the next five centuries, they suggest.

By then global temperatures would be at least 3°C higher, and sea levels three metres higher, than they would have been in 1850. Even with a dramatic halt to the emissions that fuel global heating, they warn in the journal Scientific Reports, the Arctic ice would go on melting, water vapour would continue to build up in the atmosphere, the permafrost would continue to thaw and vast reservoirs of ancient carbon that had been trapped in the once-frozen ground would escape into the atmosphere.

The message − one that comes hedged with caution − is that to keep continental temperatures and sea levels as they were for most of human history, nations should have started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions six decades ago.

And to slow the warming that might now be inexorable, nations must unite to somehow remove 33 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) − an almost unimaginable volume − from the atmosphere every year from now on.

Challenged by colleagues

Caution is necessary because, as the researchers themselves point out, the finding presents an extremely simple model of cause and effect on a simulated planet not unlike Earth, but without the untidy mosaic of natural and human processes that directly influence the rate at which CO2 builds up in the atmosphere.

And the two scientists who wrote the study directly urge other climate researchers to check their findings with more sophisticated simulations. They have made a stab at predicting the future, and they know it could be wrong.

But if it isn’t wrong, then the message is that profligate human use of fossil fuels, combined with heedless destruction of many of the planet’s natural ecosystems, and then topped with the massive construction of human cities, industries and travel networks, may have already pushed the planet past a tipping point, beyond which the slide into potentially catastrophic climate change has become inexorable.

And they are not the first to make such a suggestion. Nor are they the first to warn that what had once been trailed as a notional “worst case” scenario has of late increasingly begun to look like modern reality.

The finding has been comprehensively challenged by British scientists, not because it could be wrong, but because the simulation is too simple, and doesn’t incorporate many of the processes that happen in the real world. One distinguished researcher called it “a toy model”.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100”

But almost all who commented also conceded that to steer the planet away from permanent and devastating climate change, nations may have left concerted and sustained action a bit late.

Reduction of carbon emissions to zero in the next three decades would be just a start. And the world would go on warming for some time, just as a reaction to the extra carbon dioxide already spilled into the atmosphere in the last three decades.

“To keep global warming to just 1.5°C this century we already know we will have to have negative carbon emissions from 2050 to 2100,” said Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College, London.

“If this study is confirmed, then we may have to continue drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere way beyond the end of this century. And I would suggest that if we have been able to successfully deal with climate change in this century, we really will not have to worry about dealing with a much smaller warming over the next 400 years.”

But even as both the authors and their critics warn that the outcome should be treated with caution, other research has almost coincidentally begun to suggest that the world may be nearing a tipping point.

Positive feedback?

Last month German scientists contemplated the increasing loss of ice in the Arctic − all the sea ice could have vanished in summer before mid-century − and in the mountain regions worldwide, and reasoned that, instead of reflecting radiation back into space, the darker ocean or rock revealed beneath the ice would absorb it, to increase rates of warming.

They warn in Nature Communications that this process alone could increase long-term global warming by 0.43°C, to accelerate yet more thawing of the permafrost: an example of the vicious circle that could go on delivering climate change by exactly the kind of positive feedback the Norwegian scientists fear.

And in one respect, their fellow scientists agree with them: further warming is already “baked in” to the future climate. Even if the world turns off greenhouse gas emissions right now, global heating will continue for decades. For how long, and how swiftly, is difficult to calculate.

“Even if the paper is right in every respect and we are already committed to at least 3°C warming if we stop emissions tomorrow, this warming will take 500 years,” said Andrew Watson, of the University of Exeter.

“This is preferable to 3°C warming over 100 years, which would be far more disruptive and might happen if we don’t cut emissions.” − Climate News Network

More avoidable pandemics await a heedless world

There will be more avoidable pandemics, more devastating and lethal, as humans intrude further upon the planet’s forests.

LONDON, 11 November, 2020 − Once again, naturalists have warned that the invasion of wilderness can seriously damage human health: avoidable pandemics − Covid-19 is an instance of a disease transferred from wild mammals to humans − threaten to arrive more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the global economy, and kill more people.

That’s because the odds on even more fearful infections remain very high: the world’s wild mammals could between them be hosts to 1.7 million viruses that have yet to be identified and named. If only a third of them them could infect humans, that’s 540,000 new diseases waiting to happen.

The number could be higher: perhaps 850,000 potential infections lie so far undisturbed, waiting to happen.

A new report by a team of 22 global experts warns that Covid-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918: all had their origins in microbes carried by animals, and all were awakened and spread by human interaction with the wilderness.

By July 2020, the coronavirus linked to a market in wild animals in Wuhan in China had spread around the planet at a cost of between US$8 trillion and $16tn. The world has already seen the Ebola virus devastating West African communities, the HIV/Aids epidemic, Zika, and many others claiming lives in the last century.

Wilderness no more

The arrival of new zoonotic diseases − infections caught from other creatures − has been counted at roughly two a year since 1918. The number could increase to as many as five a year. And most of them will be linked to increasing human impact upon what had once been largely undisturbed wilderness.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic − or of any modern pandemic”, said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and chair of a workshop of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES for short) that assembled the research.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”

All living things are host to viruses and other microbes: in most cases host and parasite adapt to live peaceably with each other. The danger comes when a microbe transfers to a new host that is entirely unprepared for the invader.

“We still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention”

What became known as the human immuno-deficiency virus HIV-1 is believed to have emerged first in West or Central Africa from the remains of chimpanzees hunted and sold for bushmeat. It spread around the planet within a decade, to claim millions of lives as the disease AIDS. Ebola infects both primates and humans: in an outbreak among humans, it has been known to kill 90% of all infected people.

Researchers have consistently linked epidemic and pandemic outbreaks to climate change, to the destruction and degradation of the wilderness, and to the traffic in wild creatures as objects of value or commerce.

And all are consequences ultimately of exponential growth in human numbers in the last century, a growth that puts ever greater pressure on what had once been largely undisturbed tropical forest, grassland and wetland.

Around a quarter of all wild terrestrial vertebrate species are traded globally. International, legal wildlife trade has increased fivefold in revenue in the last 14 years. It is now worth an estimated $107bn.

The illegal traffic in wildlife could be worth anywhere between $7bn and $23bn annually. The US imports around 10 to 20 million wild animals a year. In China in 2016, what is now called wildlife farming employed 14 million people and generated $77bn in revenue.

Negligible cost

Researchers have already argued that intrusion into what should be protected ecosystems that are home to the shrinking pool of wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians − a million species could be nearing global extinction − not only threatens the wellbeing of the planet; it also generates an increasing health hazard.

The latest study lists a range of policy options to reduce the risk of assault by new plagues. These rest upon greater awareness of, and respect for, the natural capital of the wilderness. Conservation of this kind costs money, but at least 100 times less than the toll of successive pandemics likely without a change in human attitudes.

“We have increasing ability to prevent pandemics, but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability,” Dr Daszak said. “Our approach has effectively stagnated − we still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics.

“We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.” − Climate News Network

There will be more avoidable pandemics, more devastating and lethal, as humans intrude further upon the planet’s forests.

LONDON, 11 November, 2020 − Once again, naturalists have warned that the invasion of wilderness can seriously damage human health: avoidable pandemics − Covid-19 is an instance of a disease transferred from wild mammals to humans − threaten to arrive more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the global economy, and kill more people.

That’s because the odds on even more fearful infections remain very high: the world’s wild mammals could between them be hosts to 1.7 million viruses that have yet to be identified and named. If only a third of them them could infect humans, that’s 540,000 new diseases waiting to happen.

The number could be higher: perhaps 850,000 potential infections lie so far undisturbed, waiting to happen.

A new report by a team of 22 global experts warns that Covid-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918: all had their origins in microbes carried by animals, and all were awakened and spread by human interaction with the wilderness.

By July 2020, the coronavirus linked to a market in wild animals in Wuhan in China had spread around the planet at a cost of between US$8 trillion and $16tn. The world has already seen the Ebola virus devastating West African communities, the HIV/Aids epidemic, Zika, and many others claiming lives in the last century.

Wilderness no more

The arrival of new zoonotic diseases − infections caught from other creatures − has been counted at roughly two a year since 1918. The number could increase to as many as five a year. And most of them will be linked to increasing human impact upon what had once been largely undisturbed wilderness.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic − or of any modern pandemic”, said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and chair of a workshop of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES for short) that assembled the research.

“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”

All living things are host to viruses and other microbes: in most cases host and parasite adapt to live peaceably with each other. The danger comes when a microbe transfers to a new host that is entirely unprepared for the invader.

“We still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention”

What became known as the human immuno-deficiency virus HIV-1 is believed to have emerged first in West or Central Africa from the remains of chimpanzees hunted and sold for bushmeat. It spread around the planet within a decade, to claim millions of lives as the disease AIDS. Ebola infects both primates and humans: in an outbreak among humans, it has been known to kill 90% of all infected people.

Researchers have consistently linked epidemic and pandemic outbreaks to climate change, to the destruction and degradation of the wilderness, and to the traffic in wild creatures as objects of value or commerce.

And all are consequences ultimately of exponential growth in human numbers in the last century, a growth that puts ever greater pressure on what had once been largely undisturbed tropical forest, grassland and wetland.

Around a quarter of all wild terrestrial vertebrate species are traded globally. International, legal wildlife trade has increased fivefold in revenue in the last 14 years. It is now worth an estimated $107bn.

The illegal traffic in wildlife could be worth anywhere between $7bn and $23bn annually. The US imports around 10 to 20 million wild animals a year. In China in 2016, what is now called wildlife farming employed 14 million people and generated $77bn in revenue.

Negligible cost

Researchers have already argued that intrusion into what should be protected ecosystems that are home to the shrinking pool of wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians − a million species could be nearing global extinction − not only threatens the wellbeing of the planet; it also generates an increasing health hazard.

The latest study lists a range of policy options to reduce the risk of assault by new plagues. These rest upon greater awareness of, and respect for, the natural capital of the wilderness. Conservation of this kind costs money, but at least 100 times less than the toll of successive pandemics likely without a change in human attitudes.

“We have increasing ability to prevent pandemics, but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability,” Dr Daszak said. “Our approach has effectively stagnated − we still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics.

“We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.” − Climate News Network

Scientists’ oath pledges full climate crisis facts

Do you ever feel you can’t share the reality of what you know about the climate crisis? A new scientists’ oath could help.

LONDON, 9 November, 2020 − If you devote your working life to extending what we know about the climate crisis and how we may face it, you can now take a scientists’ oath, a pledge committing you to tell the unvarnished facts: uncompromising public statements explaining how grave the reality is.

Two UK-based groups are urging climate scientists and researchers to promise full disclosure: what their evidence shows, what it requires from them and from the rest of us in our personal lives, coupled with a demand for a matching response from their employers.

The pull-no-punches initiative is the brainchild of Scientists for Global Responsibility and the Rapid Transition Alliance (which helps to fund the Climate News Network). It has a parallel in long-established practice in the medical world: Hippocrates, a physician born in Greece around 2,500 years ago, was known as the Father of Medicine, and many newly-qualified doctors today adopt what is still called the Hippocratic oath, an ethical code designed to guide their professional conduct.

This modern successor, A science oath for the climate: a pledge of scrutiny, integrity and engagement, has already attracted the support of a number of internationally-renowned climate experts. Its language is spare, but its purpose is beyond doubt: those who know what climate change is doing must warn the world:

“Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth. We may look beyond our planet with wonder and learn, but this is our only viable home.

Our dwelling though is critically threatened by the loss of the stable climate which has allowed humanity to flourish. We pledge to act in whatever ways we are able, in our lives and work, to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. 

To translate this pledge into a force for real change, we will:

  • explain honestly, clearly and without compromise, what scientific evidence tells us about the seriousness of the climate emergency
  • not second-guess what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5°C and 2°C commitments, specified in the Paris Climate Agreement.  And, speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them
  • to the best of our abilities, and mindful of the urgent need for systemic change, seek to align our own behaviour with the climate targets, and reduce our own personal carbon emissions to demonstrate the possibilities for change. 

With courtesy and firmness, we will hold our professional associations, institutions and employers to these same standards, and invite our colleagues across the scientific community to sign, act on and share this pledge.”

One signatory, Chris Rapley, is well-known for his work in Antarctica and in the communication of climate science. Professor Rapley told the Climate News Network: “The climate crisis is unfolding before us. Our ability to retain some control of our climate destiny is slipping away.

“The climate science community has a duty to speak what it knows in the hope of evoking the necessary scale and pace of societal response. The oath commits us to doing so.”

To see who has already signed the science oath and to add your name click here.

Hippocrates was honoured as the first doctor to distinguish medicine from superstition − no bad example for those working today to convince a hesitant world that there is a vital difference between climate fact and fiction. − Climate News Network

Do you ever feel you can’t share the reality of what you know about the climate crisis? A new scientists’ oath could help.

LONDON, 9 November, 2020 − If you devote your working life to extending what we know about the climate crisis and how we may face it, you can now take a scientists’ oath, a pledge committing you to tell the unvarnished facts: uncompromising public statements explaining how grave the reality is.

Two UK-based groups are urging climate scientists and researchers to promise full disclosure: what their evidence shows, what it requires from them and from the rest of us in our personal lives, coupled with a demand for a matching response from their employers.

The pull-no-punches initiative is the brainchild of Scientists for Global Responsibility and the Rapid Transition Alliance (which helps to fund the Climate News Network). It has a parallel in long-established practice in the medical world: Hippocrates, a physician born in Greece around 2,500 years ago, was known as the Father of Medicine, and many newly-qualified doctors today adopt what is still called the Hippocratic oath, an ethical code designed to guide their professional conduct.

This modern successor, A science oath for the climate: a pledge of scrutiny, integrity and engagement, has already attracted the support of a number of internationally-renowned climate experts. Its language is spare, but its purpose is beyond doubt: those who know what climate change is doing must warn the world:

“Science has no higher purpose than to understand and help maintain the conditions for life to thrive on Earth. We may look beyond our planet with wonder and learn, but this is our only viable home.

Our dwelling though is critically threatened by the loss of the stable climate which has allowed humanity to flourish. We pledge to act in whatever ways we are able, in our lives and work, to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. 

To translate this pledge into a force for real change, we will:

  • explain honestly, clearly and without compromise, what scientific evidence tells us about the seriousness of the climate emergency
  • not second-guess what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5°C and 2°C commitments, specified in the Paris Climate Agreement.  And, speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them
  • to the best of our abilities, and mindful of the urgent need for systemic change, seek to align our own behaviour with the climate targets, and reduce our own personal carbon emissions to demonstrate the possibilities for change. 

With courtesy and firmness, we will hold our professional associations, institutions and employers to these same standards, and invite our colleagues across the scientific community to sign, act on and share this pledge.”

One signatory, Chris Rapley, is well-known for his work in Antarctica and in the communication of climate science. Professor Rapley told the Climate News Network: “The climate crisis is unfolding before us. Our ability to retain some control of our climate destiny is slipping away.

“The climate science community has a duty to speak what it knows in the hope of evoking the necessary scale and pace of societal response. The oath commits us to doing so.”

To see who has already signed the science oath and to add your name click here.

Hippocrates was honoured as the first doctor to distinguish medicine from superstition − no bad example for those working today to convince a hesitant world that there is a vital difference between climate fact and fiction. − Climate News Network

Covid-19’s spread: Into the second lockdown

Parts of the UK are in a second lockdown aimed at stopping Covid-19’s spread. The first one left some useful lessons.

LONDON, 5 November, 2020 − Many countries have tried to arrest Covid-19’s spread by imposing a temporary lockdown on daily life, usually at grave cost to economies and to people across society, and many of them, including parts of the United Kingdom, faced with the pandemic’s second wave, have opted for a second lockdown.

So we’ve been here before. As we tread reluctantly into this renewed attempt to tame the virus, there is some hope that we can use the lessons the first effort taught us.

Just over a month ago the Climate News Network published a highly abridged summary singling out a few of the specific life-saving lessons identified by the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) in its three published briefings on what we can learn so far from our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The RTA argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

This update includes three short RTA films, embedded below, which show the reactions and experiences of people who told the Alliance what lessons they had learnt − people not only from the UK itself but from a range of countries, among them France, Sweden, Hong Kong and the US. The Alliance hopes the films “find the balance between hope and realism”.

To see them (each film is from six to nine minutes long), click on the title of the report to which it refers. The text following each film has been added by the Network and is intended to provide a thumbnail sketch.

Looking after each other better

The rules by which we have lived have changed, and we know that our behaviour can change radically overnight, not just incrementally − which the urgency of the climate and extinction crisis means we cannot afford anyway. Governments can find immense sums of money quickly. We need to value the people on whom society depends better than we have − carers, workers in food production and distribution, for example. Covid has traumatised us, but it is also helping us to think in new ways.

More space for people and nature

We do not need to travel so much: working from home is easy for many of us, and so is growing food closer to home. But we need to recognise that while space is essential for our health, it is out of reach for many people on this fast-urbanising planet, and for growing stretches of the natural world. In the UK, and elsewhere, there is a national divide in access to green open space, and to much more of what is essential for a healthy life.

Living with less stuff

We can live well by buying less and making more for ourselves; this way we can even cut our debts. Thinking afresh will help us to survive Covid − and that includes realising that many of us are time-rich. One UK respondent says: “To find that extra six hours down the back of the sofa has been wonderful.” So there are grounds to hope that we may be better prepared for the second lockdown. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Parts of the UK are in a second lockdown aimed at stopping Covid-19’s spread. The first one left some useful lessons.

LONDON, 5 November, 2020 − Many countries have tried to arrest Covid-19’s spread by imposing a temporary lockdown on daily life, usually at grave cost to economies and to people across society, and many of them, including parts of the United Kingdom, faced with the pandemic’s second wave, have opted for a second lockdown.

So we’ve been here before. As we tread reluctantly into this renewed attempt to tame the virus, there is some hope that we can use the lessons the first effort taught us.

Just over a month ago the Climate News Network published a highly abridged summary singling out a few of the specific life-saving lessons identified by the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) in its three published briefings on what we can learn so far from our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The RTA argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change).

This update includes three short RTA films, embedded below, which show the reactions and experiences of people who told the Alliance what lessons they had learnt − people not only from the UK itself but from a range of countries, among them France, Sweden, Hong Kong and the US. The Alliance hopes the films “find the balance between hope and realism”.

To see them (each film is from six to nine minutes long), click on the title of the report to which it refers. The text following each film has been added by the Network and is intended to provide a thumbnail sketch.

Looking after each other better

The rules by which we have lived have changed, and we know that our behaviour can change radically overnight, not just incrementally − which the urgency of the climate and extinction crisis means we cannot afford anyway. Governments can find immense sums of money quickly. We need to value the people on whom society depends better than we have − carers, workers in food production and distribution, for example. Covid has traumatised us, but it is also helping us to think in new ways.

More space for people and nature

We do not need to travel so much: working from home is easy for many of us, and so is growing food closer to home. But we need to recognise that while space is essential for our health, it is out of reach for many people on this fast-urbanising planet, and for growing stretches of the natural world. In the UK, and elsewhere, there is a national divide in access to green open space, and to much more of what is essential for a healthy life.

Living with less stuff

We can live well by buying less and making more for ourselves; this way we can even cut our debts. Thinking afresh will help us to survive Covid − and that includes realising that many of us are time-rich. One UK respondent says: “To find that extra six hours down the back of the sofa has been wonderful.” So there are grounds to hope that we may be better prepared for the second lockdown. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Rewilded farmland can save money − and the Earth

To save civilisation, try rewilded farmland. But that salvation depends on which land goes back to forest and savannah.

LONDON, 2 November, 2020 − An international consortium of scientists has worked out − once again − how to conserve life on the planet and absorb dramatic quantities of the atmospheric carbon that is driving potentially calamitous climate change: go for rewilded farmland, fields of crops and livestock returned to prairie and forest. And they have identified the most cost-effective way to do it.

Global salvation requires the world’s nations to do simply what they have already undertaken to do: restore 15% of cultivated land to natural forest, grassland, shrubland, wetland and desert ecosystem.

If such restoration happened in the highest priority zones, then almost two-thirds of the wild things now threatened with imminent extinction could survive.

And the restored wilderness that would protect them would also start absorbing atmospheric carbon at an accelerating rate: it could sequester an estimated 229 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). This is almost a third of all the CO2 spilled into the atmosphere by coal, oil and gas combustion in the last 200 years.

All that would be possible if the world’s nations delivered on vows made 10 years ago in Japan, to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. If the 196 nations that signed up went further, and restored a carefully chosen 30%, they could save more than 70% of the million or so species sliding towards extinction, and absorb 465 billion tonnes of CO2: almost half of all the extra atmospheric carbon loaded into the atmosphere by human societies since the Industrial Revolution.

Two provisos

“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernado Strassburg, of the Pontifical Catholic University in Brazil, who led the study.

“We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.”

There is a catch. To be most effective, and for the lowest costs, nations would have to work together.

Right now, scientists report in the journal Nature, each nation has undertaken to restore 15% of its wilderness. But to save the greatest number of species, and absorb the highest levels of carbon, with the lowest cost to farmland and food security, humankind would have to assess the world as a whole, and restore those ecosystems that would serve the goals most effectively.

There is a second catch: barely a month ago, a UN report confirmed that although 196 nations agreed on 20 targets to protect biodiversity − to be achieved by 2020 − a decade ago, there has been “partial progress” in just six of them. The million species then threatened with extinction are still threatened.

Potential ignored

“Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Nevertheless the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.”

And that threat starts with the green things on which all life depends: in September, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London published a new study on ways to identify and care for the plants and fungi that underwrite survival for what could be seven million or more species alive on the planet, and more than seven billion humans.

The study, involving 210 scientists in 42 countries, said Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, paints a picture “of a world that has turned its back on the incredible potential of plant and fungal kingdoms to address some of the biggest challenges we face.

“We have particularly earmarked the gaps in our knowledge, the changes we are seeing, the species being named new to science and the shocking pace of biodiversity loss.”

“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”

The most recent finding builds on the drive not just to fulfil the obligations undertaken 10 years ago, but to identify the very best ways to fulfil them, so as to benefit the greatest number of people.

It delivers the evidence that restoration in the most carefully chosen regions would have the most profound impact: put simply, restoration could be 13 times more cost-effective if it happened in what the Nature researchers have identified as the highest priority locations.

They used sophisticated mathematical tools and detailed geographic data to take a closer look at the 28.7 million square kilometres of natural wilderness that have been converted to farmland: 54% of these were originally forest, 25% grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2% wetland.

They then tested these areas against three considerations: their value as habitat, their capacity for carbon storage and their cost-effectiveness. And they came up with recommendations that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for plants and animals of the wilderness and 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27%.

And then they considered the nation-by-nation approach: were each country to restore 15% of its own forests, the biodiversity boon fell by 28%, the climate benefits by 29%, while the costs would rise by 52%.

Vital partnership

They then considered the impact on the world’s food supplies, to find that 15.78 million sq kms, or 55% of wilderness converted to farmland, could be restored without squeezing food supplies, always providing nations encouraged what they call the “sustainable intensification” of farming, along with a reduction in food waste and a move away from meat and dairy products.

The findings simply extend a procession of such outcomes by other teams. It has been a given for decades that, if forest and other ecosystems become farmland, greenhouse gas levels rise. If wilderness is restored, then the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will fall.

Researchers have repeatedly argued that simply planting more trees could have a dramatic impact on global heating; that a switch towards a plant-based diet could help stem biodiversity loss and reduce emissions; and that without concerted global action, precious ecosystems could collapse altogether.

They have over and over again confirmed that conservation delivers real rewards. And they have pointed out that although nations have promised to act, such promises have not always been kept. The latest study highlights the need for action to be concerted, and global.

“These results highlight the critical importance of international co-operation in meeting these goals,” Dr Strassburg said. “Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate.” − Climate News Network

To save civilisation, try rewilded farmland. But that salvation depends on which land goes back to forest and savannah.

LONDON, 2 November, 2020 − An international consortium of scientists has worked out − once again − how to conserve life on the planet and absorb dramatic quantities of the atmospheric carbon that is driving potentially calamitous climate change: go for rewilded farmland, fields of crops and livestock returned to prairie and forest. And they have identified the most cost-effective way to do it.

Global salvation requires the world’s nations to do simply what they have already undertaken to do: restore 15% of cultivated land to natural forest, grassland, shrubland, wetland and desert ecosystem.

If such restoration happened in the highest priority zones, then almost two-thirds of the wild things now threatened with imminent extinction could survive.

And the restored wilderness that would protect them would also start absorbing atmospheric carbon at an accelerating rate: it could sequester an estimated 229 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). This is almost a third of all the CO2 spilled into the atmosphere by coal, oil and gas combustion in the last 200 years.

All that would be possible if the world’s nations delivered on vows made 10 years ago in Japan, to restore 15% of ecosystems worldwide. If the 196 nations that signed up went further, and restored a carefully chosen 30%, they could save more than 70% of the million or so species sliding towards extinction, and absorb 465 billion tonnes of CO2: almost half of all the extra atmospheric carbon loaded into the atmosphere by human societies since the Industrial Revolution.

Two provisos

“Pushing forward on plans to return significant sweeps of nature to a natural state is critical to preventing ongoing biodiversity and climate crises from spinning out of control,” said Bernado Strassburg, of the Pontifical Catholic University in Brazil, who led the study.

“We show that if we’re smarter about where we restore nature, we can tick the climate, biodiversity and budget boxes on the world’s urgent to-do list.”

There is a catch. To be most effective, and for the lowest costs, nations would have to work together.

Right now, scientists report in the journal Nature, each nation has undertaken to restore 15% of its wilderness. But to save the greatest number of species, and absorb the highest levels of carbon, with the lowest cost to farmland and food security, humankind would have to assess the world as a whole, and restore those ecosystems that would serve the goals most effectively.

There is a second catch: barely a month ago, a UN report confirmed that although 196 nations agreed on 20 targets to protect biodiversity − to be achieved by 2020 − a decade ago, there has been “partial progress” in just six of them. The million species then threatened with extinction are still threatened.

Potential ignored

“Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Nevertheless the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.”

And that threat starts with the green things on which all life depends: in September, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London published a new study on ways to identify and care for the plants and fungi that underwrite survival for what could be seven million or more species alive on the planet, and more than seven billion humans.

The study, involving 210 scientists in 42 countries, said Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, paints a picture “of a world that has turned its back on the incredible potential of plant and fungal kingdoms to address some of the biggest challenges we face.

“We have particularly earmarked the gaps in our knowledge, the changes we are seeing, the species being named new to science and the shocking pace of biodiversity loss.”

“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history, and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised”

The most recent finding builds on the drive not just to fulfil the obligations undertaken 10 years ago, but to identify the very best ways to fulfil them, so as to benefit the greatest number of people.

It delivers the evidence that restoration in the most carefully chosen regions would have the most profound impact: put simply, restoration could be 13 times more cost-effective if it happened in what the Nature researchers have identified as the highest priority locations.

They used sophisticated mathematical tools and detailed geographic data to take a closer look at the 28.7 million square kilometres of natural wilderness that have been converted to farmland: 54% of these were originally forest, 25% grasslands, 14% shrublands, 4% arid lands and 2% wetland.

They then tested these areas against three considerations: their value as habitat, their capacity for carbon storage and their cost-effectiveness. And they came up with recommendations that would deliver 91% of the potential benefit for plants and animals of the wilderness and 82% of the climate mitigation benefit, and reduce costs by 27%.

And then they considered the nation-by-nation approach: were each country to restore 15% of its own forests, the biodiversity boon fell by 28%, the climate benefits by 29%, while the costs would rise by 52%.

Vital partnership

They then considered the impact on the world’s food supplies, to find that 15.78 million sq kms, or 55% of wilderness converted to farmland, could be restored without squeezing food supplies, always providing nations encouraged what they call the “sustainable intensification” of farming, along with a reduction in food waste and a move away from meat and dairy products.

The findings simply extend a procession of such outcomes by other teams. It has been a given for decades that, if forest and other ecosystems become farmland, greenhouse gas levels rise. If wilderness is restored, then the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will fall.

Researchers have repeatedly argued that simply planting more trees could have a dramatic impact on global heating; that a switch towards a plant-based diet could help stem biodiversity loss and reduce emissions; and that without concerted global action, precious ecosystems could collapse altogether.

They have over and over again confirmed that conservation delivers real rewards. And they have pointed out that although nations have promised to act, such promises have not always been kept. The latest study highlights the need for action to be concerted, and global.

“These results highlight the critical importance of international co-operation in meeting these goals,” Dr Strassburg said. “Different countries have different, complementary roles to play in meeting overarching global targets on biodiversity and climate.” − Climate News Network

Geology’s human footprint is enough to spur rage

Once again science has presented evidence that a new geological epoch is here. This human footprint is all our own work.

LONDON, 21 October, 2020 − The human footprint has left its mark on Earth, in every sense. The United States alone is scarred by 500,000 abandoned mines and quarries.

Right now, worldwide, there are more than 500,000 active quarries and pits, employing 4 million people, excavating the sand and gravel needed for new roads, new homes and new megacities.

Humans have not simply pitted the face of the Earth, they have paved it. In 1904, beyond the cities, the US had just 225 km of sealed highway. Now it has 4.3m km of asphalt or concrete roadway, consuming more than 20 billion tonnes of sand and gravel.

By comparison, the Great Wall of China, the biggest and most enduring construction in early human history, contains just 0.4bn tonnes of stone.

Humans have changed the face of the waters. In 1950, trawlers, long-liners and purse seiners fished just 1% of the high seas beyond territorial waters. No fish species of any kind was considered over-exploited or depleted.

Extinction threat widens

Less than one human lifetime on, fishing fleets roam 63% of the high seas and 87% of fish species are exploited, over-exploited or in a state of collapse. Meanwhile somewhere between 5m and almost 13 million tons of discarded plastics flow each year into the sea.

Humans and human livestock now far outweigh all other mammalian life. At least 96% of the mass of all mammals is represented by humans and their domesticated animals. Domestic poultry makes up 70% of the mass of all living birds. The natural world is now endangered, with a million species at risk of extinction.

And humans have left an almost indelible radiant signature over the entire global surface: between 1950 and 1980, nations detonated more than 500 thermonuclear weapons to smear the air and surface of the planet with radioactive materials: one of these, plutonium-239, will be detectable for the next 100,000 years.

The catalogue of planetary devastation that is the human footprint is assembled in a new study by US and European scientists in the journal Nature Communications: Earth and Environment. It is part of a fresh attempt to settle a seemingly academic question of geological bureaucracy, the naming of ages.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it”

The 11,000-year interval since the end of the last Ice Age and the dawn of agriculture, metal smelting, and the first cities, cultures and empires is still formally identified as the Holocene. The latest study of the human legacy is just another salvo in the campaign to announce and confirm the launch of an entirely new epoch, to be called the Anthropocene.

In fact, environmental campaigners, biologists and geophysicists have for years been informally calling the last six or seven decades the Anthropocene. But the authority with the last word on internationally-agreed geological labels − the International Commission on Stratigraphy − has yet to confirm the launch of the new geological epoch.

To help confirm the case for change, researchers have once again assembled the evidence and identified at least 16 ways in which humans have dramatically altered the planet since 1950, and the beginning of what is sometimes called The Great Acceleration.

For instance, humans have doubled the quantity of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere, created an alarming hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, released enough gases to raise the planetary temperature and precipitate global climate change, fashioned or forged perhaps 180,000 kinds of mineral (by comparison, only about 5,300 occur naturally) and − with dams, drains, wells, irrigation, and hydraulic engineering − effectively replumbed the world’s river systems.

Ineradicable scar

By forging metals and building structures, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and left a mark that will endure for aeons.

Altogether, humans have altered the world’s rivers, lakes, coastlines, vegetation, soils, chemistry and climate. The study makes grim reading.

“This is the first time that humans have documented humanity’s geological footprint on such a comprehensive scale in a single publication,” said Jaia Syvitski, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the research team that assembled the evidence.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it.

“Society shouldn’t feel complacent. Few people who read the manuscript should come away without emotions bubbling up, like rage, grief and even fear.” − Climate News Network

Once again science has presented evidence that a new geological epoch is here. This human footprint is all our own work.

LONDON, 21 October, 2020 − The human footprint has left its mark on Earth, in every sense. The United States alone is scarred by 500,000 abandoned mines and quarries.

Right now, worldwide, there are more than 500,000 active quarries and pits, employing 4 million people, excavating the sand and gravel needed for new roads, new homes and new megacities.

Humans have not simply pitted the face of the Earth, they have paved it. In 1904, beyond the cities, the US had just 225 km of sealed highway. Now it has 4.3m km of asphalt or concrete roadway, consuming more than 20 billion tonnes of sand and gravel.

By comparison, the Great Wall of China, the biggest and most enduring construction in early human history, contains just 0.4bn tonnes of stone.

Humans have changed the face of the waters. In 1950, trawlers, long-liners and purse seiners fished just 1% of the high seas beyond territorial waters. No fish species of any kind was considered over-exploited or depleted.

Extinction threat widens

Less than one human lifetime on, fishing fleets roam 63% of the high seas and 87% of fish species are exploited, over-exploited or in a state of collapse. Meanwhile somewhere between 5m and almost 13 million tons of discarded plastics flow each year into the sea.

Humans and human livestock now far outweigh all other mammalian life. At least 96% of the mass of all mammals is represented by humans and their domesticated animals. Domestic poultry makes up 70% of the mass of all living birds. The natural world is now endangered, with a million species at risk of extinction.

And humans have left an almost indelible radiant signature over the entire global surface: between 1950 and 1980, nations detonated more than 500 thermonuclear weapons to smear the air and surface of the planet with radioactive materials: one of these, plutonium-239, will be detectable for the next 100,000 years.

The catalogue of planetary devastation that is the human footprint is assembled in a new study by US and European scientists in the journal Nature Communications: Earth and Environment. It is part of a fresh attempt to settle a seemingly academic question of geological bureaucracy, the naming of ages.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it”

The 11,000-year interval since the end of the last Ice Age and the dawn of agriculture, metal smelting, and the first cities, cultures and empires is still formally identified as the Holocene. The latest study of the human legacy is just another salvo in the campaign to announce and confirm the launch of an entirely new epoch, to be called the Anthropocene.

In fact, environmental campaigners, biologists and geophysicists have for years been informally calling the last six or seven decades the Anthropocene. But the authority with the last word on internationally-agreed geological labels − the International Commission on Stratigraphy − has yet to confirm the launch of the new geological epoch.

To help confirm the case for change, researchers have once again assembled the evidence and identified at least 16 ways in which humans have dramatically altered the planet since 1950, and the beginning of what is sometimes called The Great Acceleration.

For instance, humans have doubled the quantity of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere, created an alarming hole in the stratospheric ozone layer, released enough gases to raise the planetary temperature and precipitate global climate change, fashioned or forged perhaps 180,000 kinds of mineral (by comparison, only about 5,300 occur naturally) and − with dams, drains, wells, irrigation, and hydraulic engineering − effectively replumbed the world’s river systems.

Ineradicable scar

By forging metals and building structures, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and left a mark that will endure for aeons.

Altogether, humans have altered the world’s rivers, lakes, coastlines, vegetation, soils, chemistry and climate. The study makes grim reading.

“This is the first time that humans have documented humanity’s geological footprint on such a comprehensive scale in a single publication,” said Jaia Syvitski, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the research team that assembled the evidence.

“We humans collectively got ourselves into this mess, we need to work together to reverse these environmental trends and dig ourselves out of it.

“Society shouldn’t feel complacent. Few people who read the manuscript should come away without emotions bubbling up, like rage, grief and even fear.” − Climate News Network

World makes haste too slowly on cutting energy use

The annual report card on the global energy industry says progress towards lower energy use must be much faster.

LONDON, 16 October, 2020 – The world is dragging its feet on efforts to tackle the climate crisis by reducing its energy use, according to a global watchdog.

In its World Energy Outlook 2020, the lnternational Energy Agency (IEA) says that while emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main climate-changing greenhouse gas), are falling, the reduction needs to be far steeper to make any meaningful impact.

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline”, says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

The Agency says energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, with an overall decline of 7% in emissions of CO2 from the global energy sector. This means that annual emissions of CO2 are back to where they were a decade ago, the report says.

Oil demand this year is likely to be down by 8%, while coal use will fall by 7%.

“Solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”

That’s the headline good news: the bad news is that emissions of methane – among the most potent of greenhouse gases – are rising, says the report.

Total global investment in the energy sector is also falling dramatically, and is set to be down 18% year on year.

That means that despite the rise of renewable energy, particularly of solar power, governments, utilities and corporations around the world are still not spending enough to bring about a major transition in energy use – and to meet the challenge of catastrophic climate change.

“Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good”, says the IEA.

Problem grids

While hydropower is still the leading source of renewable power, solar is described as the new king of electricity.

“With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV [solar photovoltaic energy] is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen.”

A major problem is that as solar and wind projects are installed and expanded, other parts of the energy sector also need to be developed, particularly infrastructure associated with electricity grids.

In many parts of the world energy utilities are in severe financial straits and have little or no money to maintain or invest in achieving more efficiencies and in infrastructure.

“Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply”, says the IEA.

Covid-19’s effects

The report says it’s not just the energy industry that has to change. “To reach net-zero emissions, governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all need to be on board – and will all have unprecedented contributions to make.”

The Covid crisis is a major factor in assessing the global energy outlook.

The pandemic, says the IEA, has caused more disruption in the energy sector than any other event in recent history, with impacts for years to come.

“It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change”, the report says. – Climate News Network

The annual report card on the global energy industry says progress towards lower energy use must be much faster.

LONDON, 16 October, 2020 – The world is dragging its feet on efforts to tackle the climate crisis by reducing its energy use, according to a global watchdog.

In its World Energy Outlook 2020, the lnternational Energy Agency (IEA) says that while emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main climate-changing greenhouse gas), are falling, the reduction needs to be far steeper to make any meaningful impact.

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline”, says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

The Agency says energy demand is set to drop by 5% in 2020, with an overall decline of 7% in emissions of CO2 from the global energy sector. This means that annual emissions of CO2 are back to where they were a decade ago, the report says.

Oil demand this year is likely to be down by 8%, while coal use will fall by 7%.

“Solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”

That’s the headline good news: the bad news is that emissions of methane – among the most potent of greenhouse gases – are rising, says the report.

Total global investment in the energy sector is also falling dramatically, and is set to be down 18% year on year.

That means that despite the rise of renewable energy, particularly of solar power, governments, utilities and corporations around the world are still not spending enough to bring about a major transition in energy use – and to meet the challenge of catastrophic climate change.

“Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good”, says the IEA.

Problem grids

While hydropower is still the leading source of renewable power, solar is described as the new king of electricity.

“With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV [solar photovoltaic energy] is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen.”

A major problem is that as solar and wind projects are installed and expanded, other parts of the energy sector also need to be developed, particularly infrastructure associated with electricity grids.

In many parts of the world energy utilities are in severe financial straits and have little or no money to maintain or invest in achieving more efficiencies and in infrastructure.

“Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply”, says the IEA.

Covid-19’s effects

The report says it’s not just the energy industry that has to change. “To reach net-zero emissions, governments, energy companies, investors and citizens all need to be on board – and will all have unprecedented contributions to make.”

The Covid crisis is a major factor in assessing the global energy outlook.

The pandemic, says the IEA, has caused more disruption in the energy sector than any other event in recent history, with impacts for years to come.

“It is too soon to say whether today’s crisis represents a setback for efforts to bring about a more secure and sustainable energy system, or a catalyst that accelerates the pace of change”, the report says. – Climate News Network

Antarctica’s ice loss could soon be irreversible

Global heating means the southern ice will melt. Antarctica’s ice loss could then be permanent, drowning many great cities.

LONDON, 2 October, 2020 – The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.

European and US researchers report in the journal Nature that they worked through ice core records of long-ago change in Antarctica and employed a million hours of computer simulation time to build up a reliable picture of change on the Antarctic continent, in response to ever-higher planetary average temperatures, driven by ever more profligate use of fossil fuels to generate ever-higher atmospheric ratios of greenhouse gases.

Their word for the state they wanted to study is hysteresis: this can be interpreted as the way altered conditions might commit a state to further change.

“If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York”

The planet’s climate has oscillated many times over many millions of years. What this climate shift does to the polar regions can literally change the map of the planet. Antarctica is an enormous continent, the size of the US, Mexico and India together, and the ice it bears would, if it all were to melt, raise global sea levels by 58 metres.

“Antarctica holds more than half of Earth’s fresh water, frozen in a vast ice-sheet which is nearly five kilometres thick. As the surrounding ocean water and atmosphere warm due to human greenhouse gas emissions, the white cap on the South Pole loses mass and eventually becomes unstable,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Because of its sheer magnitude, Antarctica’s potential for sea level contribution is enormous. We find that already at two degrees of warming, melting and the accelerated ice flow into the ocean will, eventually, entail 2.5 metres of global sea level rise just from Antarctica alone. At four degrees, it will be 6.5 metres and at six degrees almost 12 metres, if these temperature levels would be sustained long enough.”

That loss of ice would be slow – it would take many thousands of years – but the point the researchers make is that the continent may already be nearing a tipping point, after which the slide towards ever-higher sea levels would be unstoppable.

Since the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are part of the planetary cooling system – their whiteness reflects solar radiation back into space, so that the ice becomes its own insulation – their loss would inevitably trigger the process of further and faster warming.

Scientists from all nations have been warning for more than a decade that the continent is losing its protective screen of seaborne shelf ice, which in turn would make glacier flow towards the sea ever faster, and that the rate of loss of ice has begun to accelerate.

No going back

“In the end, it is our burning of coal and oil that determines ongoing and future greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, if and when critical temperature thresholds in Antarctica are crossed.

“And even if the ice loss happens on long time scales, the respective carbon dioxide levels can already be reached in the near future,” said Professor Winkelmann.

“We decide now whether we manage to halt the warming. So Antarctica’s fate really lies in our hands – and with it that of our cities and cultural sites across the globe, from Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana to Sydney’s Opera House. Thus this study really is another exclamation mark behind the importance of the Paris Climate Accord: Keep global warming below two degrees.”

And her Potsdam co-author Anders Levermann reinforced the argument. “Our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state even if temperatures eventually sank again.

“Indeed, temperatures would have to go back to pre-industrial levels to allow its full recovery – a highly unlikely scenario. In other words: what we lose of Antarctica now is lost forever.”

And he warned: “If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York.” – Climate News Network

Global heating means the southern ice will melt. Antarctica’s ice loss could then be permanent, drowning many great cities.

LONDON, 2 October, 2020 – The greatest mass of ice on the planet is growing steadily more unstable, and that means Antarctica’s ice loss may before long be inexorable.

New studies show that right now, just one degree of warming must mean an eventual sea level rise of 1.3 metres, simply from the flow of melting ice from the continent of Antarctica.

If the annual average temperature of the planet goes beyond 2°C, then the Antarctic melting rate will double. And when global heating really steps up to 6°C or beyond, melting accelerates to the almost unimaginable level of 10 metres for every single degree rise in planetary average temperatures.

And, the researchers say, there is no way back. Even if the world’s nations stick to a promise made in Paris in 2015, to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century, the losses of the southern polar ice sheet cannot be restored: the process of melting, once triggered by global temperature rise, becomes inexorable.

European and US researchers report in the journal Nature that they worked through ice core records of long-ago change in Antarctica and employed a million hours of computer simulation time to build up a reliable picture of change on the Antarctic continent, in response to ever-higher planetary average temperatures, driven by ever more profligate use of fossil fuels to generate ever-higher atmospheric ratios of greenhouse gases.

Their word for the state they wanted to study is hysteresis: this can be interpreted as the way altered conditions might commit a state to further change.

“If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York”

The planet’s climate has oscillated many times over many millions of years. What this climate shift does to the polar regions can literally change the map of the planet. Antarctica is an enormous continent, the size of the US, Mexico and India together, and the ice it bears would, if it all were to melt, raise global sea levels by 58 metres.

“Antarctica holds more than half of Earth’s fresh water, frozen in a vast ice-sheet which is nearly five kilometres thick. As the surrounding ocean water and atmosphere warm due to human greenhouse gas emissions, the white cap on the South Pole loses mass and eventually becomes unstable,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Because of its sheer magnitude, Antarctica’s potential for sea level contribution is enormous. We find that already at two degrees of warming, melting and the accelerated ice flow into the ocean will, eventually, entail 2.5 metres of global sea level rise just from Antarctica alone. At four degrees, it will be 6.5 metres and at six degrees almost 12 metres, if these temperature levels would be sustained long enough.”

That loss of ice would be slow – it would take many thousands of years – but the point the researchers make is that the continent may already be nearing a tipping point, after which the slide towards ever-higher sea levels would be unstoppable.

Since the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are part of the planetary cooling system – their whiteness reflects solar radiation back into space, so that the ice becomes its own insulation – their loss would inevitably trigger the process of further and faster warming.

Scientists from all nations have been warning for more than a decade that the continent is losing its protective screen of seaborne shelf ice, which in turn would make glacier flow towards the sea ever faster, and that the rate of loss of ice has begun to accelerate.

No going back

“In the end, it is our burning of coal and oil that determines ongoing and future greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, if and when critical temperature thresholds in Antarctica are crossed.

“And even if the ice loss happens on long time scales, the respective carbon dioxide levels can already be reached in the near future,” said Professor Winkelmann.

“We decide now whether we manage to halt the warming. So Antarctica’s fate really lies in our hands – and with it that of our cities and cultural sites across the globe, from Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana to Sydney’s Opera House. Thus this study really is another exclamation mark behind the importance of the Paris Climate Accord: Keep global warming below two degrees.”

And her Potsdam co-author Anders Levermann reinforced the argument. “Our simulations show that once it’s melted, it does not regrow to its initial state even if temperatures eventually sank again.

“Indeed, temperatures would have to go back to pre-industrial levels to allow its full recovery – a highly unlikely scenario. In other words: what we lose of Antarctica now is lost forever.”

And he warned: “If we give up the Paris Agreement, we give up Hamburg, Tokyo and New York.” – Climate News Network

Lessons of Covid-19: Taking stock for next time

The lessons of Covid-19 are stark: tragedy, horror and loss for millions. They are eloquent on the climate crisis ahead.

LONDON, 29 September, 2020 − The lessons of Covid-19 are still sinking in. The pandemic isn’t over yet: far from it. No-one knows even whether it’s here to stay.

It erupted at a time when chronic inequality and the climate emergency both demand action. But there are already specific life-saving lessons we can learn, says the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

This highly abridged summary by the Climate News Network singles out a few highlights from the Alliance’s three published briefings on Covid’s lessons, with possible policy responses to help the benefits to last beyond the crisis.

Looking after each other better

This briefing shows some of the ways people around the world are looking after others in the pandemic, often with meagre resources and how they might do in the future .

Governments have – to varying degrees – paid the wages of millions of working people and provided help in kind. Togo introduced a mobile telephone-based cash transfer scheme for workers earning around 30% of the minimum wage. Others have tackled street homelessness and temporarily suspended evictions for those unable to pay rent.

Across Europe health workers have been heartened by regular sessions of public applause, thanks and support during the peak of the crisis. Delivery drivers and front-line care workers are finding their social status far above that of hedge-fund managers.

Working hours and practices have been radically adapted. Communities have acted together where necessary: Belarussians bypassed their president by implementing a people’s quarantine. Britons supported health workers by making protective masks and scrubs, providing hot meals and tutoring children. In Germany refugees joined in mask-making.

Spanish workers volunteered to clean care homes before elderly residents returned. In the US the World Central Kitchen has supplied up to six million meals to nurses, the sick and the homeless.

For the future, there is evidence from many countries of growing support for the idea of a Universal Basic Income and for encouraging (and enabling) more people to volunteer to help others, perhaps by paying them.

More space for people and nature

Responses to Covid show we can quickly make more urban space for people and nature. This briefing looks at how we do that, an increasingly important question as people learn more about the global plunge in plant and animal numbers, and about how habitat loss drives the spread of viruses between animals and humans, with ecological decline creating prime conditions for pandemics as human activities push climate breakdown and usurp the last wild spaces on Earth.

Covid-19 has driven a growing realisation that a simpler life can offer unexpected gains. A lot of travel proved unnecessary. Guaranteeing cleaner air and more room for nature demands big but possible changes, including greener public transport and streets designed for people, not just cars.

Older and simpler solutions are helping, like cycling in the UK, for example, Germany and (with new technology) further afield. A flexi-time approach has seen staggered starting times for schools and offices introduced in parts of Israel and the Netherlands. It’s often possible to avoid travelling by making contact online − when you can get the hardware installed. Frustrated villagers in Wales couldn’t, so they installed their own broadband instead.

There’s abundant evidence of the sheer good that green surroundings can do to people, ailing or not. They can improve air quality and even offset the heat island effect. And strengthening our relationship with nature can provide other severely practical benefits  − as the Cubans discovered several decades ago.

The Rapid Transition Alliance offers several suggestions for trying to ensure that we go on cherishing nature long after Covid-19 has been tamed:

Living with less stuff

This briefing examines how we’re adapting to live less wastefully and more thoughtfully. We’re learning to eat better, to waste less when we buy, and to enjoy making more with what we have already. (There have been and still are many people struggling financially and using foodbanks to keep themselves going. This briefing focuses specifically on those not in this situation.)

One implicit theme is that what we want and what we need may often differ. So mending, sewing and doing-it-yourself are regaining popularity, and some people are working their way out of debt: UK households were able to pay back more than £7 billion (US$8.9 bn) of consumer credit in the first month of lockdown.

Food matters − a lot. Many people are thinking more about their environmental footprint: more than a quarter of consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Canada say they now pay more attention to what they consume and what impact it has on the world.

In some of these countries, shops and brands have been running a campaign encouraging people to “only buy what you need” and “shop responsibly”. Organisers called it “an urgent entreaty to consumers to behave responsibly and think about others”.

Education matters too, however hard it may be to keep schools open. The World Bank has worked with numerous countries to form an accessible database of learning innovations across different nations that can be shared and used by online educators. The Times of India has looked at the opportunities to teach young people life skills and reading for fun – not just formal education.

And in a crisis, laughter can help. Russia is setting the world an example.

Locking in Covid’s lessons is essential, for this generation and for the future. The pandemic has often slowed consumption, making people more cautious and more aware of their purchasing power. But what now?

Buying only what we need, mending things when they break and re-purposing them when we no longer want them are life changes for the long term. The RTA has suggestions for how we could turn from being passive consumers to active producers. These are some of them:

The RTA’s briefings are a reminder of the daily torrent of practical goodwill that binds and sustains societies worldwide. The pandemic has intensified that determination to help people in need and to make vital systemic changes. The climate emergency is going to demand far more.

The Alliance thinks humankind can rise to the occasion: “There is now an opportunity to consider what we want from the future − the real price of things shown on labels, less choice but more quality, better lives for those who make and sell stuff to us, and an assumption that waste is unnecessary and will no longer be tolerated. These policy shifts might help to keep this element going as the world returns to health.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

The lessons of Covid-19 are stark: tragedy, horror and loss for millions. They are eloquent on the climate crisis ahead.

LONDON, 29 September, 2020 − The lessons of Covid-19 are still sinking in. The pandemic isn’t over yet: far from it. No-one knows even whether it’s here to stay.

It erupted at a time when chronic inequality and the climate emergency both demand action. But there are already specific life-saving lessons we can learn, says the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

This highly abridged summary by the Climate News Network singles out a few highlights from the Alliance’s three published briefings on Covid’s lessons, with possible policy responses to help the benefits to last beyond the crisis.

Looking after each other better

This briefing shows some of the ways people around the world are looking after others in the pandemic, often with meagre resources and how they might do in the future .

Governments have – to varying degrees – paid the wages of millions of working people and provided help in kind. Togo introduced a mobile telephone-based cash transfer scheme for workers earning around 30% of the minimum wage. Others have tackled street homelessness and temporarily suspended evictions for those unable to pay rent.

Across Europe health workers have been heartened by regular sessions of public applause, thanks and support during the peak of the crisis. Delivery drivers and front-line care workers are finding their social status far above that of hedge-fund managers.

Working hours and practices have been radically adapted. Communities have acted together where necessary: Belarussians bypassed their president by implementing a people’s quarantine. Britons supported health workers by making protective masks and scrubs, providing hot meals and tutoring children. In Germany refugees joined in mask-making.

Spanish workers volunteered to clean care homes before elderly residents returned. In the US the World Central Kitchen has supplied up to six million meals to nurses, the sick and the homeless.

For the future, there is evidence from many countries of growing support for the idea of a Universal Basic Income and for encouraging (and enabling) more people to volunteer to help others, perhaps by paying them.

More space for people and nature

Responses to Covid show we can quickly make more urban space for people and nature. This briefing looks at how we do that, an increasingly important question as people learn more about the global plunge in plant and animal numbers, and about how habitat loss drives the spread of viruses between animals and humans, with ecological decline creating prime conditions for pandemics as human activities push climate breakdown and usurp the last wild spaces on Earth.

Covid-19 has driven a growing realisation that a simpler life can offer unexpected gains. A lot of travel proved unnecessary. Guaranteeing cleaner air and more room for nature demands big but possible changes, including greener public transport and streets designed for people, not just cars.

Older and simpler solutions are helping, like cycling in the UK, for example, Germany and (with new technology) further afield. A flexi-time approach has seen staggered starting times for schools and offices introduced in parts of Israel and the Netherlands. It’s often possible to avoid travelling by making contact online − when you can get the hardware installed. Frustrated villagers in Wales couldn’t, so they installed their own broadband instead.

There’s abundant evidence of the sheer good that green surroundings can do to people, ailing or not. They can improve air quality and even offset the heat island effect. And strengthening our relationship with nature can provide other severely practical benefits  − as the Cubans discovered several decades ago.

The Rapid Transition Alliance offers several suggestions for trying to ensure that we go on cherishing nature long after Covid-19 has been tamed:

Living with less stuff

This briefing examines how we’re adapting to live less wastefully and more thoughtfully. We’re learning to eat better, to waste less when we buy, and to enjoy making more with what we have already. (There have been and still are many people struggling financially and using foodbanks to keep themselves going. This briefing focuses specifically on those not in this situation.)

One implicit theme is that what we want and what we need may often differ. So mending, sewing and doing-it-yourself are regaining popularity, and some people are working their way out of debt: UK households were able to pay back more than £7 billion (US$8.9 bn) of consumer credit in the first month of lockdown.

Food matters − a lot. Many people are thinking more about their environmental footprint: more than a quarter of consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Canada say they now pay more attention to what they consume and what impact it has on the world.

In some of these countries, shops and brands have been running a campaign encouraging people to “only buy what you need” and “shop responsibly”. Organisers called it “an urgent entreaty to consumers to behave responsibly and think about others”.

Education matters too, however hard it may be to keep schools open. The World Bank has worked with numerous countries to form an accessible database of learning innovations across different nations that can be shared and used by online educators. The Times of India has looked at the opportunities to teach young people life skills and reading for fun – not just formal education.

And in a crisis, laughter can help. Russia is setting the world an example.

Locking in Covid’s lessons is essential, for this generation and for the future. The pandemic has often slowed consumption, making people more cautious and more aware of their purchasing power. But what now?

Buying only what we need, mending things when they break and re-purposing them when we no longer want them are life changes for the long term. The RTA has suggestions for how we could turn from being passive consumers to active producers. These are some of them:

The RTA’s briefings are a reminder of the daily torrent of practical goodwill that binds and sustains societies worldwide. The pandemic has intensified that determination to help people in need and to make vital systemic changes. The climate emergency is going to demand far more.

The Alliance thinks humankind can rise to the occasion: “There is now an opportunity to consider what we want from the future − the real price of things shown on labels, less choice but more quality, better lives for those who make and sell stuff to us, and an assumption that waste is unnecessary and will no longer be tolerated. These policy shifts might help to keep this element going as the world returns to health.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Lentils can feed the world – and save wildlife too

Wildlife could flourish if humans opted for a better diet. Think of humble, healthy lentils as the green choice.

LONDON, 24 September, 2020 – US scientists have worked out how to feed nine billion people and save wildlife from extinction, both at the same time – thanks to healthy lentils.

The answer is starkly simple: if humans got their protein from lentils, beans and nuts rather than beef, pork and chicken, they could return colossal tracts of grazing land back to the wilderness.

Nearly 40% of the planet’s land surface is now committed to agriculture. And almost 83% of this proportion is used to graze animals, or grow food for animals.

If it was returned to natural habitat, then humankind might be able to prevent the extinction of perhaps a million species now under imminent threat.

The same transition would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help contain climate change, and perhaps even reduce the risks of new pandemics.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics. There is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife”

And best of all, the burden of action could sensibly fall on the better-off nations rather than the poorest.

“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” said Matthew Hayek of New York University.

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature Sustainability that vegetation regrowth on once-grazed land could gulp down between nine and 16 years of human carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and buy time for a worldwide switch to renewable energy.

“We can think of shifting our eating habits towards land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy rather than a substitute,” he argued.  “Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.”

The warning is only the latest in a long line of studies which conclude that if humans ate less meat, the world would be a safer, healthier and better place.

Russia-sized area

The switch is unlikely to happen soon, or completely – in some places, animals are the principal food source – or very effectively. It isn’t clear that in a rapidly warming world, forests would recolonise all farmed land, or that those forests would efficiently absorb the hoped-for atmospheric carbon.

But Dr Hayek and his colleagues mapped only an area over which seeds could disperse naturally, and deliver dense and diverse forest. They identified an area that added up to seven million square kilometres, in places moist enough to thrive naturally. This is an area the size of Russia.

The simple act of abandoning selected ranchland or pasture could work wonders for water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. And it would work for human health as well.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics,” said his co-author Helen Harwatt of Harvard Law School.

“Our research shows that there is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife. Restoring native ecosystems not only helps the climate; when coupled with reduced livestock populations, restoration reduced disease transmission from wildlife to pigs, chickens and cows, and ultimately to humans.” – Climate News Network

Wildlife could flourish if humans opted for a better diet. Think of humble, healthy lentils as the green choice.

LONDON, 24 September, 2020 – US scientists have worked out how to feed nine billion people and save wildlife from extinction, both at the same time – thanks to healthy lentils.

The answer is starkly simple: if humans got their protein from lentils, beans and nuts rather than beef, pork and chicken, they could return colossal tracts of grazing land back to the wilderness.

Nearly 40% of the planet’s land surface is now committed to agriculture. And almost 83% of this proportion is used to graze animals, or grow food for animals.

If it was returned to natural habitat, then humankind might be able to prevent the extinction of perhaps a million species now under imminent threat.

The same transition would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help contain climate change, and perhaps even reduce the risks of new pandemics.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics. There is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife”

And best of all, the burden of action could sensibly fall on the better-off nations rather than the poorest.

“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” said Matthew Hayek of New York University.

He and colleagues report in the journal Nature Sustainability that vegetation regrowth on once-grazed land could gulp down between nine and 16 years of human carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and buy time for a worldwide switch to renewable energy.

“We can think of shifting our eating habits towards land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy rather than a substitute,” he argued.  “Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.”

The warning is only the latest in a long line of studies which conclude that if humans ate less meat, the world would be a safer, healthier and better place.

Russia-sized area

The switch is unlikely to happen soon, or completely – in some places, animals are the principal food source – or very effectively. It isn’t clear that in a rapidly warming world, forests would recolonise all farmed land, or that those forests would efficiently absorb the hoped-for atmospheric carbon.

But Dr Hayek and his colleagues mapped only an area over which seeds could disperse naturally, and deliver dense and diverse forest. They identified an area that added up to seven million square kilometres, in places moist enough to thrive naturally. This is an area the size of Russia.

The simple act of abandoning selected ranchland or pasture could work wonders for water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. And it would work for human health as well.

“We know that intact, functioning ecosystems and appropriate wildlife habitat ranges help reduce the risk of pandemics,” said his co-author Helen Harwatt of Harvard Law School.

“Our research shows that there is potential for giving large areas of land back to wildlife. Restoring native ecosystems not only helps the climate; when coupled with reduced livestock populations, restoration reduced disease transmission from wildlife to pigs, chickens and cows, and ultimately to humans.” – Climate News Network