Tag Archives: Greenhouse Gases

Science counts humankind’s carbon output

We leave the planet’s volcanos far behind on greenhouse gas emissions: humankind’s carbon output can exceed theirs by 40 times – to our cost.

LONDON, 7 October, 2019 – Scientists now know how much carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere and oceans by volcanos and volcanic fissures annually – perhaps as much as 360 million tonnes – and another crucial statistic, too: humankind’s carbon output.

They know that, by burning fossil fuels and clearing forests and building cities, we now emit much more than that: between 40 and 100 times more.

They can also now tell you how much carbon is in circulation above the Earth’s surface, in the oceans, on land, and in the atmosphere: the answer is 43,500 billion tonnes. That is about two-tenths of 1% of all the carbon locked for the moment in the Earth’s crust, mantle and core.

The research delivers no answers and no new directions for climate science, and in particular for governments and international agencies concerned about global heating and the climate emergency.

This is the ultimate in basic, bedrock, accounting: to understand the carbon cycle – the continuous traffic of carbon between atmosphere, ocean, rocks and living things – researchers need to have a better idea of the scale of what they like to call the carbon budget.

“To secure a sustainable future, it is of utmost importance that we understand Earth’s entire carbon cycle”

And after a decade of research, a partnership of more than 500 scientists from 39 countries working on more than 100 separate projects has delivered a set of down-to-earth answers in a new issue of the journal Elements.

The total estimate – it can only be an estimate – for the entire stock of carbon at the surface, in the crust and in the Earth’s mantle is around 1.85 billion billion tonnes.

And the observations of volcanic discharges of carbon are vital to understanding the cycle: this more or less steady renewal from deep below the surface is what has made life’s evolution from microbe to monkey puzzle-tree, from bacterium to Bactrian camel, possible over the last billion years.

Carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed by forests and sea meadows and buried, sometimes as shell and bone and limestone, sometimes as coal and oil and methane gas, and the carbon lost to the atmosphere is steadily replenished by deep hot sources from the Earth’s crust.

The study also highlights the nature of the climate emergency: by mining, drilling or quarrying for fossil fuels with which to drive chain saws through forests and bake limestone to make cement, humans are now returning ancient deposits of fossil carbon to the atmosphere at an overwhelming rate.

Doubling carbon levels

For most of human history, human ancestors, like all other life forms, evolved in a low-carbon atmosphere. In the past 60 years, humans have begun to double the normal levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a potent and enduring greenhouse gas.

And one pay-off of this increasingly urgent interest in the carbon cycle is that the researchers in the Deep Carbon Observatory partnership have added to fundamental knowledge and established what might be the limits of the knowable. They also have a better idea of carbon’s natural cycle.

“Carbon, the basis of all life and the energy source vital to humanity, moves through this planet from its mantle to the atmosphere. To secure a sustainable future, it is of utmost importance that we understand Earth’s entire carbon cycle,” said Marie Edmonds of the University of Cambridge, UK, one of the partnership.

“Key to unravelling the planet’s natural carbon cycle is quantifying how much carbon there is and where, how much moves – the flux – and how quickly, from Deep Earth reservoirs to the surface and back again.”

The Observatory recently identified the huge volume of subterranean life far below the planet’s surface. But the details of the carbon traffic in atmosphere, soils and waters are still somewhat muddy.

Only a start

The issue is vital to planning for what should be the accelerating shift from fossil fuels to solar and wind power, and researchers have been looking for new ways to assess vegetation uptake, the role of microbes in the world’s soils and the play between carbon and the world’s rivers.

The same study throws light on the periodic role of volcanic and magma discharges and other difficult-to-predict events in disrupting life on Earth. At least four times in the past 500 million years enormous discharges of carbon have changed climates and triggered mass extinctions.

And a giant meteor impact 66 million years ago is thought to have released up to 1400 billion tons of carbon dioxide, rapidly warmed the planet and helped in the mass extinction of plants and animals, including the dinosaurs.

The research continues: scientists will meet soon in Washington to start discussing the next decade of work.

“While we celebrate progress, we underline that deep Earth remains a highly unpredictable scientific frontier,” said Tobias Fischer of the University of New Mexico, another of the authors. “We have only truly started to dent current boundaries of our knowledge.” – Climate News Network

We leave the planet’s volcanos far behind on greenhouse gas emissions: humankind’s carbon output can exceed theirs by 40 times – to our cost.

LONDON, 7 October, 2019 – Scientists now know how much carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere and oceans by volcanos and volcanic fissures annually – perhaps as much as 360 million tonnes – and another crucial statistic, too: humankind’s carbon output.

They know that, by burning fossil fuels and clearing forests and building cities, we now emit much more than that: between 40 and 100 times more.

They can also now tell you how much carbon is in circulation above the Earth’s surface, in the oceans, on land, and in the atmosphere: the answer is 43,500 billion tonnes. That is about two-tenths of 1% of all the carbon locked for the moment in the Earth’s crust, mantle and core.

The research delivers no answers and no new directions for climate science, and in particular for governments and international agencies concerned about global heating and the climate emergency.

This is the ultimate in basic, bedrock, accounting: to understand the carbon cycle – the continuous traffic of carbon between atmosphere, ocean, rocks and living things – researchers need to have a better idea of the scale of what they like to call the carbon budget.

“To secure a sustainable future, it is of utmost importance that we understand Earth’s entire carbon cycle”

And after a decade of research, a partnership of more than 500 scientists from 39 countries working on more than 100 separate projects has delivered a set of down-to-earth answers in a new issue of the journal Elements.

The total estimate – it can only be an estimate – for the entire stock of carbon at the surface, in the crust and in the Earth’s mantle is around 1.85 billion billion tonnes.

And the observations of volcanic discharges of carbon are vital to understanding the cycle: this more or less steady renewal from deep below the surface is what has made life’s evolution from microbe to monkey puzzle-tree, from bacterium to Bactrian camel, possible over the last billion years.

Carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed by forests and sea meadows and buried, sometimes as shell and bone and limestone, sometimes as coal and oil and methane gas, and the carbon lost to the atmosphere is steadily replenished by deep hot sources from the Earth’s crust.

The study also highlights the nature of the climate emergency: by mining, drilling or quarrying for fossil fuels with which to drive chain saws through forests and bake limestone to make cement, humans are now returning ancient deposits of fossil carbon to the atmosphere at an overwhelming rate.

Doubling carbon levels

For most of human history, human ancestors, like all other life forms, evolved in a low-carbon atmosphere. In the past 60 years, humans have begun to double the normal levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a potent and enduring greenhouse gas.

And one pay-off of this increasingly urgent interest in the carbon cycle is that the researchers in the Deep Carbon Observatory partnership have added to fundamental knowledge and established what might be the limits of the knowable. They also have a better idea of carbon’s natural cycle.

“Carbon, the basis of all life and the energy source vital to humanity, moves through this planet from its mantle to the atmosphere. To secure a sustainable future, it is of utmost importance that we understand Earth’s entire carbon cycle,” said Marie Edmonds of the University of Cambridge, UK, one of the partnership.

“Key to unravelling the planet’s natural carbon cycle is quantifying how much carbon there is and where, how much moves – the flux – and how quickly, from Deep Earth reservoirs to the surface and back again.”

The Observatory recently identified the huge volume of subterranean life far below the planet’s surface. But the details of the carbon traffic in atmosphere, soils and waters are still somewhat muddy.

Only a start

The issue is vital to planning for what should be the accelerating shift from fossil fuels to solar and wind power, and researchers have been looking for new ways to assess vegetation uptake, the role of microbes in the world’s soils and the play between carbon and the world’s rivers.

The same study throws light on the periodic role of volcanic and magma discharges and other difficult-to-predict events in disrupting life on Earth. At least four times in the past 500 million years enormous discharges of carbon have changed climates and triggered mass extinctions.

And a giant meteor impact 66 million years ago is thought to have released up to 1400 billion tons of carbon dioxide, rapidly warmed the planet and helped in the mass extinction of plants and animals, including the dinosaurs.

The research continues: scientists will meet soon in Washington to start discussing the next decade of work.

“While we celebrate progress, we underline that deep Earth remains a highly unpredictable scientific frontier,” said Tobias Fischer of the University of New Mexico, another of the authors. “We have only truly started to dent current boundaries of our knowledge.” – Climate News Network

Human ancestors lived in a low-carbon world

Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our distant forebears.

LONDON, 4 October, 2019 – For the entire 2.5 million years of the Ice Age epoch called the Pleistocene, it was a low-carbon world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hovered around 230 parts per million. Not only did Homo sapiens evolve on a low-carbon planet, so did Homo erectus and most other human species now known only from fossil evidence in Europe and Asia.

And this long history of a planet kept cool and stable by low levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued long after the discovery of fire, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the fall and rise of empires and the Industrial Revolution.

Only in 1965 did carbon dioxide levels pass 320 ppm, after a century of exploitation of fossil fuels that released ancient carbon back into atmospheric circulation.

By 2019, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had tipped 410 ppm and is still rising. In less than a century, human action had raised planetary average temperatures by around 1°C. At present rates, this average could reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Researchers have known for a century that humans emerged in a cooler world, but much of the story of the distant past was based on the evidence of fossils and sedimentary rocks. The latest research pushes the detailed atmospheric carbon dioxide accounting back to at least 2.5 million years.

“This current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us”

Researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the pattern of carbon isotope readings preserved in the deep yellow soils of China’s loess plateau. What they found confirmed 800,000 years of annual evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland – and far beyond that limit.

The wind-blown loess of China dates back to at least 22 million years and each successive layer carries isotope evidence that can be read as testimony to the atmospheric conditions in which the soils were laid down.

The latest find confirms that the normal state of the planet during human evolution was cool, with low levels of atmospheric carbon. Homo erectus was the first known human predecessor to exploit fire, systematically fashion stone hand axes, and to leave Africa for Asia and Europe.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago, we have lived in a low-carbon environment – concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Yige Zhang, a geoscientist at Texas A&M University in the US, who worked with colleagues in Nanjing, China, and California Institute of Technology.

“So this current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us, for ourselves.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our distant forebears.

LONDON, 4 October, 2019 – For the entire 2.5 million years of the Ice Age epoch called the Pleistocene, it was a low-carbon world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hovered around 230 parts per million. Not only did Homo sapiens evolve on a low-carbon planet, so did Homo erectus and most other human species now known only from fossil evidence in Europe and Asia.

And this long history of a planet kept cool and stable by low levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued long after the discovery of fire, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the fall and rise of empires and the Industrial Revolution.

Only in 1965 did carbon dioxide levels pass 320 ppm, after a century of exploitation of fossil fuels that released ancient carbon back into atmospheric circulation.

By 2019, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had tipped 410 ppm and is still rising. In less than a century, human action had raised planetary average temperatures by around 1°C. At present rates, this average could reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Researchers have known for a century that humans emerged in a cooler world, but much of the story of the distant past was based on the evidence of fossils and sedimentary rocks. The latest research pushes the detailed atmospheric carbon dioxide accounting back to at least 2.5 million years.

“This current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us”

Researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the pattern of carbon isotope readings preserved in the deep yellow soils of China’s loess plateau. What they found confirmed 800,000 years of annual evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland – and far beyond that limit.

The wind-blown loess of China dates back to at least 22 million years and each successive layer carries isotope evidence that can be read as testimony to the atmospheric conditions in which the soils were laid down.

The latest find confirms that the normal state of the planet during human evolution was cool, with low levels of atmospheric carbon. Homo erectus was the first known human predecessor to exploit fire, systematically fashion stone hand axes, and to leave Africa for Asia and Europe.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago, we have lived in a low-carbon environment – concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Yige Zhang, a geoscientist at Texas A&M University in the US, who worked with colleagues in Nanjing, China, and California Institute of Technology.

“So this current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us, for ourselves.” – Climate News Network

Rugby stars are losing their Pacific islands

Whatever happens on the pitches, rugby stars from the Pacific islands face a battle back home to save their ancestral lands from rising sea levels.

LONDON, 1 October, 2019 – Players from the Pacific islands are performing a prominent role in the intense battles at present going on at the rugby world cup in Japan.

Away from the rough and tumble on the pitch, the players are facing an even bigger challenge back home as their island nations come under increasing threat from climate change, in particular from ever-rising sea levels.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of the catastrophic effect rising sea levels – mainly caused by the melting of ice at the poles – will have on billions of people living in coastal areas and in island states around the world.

In the low-lying island nations of the Pacific, climate change is already having an impact. Coastal communities are frequently inundated by rising seas. Salty seawater poisons precious supplies of fresh water.

Crops are lost and homes damaged. Warming seas are killing off coral reefs, a key source of fish and an industry on which many islanders depend for their living.

Exploited

A report by the charity Christian Aid, focusing on the rugby world cup, says that while Pacific island teams Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are playing a central role in the tournament in Japan, they are, at the same time, being exploited and harmed by the actions of bigger and richer nations involved, including Australia, New Zealand and England.

The report points out that Pacific island states are among the lowest emitters of climate-changing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet they are among those suffering most from a warming world.

Samoa emits 0.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year. The equivalent figure for Australia is 16.5 tonnes and for host Japan is 10.4 tonnes.

Jonny Fa’amatuainu is a former Samoan international who has also played for rugby clubs in England, Wales and Japan.

“As a Pacific Island rugby player, tackling the climate crisis is close to my heart. My grandparents and other families who lived in a village on the coast of Samoa moved inland two years ago because of climate change”, he says.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight”

“The Pacific Islands are the soul of our sport and we have produced some of the most dynamic and exciting players on the planet … climate change is a crisis these countries did not cause yet it’s a fight they are suffering from the most.

“It’s a fight they need the help of the rugby community to win.”

The Christian Aid report says climate change threatens to undermine the Pacific Islands’ economies. Tourists will stop visiting and young people will be forced to leave, with up to 1.7 million likely to move from their homes in the region over the next 30 years.

Cyclone Gita, which devastated many parts of Tonga last year, was the strongest storm to hit the nation since records began. The report says global warming means such storms will be more frequent across the region in the years ahead.

The study also highlights the way in which many Pacific island rugby players are treated, being paid wages only a fraction of those earned by their counterparts in richer countries. The teams are also often excluded from various international tournaments.

Foot-dragging

“Climate change is the ultimate injustice issue and nowhere is that captured more clearly than among the nations taking part in the rugby world cup”, says Katherine Kramer of Christian Aid, the author of the report.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight.

“The main culprits for causing the climate crisis are European nations as well as major coal burners like Australia, the US and Japan.

“Not only have they caused the current dire situation, but they are dragging their feet on making the needed transition to a zero-carbon economy.” – Climate News Network

Whatever happens on the pitches, rugby stars from the Pacific islands face a battle back home to save their ancestral lands from rising sea levels.

LONDON, 1 October, 2019 – Players from the Pacific islands are performing a prominent role in the intense battles at present going on at the rugby world cup in Japan.

Away from the rough and tumble on the pitch, the players are facing an even bigger challenge back home as their island nations come under increasing threat from climate change, in particular from ever-rising sea levels.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of the catastrophic effect rising sea levels – mainly caused by the melting of ice at the poles – will have on billions of people living in coastal areas and in island states around the world.

In the low-lying island nations of the Pacific, climate change is already having an impact. Coastal communities are frequently inundated by rising seas. Salty seawater poisons precious supplies of fresh water.

Crops are lost and homes damaged. Warming seas are killing off coral reefs, a key source of fish and an industry on which many islanders depend for their living.

Exploited

A report by the charity Christian Aid, focusing on the rugby world cup, says that while Pacific island teams Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are playing a central role in the tournament in Japan, they are, at the same time, being exploited and harmed by the actions of bigger and richer nations involved, including Australia, New Zealand and England.

The report points out that Pacific island states are among the lowest emitters of climate-changing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet they are among those suffering most from a warming world.

Samoa emits 0.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year. The equivalent figure for Australia is 16.5 tonnes and for host Japan is 10.4 tonnes.

Jonny Fa’amatuainu is a former Samoan international who has also played for rugby clubs in England, Wales and Japan.

“As a Pacific Island rugby player, tackling the climate crisis is close to my heart. My grandparents and other families who lived in a village on the coast of Samoa moved inland two years ago because of climate change”, he says.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight”

“The Pacific Islands are the soul of our sport and we have produced some of the most dynamic and exciting players on the planet … climate change is a crisis these countries did not cause yet it’s a fight they are suffering from the most.

“It’s a fight they need the help of the rugby community to win.”

The Christian Aid report says climate change threatens to undermine the Pacific Islands’ economies. Tourists will stop visiting and young people will be forced to leave, with up to 1.7 million likely to move from their homes in the region over the next 30 years.

Cyclone Gita, which devastated many parts of Tonga last year, was the strongest storm to hit the nation since records began. The report says global warming means such storms will be more frequent across the region in the years ahead.

The study also highlights the way in which many Pacific island rugby players are treated, being paid wages only a fraction of those earned by their counterparts in richer countries. The teams are also often excluded from various international tournaments.

Foot-dragging

“Climate change is the ultimate injustice issue and nowhere is that captured more clearly than among the nations taking part in the rugby world cup”, says Katherine Kramer of Christian Aid, the author of the report.

“The island nations in the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable in the world and they have done almost nothing to cause their plight.

“The main culprits for causing the climate crisis are European nations as well as major coal burners like Australia, the US and Japan.

“Not only have they caused the current dire situation, but they are dragging their feet on making the needed transition to a zero-carbon economy.” – Climate News Network

Seabed carbon storage may help in climate crisis

The Blue Planet hasn’t been considered as a solution to the climate crisis. Three scientists advocate a sea change in global thinking: seabed carbon storage.

LONDON, 27 September, 2019 – Climate scientists say seabed carbon storage could be a new ally to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a volume greater than all the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere from the planet’s coal-burning power stations.

It is the biggest ally possible: the 70% of the globe covered by ocean.

In a detailed argument in the journal Science, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland, Eliza Northrop of the World Resources Institute in Washington DC and Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University outline five areas of action that could mitigate potentially calamitous climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels.

These include renewable energy, shipping and transport, protection of marine and coastal ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture and – perhaps in future – carbon storage on the sea bed.

“Make no mistake: these actions are ambitious, but we argue they are necessary, could pay major dividends towards closing the emissions gap in coming decades, and achieve other co-benefits along the way”, they write.

“For far too long, the ocean has been mostly absent from policy discussions about reducing carbon emissions and meeting the challenges of climate change”

The argument was deliberately timed to coincide with a major new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the oceans and the cryosphere.

If the world’s nations pursue ocean policy ambitions in the right way, they could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030 and up to 11 billion by 2050.

And this could tot up to 21% of the reductions required in 2050 to limit warming to the declared 1.5°C target favoured at the Paris climate summit in 2015, and up to a fourth of all emissions for the formal 2°C target identified in the agreement.

“Reductions of this magnitude are larger than the annual emissions from all current coal-fired power plants worldwide,” they argue.

The first step is to set clear national targets for getting renewable energy from the restless seas, in terms of offshore wind, tidal and wave energy,  by 2030 and then by 2050.

Other benefits

Then the trio want nations to think about ways to reduce or eliminate carbon from the world’s shipping fleets. That means alternative fuels and a revolution in shore-based supply chains. Fuel efficiency in existing technologies could be improved, and hybrid power systems – including fuel cells and battery technologies – should be explored.

And, they point out, the sea itself is a carbon consumer. Mangrove swamps, seagrass meadows and salt marshes could be considered as “blue carbon ecosystems” in the way that terrestrial forests are considered “sinks” for atmospheric carbon.

These coastal and submarine “forests” make up only1.5% of the area of the land-based forests and woodlands, but their loss and degradation are equivalent to 8.4% of carbon emissions from terrestrial forests now being destroyed by human intrusion. So it would pay to restore and protect such marine habitats.

There would be other benefits: harvested seaweed could be turned into food, cattle feed, fertiliser, biofuels and bioplastics. Some seaweeds could help in even more dramatic ways.

Experiments with a red alga called Asparagopsis taxiformis, they say, “can reduce methane emissions from ruminants by up to 99% when constituting only 2% of the feed, and several other common species show potential methane reductions of 33 to 50%.”

‘Daunting’ change needed

The scientists urge a diet shift towards fish and seafood in pursuit of sustainable low-carbon protein; they also want to see the fishing industry worldwide pursue lower emissions while optimising the sustainable global catch.

“Such large-scale shifts in food policy and behaviour are daunting,” they concede. But there would be considerable climate benefits.

And, they admit, there are “considerable challenges” to the idea that carbon dioxide captured at source could be safely and cheaply stored on the seabed for many thousands of years. But they say “the theoretical potential” is very high.

“For far too long, the ocean has been mostly absent from policy discussions about reducing carbon emissions and meeting the challenges of climate change,” they conclude.

“Ocean-based actions provide increased hope that reaching the 1.5°C target might be possible, along with addressing other societal challenges, including economic development, food security and coastal community resilience.” – Climate News Network

The Blue Planet hasn’t been considered as a solution to the climate crisis. Three scientists advocate a sea change in global thinking: seabed carbon storage.

LONDON, 27 September, 2019 – Climate scientists say seabed carbon storage could be a new ally to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a volume greater than all the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere from the planet’s coal-burning power stations.

It is the biggest ally possible: the 70% of the globe covered by ocean.

In a detailed argument in the journal Science, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland, Eliza Northrop of the World Resources Institute in Washington DC and Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University outline five areas of action that could mitigate potentially calamitous climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels.

These include renewable energy, shipping and transport, protection of marine and coastal ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture and – perhaps in future – carbon storage on the sea bed.

“Make no mistake: these actions are ambitious, but we argue they are necessary, could pay major dividends towards closing the emissions gap in coming decades, and achieve other co-benefits along the way”, they write.

“For far too long, the ocean has been mostly absent from policy discussions about reducing carbon emissions and meeting the challenges of climate change”

The argument was deliberately timed to coincide with a major new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the oceans and the cryosphere.

If the world’s nations pursue ocean policy ambitions in the right way, they could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030 and up to 11 billion by 2050.

And this could tot up to 21% of the reductions required in 2050 to limit warming to the declared 1.5°C target favoured at the Paris climate summit in 2015, and up to a fourth of all emissions for the formal 2°C target identified in the agreement.

“Reductions of this magnitude are larger than the annual emissions from all current coal-fired power plants worldwide,” they argue.

The first step is to set clear national targets for getting renewable energy from the restless seas, in terms of offshore wind, tidal and wave energy,  by 2030 and then by 2050.

Other benefits

Then the trio want nations to think about ways to reduce or eliminate carbon from the world’s shipping fleets. That means alternative fuels and a revolution in shore-based supply chains. Fuel efficiency in existing technologies could be improved, and hybrid power systems – including fuel cells and battery technologies – should be explored.

And, they point out, the sea itself is a carbon consumer. Mangrove swamps, seagrass meadows and salt marshes could be considered as “blue carbon ecosystems” in the way that terrestrial forests are considered “sinks” for atmospheric carbon.

These coastal and submarine “forests” make up only1.5% of the area of the land-based forests and woodlands, but their loss and degradation are equivalent to 8.4% of carbon emissions from terrestrial forests now being destroyed by human intrusion. So it would pay to restore and protect such marine habitats.

There would be other benefits: harvested seaweed could be turned into food, cattle feed, fertiliser, biofuels and bioplastics. Some seaweeds could help in even more dramatic ways.

Experiments with a red alga called Asparagopsis taxiformis, they say, “can reduce methane emissions from ruminants by up to 99% when constituting only 2% of the feed, and several other common species show potential methane reductions of 33 to 50%.”

‘Daunting’ change needed

The scientists urge a diet shift towards fish and seafood in pursuit of sustainable low-carbon protein; they also want to see the fishing industry worldwide pursue lower emissions while optimising the sustainable global catch.

“Such large-scale shifts in food policy and behaviour are daunting,” they concede. But there would be considerable climate benefits.

And, they admit, there are “considerable challenges” to the idea that carbon dioxide captured at source could be safely and cheaply stored on the seabed for many thousands of years. But they say “the theoretical potential” is very high.

“For far too long, the ocean has been mostly absent from policy discussions about reducing carbon emissions and meeting the challenges of climate change,” they conclude.

“Ocean-based actions provide increased hope that reaching the 1.5°C target might be possible, along with addressing other societal challenges, including economic development, food security and coastal community resilience.” – Climate News Network

Coal-burning generators could swallow vital water

You need energy to develop. You also need water. So coal-burning generators that need water for cooling invite trouble.

LONDON, 24 September, 2019 – Economic development in Asia – hugely dependent on electricity from coal-burning generators – could be cramped by climate change.

That is because global heating could begin to constrain the supplies of water needed to cool thermal power installations.

So the generators that fuel global heating and the climate emergency by releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere could create conditions in which nations could begin to experience power shortages made more likely by the extra carbon dioxide pouring from their new power station chimneys.

Power plants in Asia already account for 37% of global electricity generation and 41% of carbon dioxide emissions because 64% of this energy is already generated from coal, according to a new study in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

And about 490 gigawatts of new coal-fired plant could be in operation by 2030 in China, south-east Asia, Mongolia and parts of India.

“What this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia”

“One of the impacts of climate change is that the weather is changing, which leads to more extreme events – more torrential downpours and more droughts,” said Jeffrey Bielicki, a civil engineer at the University of Ohio in the US, one of the authors.

“The power plants – coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants – require water for cooling, so when you don’t have the rain, you don’t have the stream flow, you can’t cool the power plant.”

He and European colleagues base their conclusions on simulations of what could happen to regional climate under conditions of rises in planetary average temperature of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

The first is the ambition agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015. The second is the upper limit that nations vowed to keep global temperatures to and the third is – so far – the temperature the planet is likely to reach by 2100 under present emissions scenarios.

That is simply because at a time when nations should already be closing fossil fuel power plants, more are being built. Global average temperatures in the last century have already risen by around 1°C.

Faltering reliability

The simulations found, inevitably, that more coal-fired generation would step up demand for water precisely as climate shifts due to ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would tend to reduce the reliability of water supply. Difficult decisions lie ahead.

“We know that coal power contributes significantly to global warming – more than almost any other electricity source – and what this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia,” said Edward Byers, of the energy programme of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

And Dr Bielicki said: “There is often a perceived tension between developing your economy and protecting the environment.

“Some of the results of this study are saying ‘Hey, we expect you’re going to run into problems, so you should selectively change your plans, but also thin out your existing power plants because, as you’re adding new power plants, you’re creating more competition for water.’

“Your economy needs water but your ecosystems and people need water too.” – Climate News Network

You need energy to develop. You also need water. So coal-burning generators that need water for cooling invite trouble.

LONDON, 24 September, 2019 – Economic development in Asia – hugely dependent on electricity from coal-burning generators – could be cramped by climate change.

That is because global heating could begin to constrain the supplies of water needed to cool thermal power installations.

So the generators that fuel global heating and the climate emergency by releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the planetary atmosphere could create conditions in which nations could begin to experience power shortages made more likely by the extra carbon dioxide pouring from their new power station chimneys.

Power plants in Asia already account for 37% of global electricity generation and 41% of carbon dioxide emissions because 64% of this energy is already generated from coal, according to a new study in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

And about 490 gigawatts of new coal-fired plant could be in operation by 2030 in China, south-east Asia, Mongolia and parts of India.

“What this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia”

“One of the impacts of climate change is that the weather is changing, which leads to more extreme events – more torrential downpours and more droughts,” said Jeffrey Bielicki, a civil engineer at the University of Ohio in the US, one of the authors.

“The power plants – coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants – require water for cooling, so when you don’t have the rain, you don’t have the stream flow, you can’t cool the power plant.”

He and European colleagues base their conclusions on simulations of what could happen to regional climate under conditions of rises in planetary average temperature of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

The first is the ambition agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015. The second is the upper limit that nations vowed to keep global temperatures to and the third is – so far – the temperature the planet is likely to reach by 2100 under present emissions scenarios.

That is simply because at a time when nations should already be closing fossil fuel power plants, more are being built. Global average temperatures in the last century have already risen by around 1°C.

Faltering reliability

The simulations found, inevitably, that more coal-fired generation would step up demand for water precisely as climate shifts due to ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would tend to reduce the reliability of water supply. Difficult decisions lie ahead.

“We know that coal power contributes significantly to global warming – more than almost any other electricity source – and what this study shows is that coal power development can expect reduced reliability in many locations across Asia,” said Edward Byers, of the energy programme of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

And Dr Bielicki said: “There is often a perceived tension between developing your economy and protecting the environment.

“Some of the results of this study are saying ‘Hey, we expect you’re going to run into problems, so you should selectively change your plans, but also thin out your existing power plants because, as you’re adding new power plants, you’re creating more competition for water.’

“Your economy needs water but your ecosystems and people need water too.” – Climate News Network

Extremes of global heat bring tipping points closer

It makes good business sense to contain planetary warming to 1.5°C. Passing the Paris target spells disaster, with more extremes of global heat.

LONDON, 23 September, 2019 – Urgent action on climate change will be costly. But inaction could be four or five times more expensive, according to new climate accounting: extremes of global heat are on the increase.

Submarine heatwaves happen three times more often that they did in 1980. Ocean warming events can devastate coral reefs and trigger even more damage from more intense acidification and oxygen loss in the seas, with disastrous consequences for fishery and seafood.

The ecosystems on which all living things – including humans – depend are shifting away from the tropics at up to 40kms a year. Extremes of torrential rainfall, drought and tropical cyclones are becoming measurably more intense.

And all this has happened because global mean surface temperatures have risen in the last century by about 1°C, thanks to ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a consequence of profligate use of fossil fuels to drive human expansion.

“People from small island states and low-lying countries are in the immediate crosshairs of climate change. I am very concerned about the future for these people”

Forecasts suggest humans could tip the planet to a rise of 1.5°C as early as 2030. This is the limit proposed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 when they promised to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century.

And now researchers once again warn in the journal Science that even the seemingly small gap between 1.5°C and 2°C could spell a colossal difference in long-term outcomes. Right now, the planet is on track to hit or surpass 3°C by 2100. The case for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is now more compelling and urgent than ever.

“First, we have under-estimated the sensitivity of natural and human systems to climate change and the speed at which these things are happening. Second, we have under-appreciated the synergistic nature of climate threats – with outcomes tending to be worse than the sum of the parts,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland in Australia, who led the study.

“This is resulting in rapid and comprehensive climate impacts, with growing damage to people, ecosystems and livelihoods.”

Harder to forecast

And Daniela Jacob, who directs Germany’s Climate Service Centre, added: “We are already in new territory. The ‘novelty’ of the weather is making our ability to forecast and respond to weather-related phenomena very difficult.”

The two scientists were part of a much larger world-wide team of researchers who looked at the risks that arrive with rapid change: damage to forests, farms and wildlife; to coastal communities as sea levels rise and storms multiply.

Their message is clear. There would be huge benefits to containing average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5C above the long-term average for most of human history.

“This is not an academic issue, it is a matter of life and death for people everywhere.” said Michael Taylor, dean of science at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica.

Weak commitments

“That said, people from small island states and low-lying countries are in the immediate crosshairs of climate change. I am very concerned about the future for these people.”

So far, the commitments made by most nations are simply too feeble. That risks condemning many nations to chaos and harm, and, as usual, those most vulnerable would be the poorest.

“To avoid this, we must accelerate action and tighten emission reduction targets so that they fall in line with the Paris Agreement. As we show, this is much less costly than suffering the impacts of 2°C or more of climate change,” said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.

“Tackling climate change is a tall order. However, there is no alternative from the perspective of human well-being − and too much at stake not to act urgently on this issue.” − Climate News Network

It makes good business sense to contain planetary warming to 1.5°C. Passing the Paris target spells disaster, with more extremes of global heat.

LONDON, 23 September, 2019 – Urgent action on climate change will be costly. But inaction could be four or five times more expensive, according to new climate accounting: extremes of global heat are on the increase.

Submarine heatwaves happen three times more often that they did in 1980. Ocean warming events can devastate coral reefs and trigger even more damage from more intense acidification and oxygen loss in the seas, with disastrous consequences for fishery and seafood.

The ecosystems on which all living things – including humans – depend are shifting away from the tropics at up to 40kms a year. Extremes of torrential rainfall, drought and tropical cyclones are becoming measurably more intense.

And all this has happened because global mean surface temperatures have risen in the last century by about 1°C, thanks to ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a consequence of profligate use of fossil fuels to drive human expansion.

“People from small island states and low-lying countries are in the immediate crosshairs of climate change. I am very concerned about the future for these people”

Forecasts suggest humans could tip the planet to a rise of 1.5°C as early as 2030. This is the limit proposed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 when they promised to keep global heating to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century.

And now researchers once again warn in the journal Science that even the seemingly small gap between 1.5°C and 2°C could spell a colossal difference in long-term outcomes. Right now, the planet is on track to hit or surpass 3°C by 2100. The case for drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is now more compelling and urgent than ever.

“First, we have under-estimated the sensitivity of natural and human systems to climate change and the speed at which these things are happening. Second, we have under-appreciated the synergistic nature of climate threats – with outcomes tending to be worse than the sum of the parts,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland in Australia, who led the study.

“This is resulting in rapid and comprehensive climate impacts, with growing damage to people, ecosystems and livelihoods.”

Harder to forecast

And Daniela Jacob, who directs Germany’s Climate Service Centre, added: “We are already in new territory. The ‘novelty’ of the weather is making our ability to forecast and respond to weather-related phenomena very difficult.”

The two scientists were part of a much larger world-wide team of researchers who looked at the risks that arrive with rapid change: damage to forests, farms and wildlife; to coastal communities as sea levels rise and storms multiply.

Their message is clear. There would be huge benefits to containing average global temperature rise to no more than 1.5C above the long-term average for most of human history.

“This is not an academic issue, it is a matter of life and death for people everywhere.” said Michael Taylor, dean of science at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica.

Weak commitments

“That said, people from small island states and low-lying countries are in the immediate crosshairs of climate change. I am very concerned about the future for these people.”

So far, the commitments made by most nations are simply too feeble. That risks condemning many nations to chaos and harm, and, as usual, those most vulnerable would be the poorest.

“To avoid this, we must accelerate action and tighten emission reduction targets so that they fall in line with the Paris Agreement. As we show, this is much less costly than suffering the impacts of 2°C or more of climate change,” said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.

“Tackling climate change is a tall order. However, there is no alternative from the perspective of human well-being − and too much at stake not to act urgently on this issue.” − Climate News Network

Climate models predict bigger heat rise ahead

Scientists using new climate models say a bigger heat rise than expected is possible by the end of the century.

LONDON, 18 September, 2019 − Greenhouse gases are raising the Earth’s temperature faster than previously thought, according to new climate models due to replace those used in current UN projections − meaning a bigger heat rise by 2100 than thought likely.

Separate models at two French research centres suggest that by then average global temperatures could have risen by 6.5 to 7.0°C above pre-industrial levels if carbon emissions continue at their present rate, the website phys.org reports.

Scientists − and most of the world’s governments − finalised the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, undertaking to keep the warming increase to a maximum of 2°C, and if possible to only 1.5°C.

Almost two years ago, a UN report deemed it “very likely” that global temperatures would reach 3°C by 2100, even if the Paris goals were fully implemented. But the French warning suggests a planet with double that predicted increase. And as the increase would be only an average, some parts of the world would be even more seriously affected.

“What we need to do to keep warming to safe levels is extremely simple. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to decline today rather than tomorrow, and global CO2 emissions should be brought to net zero”

“With our two models, we see that the scenario known as SSP1 2.6 − which normally allows us to stay under 2°C − doesn’t quite get us there,” Olivier Boucher, head of the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace climate modelling centre in Paris, told the French news agency AFP.

With barely one degree Celsius of warming so far, the world is already having to cope with more heat waves, droughts, floods and extreme weather, much of it made more destructive by rising seas.

Beyond Paris, a new generation of about 30 models known collectively as CMIP6 − including the two revealed by France − will underpin the sixth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): the full report is due in 2022.

“CMIP6 clearly includes the latest modelling improvements”, even as important uncertainties remain, Joeri Rogelj, an associate professor at Imperial College London and an IPCC lead author, told AFP.

More accurate

These include increased supercomputing power and sharper representations of weather systems, natural and man-made particles, and how clouds evolve in a warming world.

“We have better models now,” said Dr Boucher. “They have better resolution, and they represent current climate trends more accurately.”

A core finding of the new models is that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will warm the Earth’s surface more easily than earlier calculations had suggested. If confirmed, this higher “equilibrium climate sensitivity”, or ECS, means humanity’s carbon budget − our total emissions allowance − is likely to shrink.

The French models are among the first to be released, but others developed independently have come to the same unsettling conclusion, Dr Boucher said. “The most respected ones − from the United States, and Britain’s Met Office − also show a higher ECS” than the previous generation of models, he said.

Less adaptation time

“A higher ECS means a greater likelihood of reaching higher levels of global warming, even with deeper emissions cuts”, Boucher and two British scientists − Professor Stephen Belcher and Professor Rowan Sutton from the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science − wrote in a blog earlier this year.

“Higher warming would allow less time to adapt and mean a greater likelihood of passing climate ‘tipping points’ such as thawing of permafrost, which would further accelerate warming.”

“Unfortunately, our global failure to implement meaningful action on climate change over recent decades has put us in a situation where what we need to do to keep warming to safe levels is extremely simple”, said Dr Rogelj.

“Global greenhouse gas emissions need to decline today rather than tomorrow, and global CO2 emissions should be brought to net zero.” − Climate News Network

Scientists using new climate models say a bigger heat rise than expected is possible by the end of the century.

LONDON, 18 September, 2019 − Greenhouse gases are raising the Earth’s temperature faster than previously thought, according to new climate models due to replace those used in current UN projections − meaning a bigger heat rise by 2100 than thought likely.

Separate models at two French research centres suggest that by then average global temperatures could have risen by 6.5 to 7.0°C above pre-industrial levels if carbon emissions continue at their present rate, the website phys.org reports.

Scientists − and most of the world’s governments − finalised the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, undertaking to keep the warming increase to a maximum of 2°C, and if possible to only 1.5°C.

Almost two years ago, a UN report deemed it “very likely” that global temperatures would reach 3°C by 2100, even if the Paris goals were fully implemented. But the French warning suggests a planet with double that predicted increase. And as the increase would be only an average, some parts of the world would be even more seriously affected.

“What we need to do to keep warming to safe levels is extremely simple. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to decline today rather than tomorrow, and global CO2 emissions should be brought to net zero”

“With our two models, we see that the scenario known as SSP1 2.6 − which normally allows us to stay under 2°C − doesn’t quite get us there,” Olivier Boucher, head of the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace climate modelling centre in Paris, told the French news agency AFP.

With barely one degree Celsius of warming so far, the world is already having to cope with more heat waves, droughts, floods and extreme weather, much of it made more destructive by rising seas.

Beyond Paris, a new generation of about 30 models known collectively as CMIP6 − including the two revealed by France − will underpin the sixth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): the full report is due in 2022.

“CMIP6 clearly includes the latest modelling improvements”, even as important uncertainties remain, Joeri Rogelj, an associate professor at Imperial College London and an IPCC lead author, told AFP.

More accurate

These include increased supercomputing power and sharper representations of weather systems, natural and man-made particles, and how clouds evolve in a warming world.

“We have better models now,” said Dr Boucher. “They have better resolution, and they represent current climate trends more accurately.”

A core finding of the new models is that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will warm the Earth’s surface more easily than earlier calculations had suggested. If confirmed, this higher “equilibrium climate sensitivity”, or ECS, means humanity’s carbon budget − our total emissions allowance − is likely to shrink.

The French models are among the first to be released, but others developed independently have come to the same unsettling conclusion, Dr Boucher said. “The most respected ones − from the United States, and Britain’s Met Office − also show a higher ECS” than the previous generation of models, he said.

Less adaptation time

“A higher ECS means a greater likelihood of reaching higher levels of global warming, even with deeper emissions cuts”, Boucher and two British scientists − Professor Stephen Belcher and Professor Rowan Sutton from the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science − wrote in a blog earlier this year.

“Higher warming would allow less time to adapt and mean a greater likelihood of passing climate ‘tipping points’ such as thawing of permafrost, which would further accelerate warming.”

“Unfortunately, our global failure to implement meaningful action on climate change over recent decades has put us in a situation where what we need to do to keep warming to safe levels is extremely simple”, said Dr Rogelj.

“Global greenhouse gas emissions need to decline today rather than tomorrow, and global CO2 emissions should be brought to net zero.” − Climate News Network

Healthcare can worsen global climate crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use is growing

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

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

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

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

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

Other remedies available

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use is growing

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

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

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

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

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

Other remedies available

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

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

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

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

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

Jakarta’s sea level prompts a move – at a price

For its people, Jakarta’s sea level is a nagging anxiety. But moving the Indonesian capital 1,000 kms to safety will be horribly costly.

LONDON, 9 September, 2019 – Spare a thought for the poorer residents of Jakarta, Indonesia’s sprawling capital city.

If your house on the Indonesian coast is threatened by the ocean because of climate change, then maybe – if you’re lucky and wealthy enough – a move to higher ground further inland may be possible.

But what happens when a whole city, with millions of people, is threatened by rising seas?

Jakarta has a population of more than 10 million. Established as the capital of what was the Dutch East Indies in the 17th century, the city is built on swamp land on the north-west coast of the island of Java.

But not only is Jakarta threatened by rising sea levels: rapid, largely unplanned expansion and building work has resulted in the city becoming, according to experts, one of the fastest-sinking urban areas in the world.

It’s estimated that up to 40% of the area of Jakarta is now below sea level. In northern districts of the city bordering the sea, rising sea levels are threatening many neighbourhoods, and flooding is common.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”

Attempts at tackling the issue have so far made little impact. A scheme designed to keep seawater out involving the construction of a 32 kilometre-long outer sea wall called the Great Garuda and 17 artificial islands straddling Jakarta Bay has been subject to long delays and finance problems.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”, says Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president.

Ongoing extraction of groundwater from beneath the city is another serious problem, leading to frequent land subsidence.

Parts of Jakarta are sinking by as much as 25 cms each year. Experts say that in some areas the land has sunk by 2.5 metres over the last 10 years.

Now the Indonesian government is taking radical action. It’s announced plans to move the country’s capital elsewhere – to more than 1,000 kms away in East Kalimantan, on the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo.

Five years to completion

Officials talk of creating a “smart and forest” city; the project, which has an initial price tag of US$33 billion (466,650 bn Rupiah), will involve the foundation of a new administrative capital, with up to 1.5 million civil servants being relocated.

Jakarta will retain its role as Indonesia’s commercial and financial hub. The government says work on the new city is due to begin in two years’ time and to be completed by 2024.

The construction of the new capital might go some way to settle one set of problems, but is likely to give birth to others.

The island of Borneo – shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and the small state of Brunei – contains one of the world’s largest remaining rain forests, a carbon sink which soaks up vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

In the early 1970s three quarters of Borneo was covered in rainforest. By 2010, the forests had shrunk by more than 30%, with huge areas logged or given over to palm oil plantations.

Orangutans killed

Large areas of peat – another vital repository for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-changing carbon – have also been destroyed. Indonesia has undertaken several coal-mining projects in its part of the island.

As the forests have been chopped down, wildlife has suffered. Numbers of orangutan have dropped by an estimated 100,000 over the past 20 years.

Despite pledges by the Indonesian government to build a sustainable “green” city and carry out various environmental surveys, many are sceptical about the building of the new capital.

Experts point out that many environmentally important areas of Borneo have already been destroyed by haphazard, badly planned development projects. They say the new plans, including the construction of a whole city, are only going to make the situation worse.

The daunting prospect facing Jakarta is likely to confront many other countries within the next few decades. Last month US researchers said the rising threat of flooding caused by climate change meant Americans should prepare for managed retreat from their own coasts. – Climate News Network

For its people, Jakarta’s sea level is a nagging anxiety. But moving the Indonesian capital 1,000 kms to safety will be horribly costly.

LONDON, 9 September, 2019 – Spare a thought for the poorer residents of Jakarta, Indonesia’s sprawling capital city.

If your house on the Indonesian coast is threatened by the ocean because of climate change, then maybe – if you’re lucky and wealthy enough – a move to higher ground further inland may be possible.

But what happens when a whole city, with millions of people, is threatened by rising seas?

Jakarta has a population of more than 10 million. Established as the capital of what was the Dutch East Indies in the 17th century, the city is built on swamp land on the north-west coast of the island of Java.

But not only is Jakarta threatened by rising sea levels: rapid, largely unplanned expansion and building work has resulted in the city becoming, according to experts, one of the fastest-sinking urban areas in the world.

It’s estimated that up to 40% of the area of Jakarta is now below sea level. In northern districts of the city bordering the sea, rising sea levels are threatening many neighbourhoods, and flooding is common.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”

Attempts at tackling the issue have so far made little impact. A scheme designed to keep seawater out involving the construction of a 32 kilometre-long outer sea wall called the Great Garuda and 17 artificial islands straddling Jakarta Bay has been subject to long delays and finance problems.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”, says Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president.

Ongoing extraction of groundwater from beneath the city is another serious problem, leading to frequent land subsidence.

Parts of Jakarta are sinking by as much as 25 cms each year. Experts say that in some areas the land has sunk by 2.5 metres over the last 10 years.

Now the Indonesian government is taking radical action. It’s announced plans to move the country’s capital elsewhere – to more than 1,000 kms away in East Kalimantan, on the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo.

Five years to completion

Officials talk of creating a “smart and forest” city; the project, which has an initial price tag of US$33 billion (466,650 bn Rupiah), will involve the foundation of a new administrative capital, with up to 1.5 million civil servants being relocated.

Jakarta will retain its role as Indonesia’s commercial and financial hub. The government says work on the new city is due to begin in two years’ time and to be completed by 2024.

The construction of the new capital might go some way to settle one set of problems, but is likely to give birth to others.

The island of Borneo – shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and the small state of Brunei – contains one of the world’s largest remaining rain forests, a carbon sink which soaks up vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

In the early 1970s three quarters of Borneo was covered in rainforest. By 2010, the forests had shrunk by more than 30%, with huge areas logged or given over to palm oil plantations.

Orangutans killed

Large areas of peat – another vital repository for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-changing carbon – have also been destroyed. Indonesia has undertaken several coal-mining projects in its part of the island.

As the forests have been chopped down, wildlife has suffered. Numbers of orangutan have dropped by an estimated 100,000 over the past 20 years.

Despite pledges by the Indonesian government to build a sustainable “green” city and carry out various environmental surveys, many are sceptical about the building of the new capital.

Experts point out that many environmentally important areas of Borneo have already been destroyed by haphazard, badly planned development projects. They say the new plans, including the construction of a whole city, are only going to make the situation worse.

The daunting prospect facing Jakarta is likely to confront many other countries within the next few decades. Last month US researchers said the rising threat of flooding caused by climate change meant Americans should prepare for managed retreat from their own coasts. – Climate News Network

Paris climate accord awaits Russian backing

Reports from Moscow suggest that Russia will announce its support for the Paris climate accord before the end of 2019.

LONDON, 30 August, 2019 − Officials in Moscow say the Russian government plans, after several years’ hesitation, to ratify the global agreement, the Paris climate accord, within the next few months.

Enough countries had completed the ratification process for the Agreement to enter into force in 2016, so Russia’s long-awaited move will make little practical difference to efforts to strengthen progress through the Paris Agreement towards a net zero economy.

But Russia is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases to have failed so far to ratify the Agreement, signed by 195 countries in December 2015, so its move may have some effect in spurring on other laggards. Ratification defines the international act by which a country agrees to be bound by an accord like the Paris Agreement.

Angelina Davydova, a Russian journalist who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, told the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW) journalism network that a Russian announcement is expected before the end of 2019.

Urgency missed

It will probably come either during the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate summit in New York on 23 September or during the next annual UN climate conference (COP-25) in Chile in December, she said.

Probably more remarkable than the ratification itself is what it will say about the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement, which already faces widespread criticism for its slow progress towards achieving greenhouse gas emissions cuts that reflect the growing urgency of the climate crisis.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organisations which have been tracking climate action since 2009. It checks progress towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming to well below 2°C, and trying to limit it to 1.5°C.

It says Russia’s present course on cutting emissions is “critically insufficient”, CAT’s lowest rating. If all governments’ targets for cuts matched Russia’s, it says, the world would be committed to warming by more than 4°C − over twice the upper limit agreed in Paris, and likely to prove catastrophic for much of the world.

“The vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required”

In its Mid-Year Update, published last June, CAT provides a wider perspective, setting Russia’s lacklustre performance in a global context. It says: “2018 saw energy-related emissions reach yet another historic high after significant net greenhouse gas increases, 85% of which came from the US, India and China.

“Coal reversed its recent decline and was responsible for over a third of CO2 emissions. At the same time there was a huge 4.6% surge in natural gas CO2 emissions and an associated rise in atmospheric methane.

“This, plus a stagnation in the number of renewable energy installations, make it clear that governments must do a lot more to address the climate crisis…

“…the vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required, especially given that global emissions need to halve by 2030 in order to keep the goal of 1.5°C alive.”

Lack of ambition

Davydova sees progress in Russia, but recognises that it is slow. She said the country’s coal and steel lobby was more or less persuaded that it was “not that threatened” by the ratification. “Russia still has very unambitious climate goals (the target is actually below what we have now)”, she said.

“But overall, climate change is becoming more of an important topic on the political and public agenda. There is increasing concern about climate change, mainly in the form of estimations of risks and need for adaptation.”

President Vladimir Putin acknowledged recently that climate change is dangerous for Russia. “But he also said renewables (solar and wind in particular) might not be that beneficial for Russia, since the country has so much oil and gas and needs to make use of [them]”.

Davydova added. “Russia is far less of a climate sceptic than it used to be … we even have a youth climate movement now, and there are Fridays for Future demonstrations running in Moscow and a number of other cities.” − Climate News Network

Reports from Moscow suggest that Russia will announce its support for the Paris climate accord before the end of 2019.

LONDON, 30 August, 2019 − Officials in Moscow say the Russian government plans, after several years’ hesitation, to ratify the global agreement, the Paris climate accord, within the next few months.

Enough countries had completed the ratification process for the Agreement to enter into force in 2016, so Russia’s long-awaited move will make little practical difference to efforts to strengthen progress through the Paris Agreement towards a net zero economy.

But Russia is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases to have failed so far to ratify the Agreement, signed by 195 countries in December 2015, so its move may have some effect in spurring on other laggards. Ratification defines the international act by which a country agrees to be bound by an accord like the Paris Agreement.

Angelina Davydova, a Russian journalist who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, told the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW) journalism network that a Russian announcement is expected before the end of 2019.

Urgency missed

It will probably come either during the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate summit in New York on 23 September or during the next annual UN climate conference (COP-25) in Chile in December, she said.

Probably more remarkable than the ratification itself is what it will say about the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement, which already faces widespread criticism for its slow progress towards achieving greenhouse gas emissions cuts that reflect the growing urgency of the climate crisis.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organisations which have been tracking climate action since 2009. It checks progress towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming to well below 2°C, and trying to limit it to 1.5°C.

It says Russia’s present course on cutting emissions is “critically insufficient”, CAT’s lowest rating. If all governments’ targets for cuts matched Russia’s, it says, the world would be committed to warming by more than 4°C − over twice the upper limit agreed in Paris, and likely to prove catastrophic for much of the world.

“The vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required”

In its Mid-Year Update, published last June, CAT provides a wider perspective, setting Russia’s lacklustre performance in a global context. It says: “2018 saw energy-related emissions reach yet another historic high after significant net greenhouse gas increases, 85% of which came from the US, India and China.

“Coal reversed its recent decline and was responsible for over a third of CO2 emissions. At the same time there was a huge 4.6% surge in natural gas CO2 emissions and an associated rise in atmospheric methane.

“This, plus a stagnation in the number of renewable energy installations, make it clear that governments must do a lot more to address the climate crisis…

“…the vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required, especially given that global emissions need to halve by 2030 in order to keep the goal of 1.5°C alive.”

Lack of ambition

Davydova sees progress in Russia, but recognises that it is slow. She said the country’s coal and steel lobby was more or less persuaded that it was “not that threatened” by the ratification. “Russia still has very unambitious climate goals (the target is actually below what we have now)”, she said.

“But overall, climate change is becoming more of an important topic on the political and public agenda. There is increasing concern about climate change, mainly in the form of estimations of risks and need for adaptation.”

President Vladimir Putin acknowledged recently that climate change is dangerous for Russia. “But he also said renewables (solar and wind in particular) might not be that beneficial for Russia, since the country has so much oil and gas and needs to make use of [them]”.

Davydova added. “Russia is far less of a climate sceptic than it used to be … we even have a youth climate movement now, and there are Fridays for Future demonstrations running in Moscow and a number of other cities.” − Climate News Network