Tag Archives: Greenhouse Gases

UK premier faces court over Covid-19 recovery

Boris Johnson, the UK premier, may face a humiliating day in court over his plans to save the country’s economy from the Covid-19 crisis.



LONDON, 10 July, 2020 − The UK premier, Boris Johnson, risks a summons to court in a challenge to his government’s Covid-19 recovery plans to extricate the United Kingdom economy from the emergency.

The climate litigation charity, Plan B, which recently blocked the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport through the courts, is now threatening the government with legal action over its Covid plans, saying they ignore the scientific and economic advice to move to a sustainable economy.

The charity says the challenge is intended to oblige the government to tell the truth. It says continuing to treat the climate emergency as a competing priority to Covid recovery would be “a treasonous betrayal.”

Plan B describes the official recovery plans as “a new deal for polluters”, which would lock the UK into a disastrous trajectory towards a world with average temperatures 4˚C hotter than historic levels, implying the loss of billions of human lives.

In 2016 the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body set up to advise Parliament on progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change, issued a warning. It said in a report that year that there would be “at least a small chance of 4°C or more of warming by 2100.”

Prudence forgotten

By 2019 the CCC was arguing more urgently to prepare for the worst, but with scant sign that the government was listening.

It said: “It is prudent to plan adaptation strategies for a scenario of 4°C, but there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C. Government cannot hide from these risks.”

The consequences of a 4°C rise could be devastating for the natural world. For humans they would be at least as bad. Plan B says in its letter to the prime minister and his colleagues that those on the frontline would include marginalised communities, younger people and those in the Global South.

Pursuing its present course, the charity says, would breach the government’s legal obligations to implement a net-zero policy on carbon emissions, and to uphold the Paris Agreement on climate change (which enshrined a maximum warming limit of 2°C while hoping for 1.5°C) and the right to life.

On 5 June this year the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, published in the Guardian an opinion piece, co-written with his predecessor Mark Carney and counterparts from France and Holland, which concluded: “We have a choice: rebuild the old economy, locking in temperature increases of 4˚C with extreme climate disruption; or build back better, preserving our planet for generations to come.”

“There will be no second chance … this reckless government is on the verge of completing its betrayal of the people of this country”

On 30 June Mr Johnson dismissed environmental protections as  “a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country”.

The following day Andrew Bailey wrote: “The Bank’s lending to companies as part of the emergency response to Covid-19 has not incorporated a test based on climate considerations. This was deliberate, because in such a grave emergency affecting this country we have focused on the immediate priority of supporting the jobs and livelihoods of the people of this country…”

Tim Crosland, formerly the head of cyber, prevention and information law at the UK’s National Crime Agency, is the director of Plan B. He says: “It’s vital that people understand the significance of what’s happening.

“There will be no second chance … this reckless government is on the verge of completing its betrayal of the people of this country.”

Dr Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, says the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement require the government to aim to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030.

Moving swiftly

This is possible, but analysts say it can be done only if the post-Covid recovery process is calibrated to stay in line with this objective, or at least with the government’s own legally-binding 2050 target.

Plan B’s first step has been to send an informal “Letter before Action” to the government. If it does not receive a satisfactory response soon, it says, it will issue a formal letter giving the recipients a chance to correct any misunderstandings, or to reveal a change of direction, and so avoid the process of litigation.

This formal action would be a claim for judicial review, perhaps for example focusing on the role of the Bank of England. No later than by early August, Plan B would expect to have received a reply.

Tim Crosland told the Climate News Network: “Unless we see a fundamental change of approach from the government, which puts the transition to a sustainable economy at the centre of the recovery, this is likely to proceed to court.”

Once the charity has received the response to its formal letter it will file its claim with the High Court, where a judge will decide whether it can go to a full hearing. If that is refused, Plan B will have the right to appeal.

Truth required

The deadline is close. Plan B’s letter to the government ends: “If we do not hear from you by 17 July, with a clear explanation of how your Covid recovery programme will support the net-zero target and the Paris Agreement, we will have no option but to commence legal action.”

The UK is due to host the next annual UN climate conference, COP-26,  (postponed from this year until November 2021) in the Scottish city of Glasgow. A court clash on the grounds specified by Plan B would leave the government risking deep humiliation there.

In February 2020 the Court of Appeal found unanimously in favour of Plan B’s challenge to the government’s intention to build a third runway at Heathrow, setting a precedent with global implications.

Crosland said: “The Heathrow case … was about much more than the third  runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth.

“It can’t keep telling us it’s committed to the Paris Agreement temperature limit, if its actions say the opposite.” − Climate News Network

Boris Johnson, the UK premier, may face a humiliating day in court over his plans to save the country’s economy from the Covid-19 crisis.



LONDON, 10 July, 2020 − The UK premier, Boris Johnson, risks a summons to court in a challenge to his government’s Covid-19 recovery plans to extricate the United Kingdom economy from the emergency.

The climate litigation charity, Plan B, which recently blocked the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport through the courts, is now threatening the government with legal action over its Covid plans, saying they ignore the scientific and economic advice to move to a sustainable economy.

The charity says the challenge is intended to oblige the government to tell the truth. It says continuing to treat the climate emergency as a competing priority to Covid recovery would be “a treasonous betrayal.”

Plan B describes the official recovery plans as “a new deal for polluters”, which would lock the UK into a disastrous trajectory towards a world with average temperatures 4˚C hotter than historic levels, implying the loss of billions of human lives.

In 2016 the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body set up to advise Parliament on progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change, issued a warning. It said in a report that year that there would be “at least a small chance of 4°C or more of warming by 2100.”

Prudence forgotten

By 2019 the CCC was arguing more urgently to prepare for the worst, but with scant sign that the government was listening.

It said: “It is prudent to plan adaptation strategies for a scenario of 4°C, but there is little evidence of adaptation planning for even 2°C. Government cannot hide from these risks.”

The consequences of a 4°C rise could be devastating for the natural world. For humans they would be at least as bad. Plan B says in its letter to the prime minister and his colleagues that those on the frontline would include marginalised communities, younger people and those in the Global South.

Pursuing its present course, the charity says, would breach the government’s legal obligations to implement a net-zero policy on carbon emissions, and to uphold the Paris Agreement on climate change (which enshrined a maximum warming limit of 2°C while hoping for 1.5°C) and the right to life.

On 5 June this year the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, published in the Guardian an opinion piece, co-written with his predecessor Mark Carney and counterparts from France and Holland, which concluded: “We have a choice: rebuild the old economy, locking in temperature increases of 4˚C with extreme climate disruption; or build back better, preserving our planet for generations to come.”

“There will be no second chance … this reckless government is on the verge of completing its betrayal of the people of this country”

On 30 June Mr Johnson dismissed environmental protections as  “a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country”.

The following day Andrew Bailey wrote: “The Bank’s lending to companies as part of the emergency response to Covid-19 has not incorporated a test based on climate considerations. This was deliberate, because in such a grave emergency affecting this country we have focused on the immediate priority of supporting the jobs and livelihoods of the people of this country…”

Tim Crosland, formerly the head of cyber, prevention and information law at the UK’s National Crime Agency, is the director of Plan B. He says: “It’s vital that people understand the significance of what’s happening.

“There will be no second chance … this reckless government is on the verge of completing its betrayal of the people of this country.”

Dr Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, says the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement require the government to aim to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030.

Moving swiftly

This is possible, but analysts say it can be done only if the post-Covid recovery process is calibrated to stay in line with this objective, or at least with the government’s own legally-binding 2050 target.

Plan B’s first step has been to send an informal “Letter before Action” to the government. If it does not receive a satisfactory response soon, it says, it will issue a formal letter giving the recipients a chance to correct any misunderstandings, or to reveal a change of direction, and so avoid the process of litigation.

This formal action would be a claim for judicial review, perhaps for example focusing on the role of the Bank of England. No later than by early August, Plan B would expect to have received a reply.

Tim Crosland told the Climate News Network: “Unless we see a fundamental change of approach from the government, which puts the transition to a sustainable economy at the centre of the recovery, this is likely to proceed to court.”

Once the charity has received the response to its formal letter it will file its claim with the High Court, where a judge will decide whether it can go to a full hearing. If that is refused, Plan B will have the right to appeal.

Truth required

The deadline is close. Plan B’s letter to the government ends: “If we do not hear from you by 17 July, with a clear explanation of how your Covid recovery programme will support the net-zero target and the Paris Agreement, we will have no option but to commence legal action.”

The UK is due to host the next annual UN climate conference, COP-26,  (postponed from this year until November 2021) in the Scottish city of Glasgow. A court clash on the grounds specified by Plan B would leave the government risking deep humiliation there.

In February 2020 the Court of Appeal found unanimously in favour of Plan B’s challenge to the government’s intention to build a third runway at Heathrow, setting a precedent with global implications.

Crosland said: “The Heathrow case … was about much more than the third  runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth.

“It can’t keep telling us it’s committed to the Paris Agreement temperature limit, if its actions say the opposite.” − Climate News Network

Ireland looks forward to a greener future

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Ocean sensitivity may lower carbon emissions cuts

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

Clean ships needed now to cut polluting emissions

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

‘Climate progressives’ fail on Paris carbon target

Even states seen as “climate progressives” are far from meeting their global commitments to avert dangerous climate change.

LONDON, 19 June, 2020 − Nations which pride themselves on their zeal in tackling climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions as they have promised, the so-called “climate progressives”, are a long way from living up to their promises, scientists say.

They say the annual rate that emissions are expected to be cut is less than half of that needed, and suggest the UK should reduce them by 10% each year, starting this year. It also needs to achieve a fully zero-carbon energy system by around 2035, they say, not 2050 as UK law requires.

The study was led by Kevin Anderson from the University of Manchester,  and is published in the journal Climate Policy.

Research focusing on the United Kingdom and Sweden concluded that despite both countries claiming to have world-leading climate legislation, their planned reductions in emissions will still be two to three times greater than their fair share of a global carbon budget which complies with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Under the Agreement, reached in Paris in 2015, 195 countries accepted a commitment to reduce emissions in line with holding the increase in global temperature above historic levels to “well below 2°C and to pursue 1.5°C.”

“We have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users”

Global modelling studies, the researchers say, have repeatedly concluded that such commitments can be delivered through national governments making adjustments to contemporary society, mainly based on price mechanisms to drive technical change.

But as emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to rise, these models have come to rely increasingly on the extensive deployment of what the authors judiciously call “highly speculative negative emissions technologies” (NETs), often known under the umbrella title of carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration.

That may prove necessary, although many experts harbour doubts and are not convinced NETs can cut emissions fast enough, even assuming they work on the scale needed.

Professor Anderson said the study showed how experts had underestimated the difficulty of tackling the climate crisis: “Academics have done an excellent job in understanding and communicating climate science, but the same cannot be said in relation to reducing emissions.

“Here we have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users. Our paper brings this failure into sharp focus.”

Misleading belief

The research team of climate scientists asked how close the UK and Sweden are to meeting the UN’s climate commitments if the “safe” quantity of emissions, the global carbon budget, is shared fairly between “developing” and “developed” countries.

John Broderick, a co-author from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said: “This work makes clear just how important issues of fairness are when dividing the global carbon budget between wealthier and poorer nations.

“It also draws attention to how a belief in the delivery of untested technologies has undermined the depth of mitigation required today.”

Isak Stoddard, the Swedish author of the paper, said: “Our conservative analysis demonstrates just how far removed the rhetoric on climate change is from our Paris-compliant carbon budgets.

“For almost two decades we have deluded ourselves that ongoing small adjustments to business as usual will deliver a timely zero-carbon future for our children.” − Climate News Network

Even states seen as “climate progressives” are far from meeting their global commitments to avert dangerous climate change.

LONDON, 19 June, 2020 − Nations which pride themselves on their zeal in tackling climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions as they have promised, the so-called “climate progressives”, are a long way from living up to their promises, scientists say.

They say the annual rate that emissions are expected to be cut is less than half of that needed, and suggest the UK should reduce them by 10% each year, starting this year. It also needs to achieve a fully zero-carbon energy system by around 2035, they say, not 2050 as UK law requires.

The study was led by Kevin Anderson from the University of Manchester,  and is published in the journal Climate Policy.

Research focusing on the United Kingdom and Sweden concluded that despite both countries claiming to have world-leading climate legislation, their planned reductions in emissions will still be two to three times greater than their fair share of a global carbon budget which complies with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Under the Agreement, reached in Paris in 2015, 195 countries accepted a commitment to reduce emissions in line with holding the increase in global temperature above historic levels to “well below 2°C and to pursue 1.5°C.”

“We have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users”

Global modelling studies, the researchers say, have repeatedly concluded that such commitments can be delivered through national governments making adjustments to contemporary society, mainly based on price mechanisms to drive technical change.

But as emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to rise, these models have come to rely increasingly on the extensive deployment of what the authors judiciously call “highly speculative negative emissions technologies” (NETs), often known under the umbrella title of carbon capture and storage (CCS), or carbon sequestration.

That may prove necessary, although many experts harbour doubts and are not convinced NETs can cut emissions fast enough, even assuming they work on the scale needed.

Professor Anderson said the study showed how experts had underestimated the difficulty of tackling the climate crisis: “Academics have done an excellent job in understanding and communicating climate science, but the same cannot be said in relation to reducing emissions.

“Here we have collectively denied the necessary scale of mitigation, running scared of calling for fundamental changes to both our energy system and the lifestyles of high-energy users. Our paper brings this failure into sharp focus.”

Misleading belief

The research team of climate scientists asked how close the UK and Sweden are to meeting the UN’s climate commitments if the “safe” quantity of emissions, the global carbon budget, is shared fairly between “developing” and “developed” countries.

John Broderick, a co-author from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said: “This work makes clear just how important issues of fairness are when dividing the global carbon budget between wealthier and poorer nations.

“It also draws attention to how a belief in the delivery of untested technologies has undermined the depth of mitigation required today.”

Isak Stoddard, the Swedish author of the paper, said: “Our conservative analysis demonstrates just how far removed the rhetoric on climate change is from our Paris-compliant carbon budgets.

“For almost two decades we have deluded ourselves that ongoing small adjustments to business as usual will deliver a timely zero-carbon future for our children.” − Climate News Network

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

3 bn people may face Saharan heat levels by 2070

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

There is space for carbon storage underground

Capturing it remains a challenge. But there should be no lack of  permanent safe carbon storage underground.

LONDON, 27 May, 2020 – There is plenty of room for more of the main greenhouse gas on this planet – as long as it’s caught and trapped in carbon storage underground. New research confirms that when it comes to storage space, there should be no problem about carbon capture and sequestration, known to climate engineers as simply CCS.

Carbon capture is written into intergovernmental plans to combat climate change: the theory is that in addition to stepping up investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind power, existing power plants that run on coal, oil and gas could trap the waste carbon dioxide and literally take it out of atmospheric circulation.

How and on what scale this could be done is still a matter for global debate. But at least there is no problem about whether there is safe storage for the compressed and liquefied greenhouse gas.

New analysis from two scientists at Imperial College London in the journal Energy & Environmental Science suggests that if capture and storage accelerates now and continues at a growing rate, along with other recommended action, then no more than about 2,700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be pumped back down abandoned oil shafts and other reservoirs, to keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is an international target agreed in Paris in 2015.

Differences persist

Since most calculations conclude that there could be available subterranean storage space for around 10,000 billion tonnes of the gas, this suggests that storage itself is not the problem.

CCS sounds like a good idea: the prosecution of that idea has been contentious. Some climate scientists have worried that it is a distraction from the real challenge: to stop burning coal, oil and gas.

Others have been concerned with the lack of public investment; yet others have been troubled by the bigger question of whether a potentially volatile greenhouse gas can be kept in the ground safely for many thousands of years.

So CCS is at most only part of the answer to the problem: nations still have to make the switch to renewable sources, use all energy more efficiently, adjust global dietary demand and take steps to restore the world’s great forests to prevent climate catastrophe: one in which planetary average temperatures surpass 3°C, and sea levels rise by up to a metre before the end of the century.

“Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space”

The first attempts to store industrial carbon dioxide exhaust began in Norway in 1996 and although progress has been faltering, over the past 20 years capacity has grown by 8.6% to about 40 million tonnes a year: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now incorporates CCS as part of the mix of actions needed to contain runaway climate change.

The gap is colossal: right now the world emits 37 billion tonnes, or 37 Gt, of the greenhouse gas every year into the atmosphere to drive ever-faster planetary warning. The technology has a long way to go.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to 2°C require tens of gigatonnes of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now we didn’t know if these targets were achievable, given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage requirements,” said Christopher Zahasky, who did the study at Imperial College but who has now moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Who will pay?

The researchers considered not the space available but the pace of CCS advance: the faster carbon dioxide is safely stowed away, the less the overall need for subterranean hideaway space. But finally, the answer depends on all the other challenges presented by climate change.

“Our analysis shows good news for CCS if we keep up with this trajectory,” said Samuel Krevor of Imperial College, a co-author. “But there are many other factors in mitigating climate change and its catastrophic effects, like using cleaner energy and transport as well as significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use.”

Commenting on the study, Myles Allen, a geoscientist at the University of Oxford, said: “The good news, from this paper, is that there is a solution.

“The bad news is that CO2 capture and disposal is still completely dependent on public money, which will be in short supply over the coming decade. We have to work out other ways of scaling it up.” – Climate News Network

Capturing it remains a challenge. But there should be no lack of  permanent safe carbon storage underground.

LONDON, 27 May, 2020 – There is plenty of room for more of the main greenhouse gas on this planet – as long as it’s caught and trapped in carbon storage underground. New research confirms that when it comes to storage space, there should be no problem about carbon capture and sequestration, known to climate engineers as simply CCS.

Carbon capture is written into intergovernmental plans to combat climate change: the theory is that in addition to stepping up investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind power, existing power plants that run on coal, oil and gas could trap the waste carbon dioxide and literally take it out of atmospheric circulation.

How and on what scale this could be done is still a matter for global debate. But at least there is no problem about whether there is safe storage for the compressed and liquefied greenhouse gas.

New analysis from two scientists at Imperial College London in the journal Energy & Environmental Science suggests that if capture and storage accelerates now and continues at a growing rate, along with other recommended action, then no more than about 2,700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be pumped back down abandoned oil shafts and other reservoirs, to keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is an international target agreed in Paris in 2015.

Differences persist

Since most calculations conclude that there could be available subterranean storage space for around 10,000 billion tonnes of the gas, this suggests that storage itself is not the problem.

CCS sounds like a good idea: the prosecution of that idea has been contentious. Some climate scientists have worried that it is a distraction from the real challenge: to stop burning coal, oil and gas.

Others have been concerned with the lack of public investment; yet others have been troubled by the bigger question of whether a potentially volatile greenhouse gas can be kept in the ground safely for many thousands of years.

So CCS is at most only part of the answer to the problem: nations still have to make the switch to renewable sources, use all energy more efficiently, adjust global dietary demand and take steps to restore the world’s great forests to prevent climate catastrophe: one in which planetary average temperatures surpass 3°C, and sea levels rise by up to a metre before the end of the century.

“Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space”

The first attempts to store industrial carbon dioxide exhaust began in Norway in 1996 and although progress has been faltering, over the past 20 years capacity has grown by 8.6% to about 40 million tonnes a year: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now incorporates CCS as part of the mix of actions needed to contain runaway climate change.

The gap is colossal: right now the world emits 37 billion tonnes, or 37 Gt, of the greenhouse gas every year into the atmosphere to drive ever-faster planetary warning. The technology has a long way to go.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to 2°C require tens of gigatonnes of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now we didn’t know if these targets were achievable, given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage requirements,” said Christopher Zahasky, who did the study at Imperial College but who has now moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Who will pay?

The researchers considered not the space available but the pace of CCS advance: the faster carbon dioxide is safely stowed away, the less the overall need for subterranean hideaway space. But finally, the answer depends on all the other challenges presented by climate change.

“Our analysis shows good news for CCS if we keep up with this trajectory,” said Samuel Krevor of Imperial College, a co-author. “But there are many other factors in mitigating climate change and its catastrophic effects, like using cleaner energy and transport as well as significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use.”

Commenting on the study, Myles Allen, a geoscientist at the University of Oxford, said: “The good news, from this paper, is that there is a solution.

“The bad news is that CO2 capture and disposal is still completely dependent on public money, which will be in short supply over the coming decade. We have to work out other ways of scaling it up.” – Climate News Network

Increasingly arid future faces the American West

Climate change will take its toll of the US. The evidence repeatedly points to an ever more arid future for the American West.

LONDON, May 26, 2020 – The great American West is becoming inexorably more parched, with an inescapably arid future ahead. The winter snows will be lighter, and the spring melt much earlier. The river flows will slow, in some cases to a trickle, trees will die, and catastrophic wildfires will become more frequent. Agricultural harvests will be affected, and droughts will become more protracted.

The trend is clear and – without dramatic action by global governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming – is likely to be costly for one of the world’s richest nations.

“The impact of warming on the West’s river flows, soils and forests is now unequivocal,” say Jonathan Overpeck, of the University of Michigan, and Bradley Udall of Colorado State University, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.”

They make a point other researchers have repeatedly made over the last decade: that droughts will become longer and deeper in the US West, that climate change can only harm the US economy, and that the areas of increasing aridity are slowly shifting eastward: once rich soils could soon no longer sustain the crops of American farmers.

“The sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse”

The comments were triggered by a recent study in the same journal by a US Geological Survey team. Scientists used tree ring records and data for the first decade of this century to measure change in flow in the Upper Missouri River basin.

They concluded that recent regional warming, driven by increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, aligned with “increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries.”

The US West, and the Southwest, is used to drought, sometimes sustained. In the past the snows have returned, the rivers have swollen again. But Dr Overpeck and Dr Udall think this is now a wrong assumption.

“We now know with high confidence that continued emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere guarantee continued warming, and that this continued warming makes more widespread, prolonged and severe droughts almost a sure bet. Greater aridity is redefining the West in many ways, and the costs to human and natural systems will only increase as we let the warming continue.”

The rivers of the US Southwest are the only large, sure water supply for 40 million Americans. But since the late 20th century the flows of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande have fallen, and this is in large part due to ever higher temperatures, driven by ever greater consumption of fossil fuels. Higher temperatures mean that the atmosphere can absorb ever greater levels of water vapour, to dry out the soils.

Faltering action

This extra vapour would normally fall as rain or snow – and it certainly has in some parts of the US – but all the evidence suggests that droughts in the Southwest will increase both in frequency and intensity.

All nations have been slow to act decisively on climate change: President Trump has notoriously denounced climate change as a “hoax” and promised to withdraw the US from the only global agreement that promises concerted action.

“Perhaps most troubling is the growing co-occurrence of hot and dry summer conditions, and the likely expansion, absent climate change action, of these hot dry extremes all the way to the East Coast of North America, north deep into Canada, and south into Mexico,” the two scientists write.

Extreme dry spells, flash floods and droughts will become part of the new normal.

“Unfortunately, climate change and this aridification are likely to be irreversible on human time scales, so the sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse.” – Climate News Network

Climate change will take its toll of the US. The evidence repeatedly points to an ever more arid future for the American West.

LONDON, May 26, 2020 – The great American West is becoming inexorably more parched, with an inescapably arid future ahead. The winter snows will be lighter, and the spring melt much earlier. The river flows will slow, in some cases to a trickle, trees will die, and catastrophic wildfires will become more frequent. Agricultural harvests will be affected, and droughts will become more protracted.

The trend is clear and – without dramatic action by global governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming – is likely to be costly for one of the world’s richest nations.

“The impact of warming on the West’s river flows, soils and forests is now unequivocal,” say Jonathan Overpeck, of the University of Michigan, and Bradley Udall of Colorado State University, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.”

They make a point other researchers have repeatedly made over the last decade: that droughts will become longer and deeper in the US West, that climate change can only harm the US economy, and that the areas of increasing aridity are slowly shifting eastward: once rich soils could soon no longer sustain the crops of American farmers.

“The sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse”

The comments were triggered by a recent study in the same journal by a US Geological Survey team. Scientists used tree ring records and data for the first decade of this century to measure change in flow in the Upper Missouri River basin.

They concluded that recent regional warming, driven by increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, aligned with “increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries.”

The US West, and the Southwest, is used to drought, sometimes sustained. In the past the snows have returned, the rivers have swollen again. But Dr Overpeck and Dr Udall think this is now a wrong assumption.

“We now know with high confidence that continued emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere guarantee continued warming, and that this continued warming makes more widespread, prolonged and severe droughts almost a sure bet. Greater aridity is redefining the West in many ways, and the costs to human and natural systems will only increase as we let the warming continue.”

The rivers of the US Southwest are the only large, sure water supply for 40 million Americans. But since the late 20th century the flows of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande have fallen, and this is in large part due to ever higher temperatures, driven by ever greater consumption of fossil fuels. Higher temperatures mean that the atmosphere can absorb ever greater levels of water vapour, to dry out the soils.

Faltering action

This extra vapour would normally fall as rain or snow – and it certainly has in some parts of the US – but all the evidence suggests that droughts in the Southwest will increase both in frequency and intensity.

All nations have been slow to act decisively on climate change: President Trump has notoriously denounced climate change as a “hoax” and promised to withdraw the US from the only global agreement that promises concerted action.

“Perhaps most troubling is the growing co-occurrence of hot and dry summer conditions, and the likely expansion, absent climate change action, of these hot dry extremes all the way to the East Coast of North America, north deep into Canada, and south into Mexico,” the two scientists write.

Extreme dry spells, flash floods and droughts will become part of the new normal.

“Unfortunately, climate change and this aridification are likely to be irreversible on human time scales, so the sooner emissions of greenhouse gases are halted, the sooner the aridification of North America will stop getting worse.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide emissions fall – but by accident

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network