Tag Archives: Greenhouse Gases

Healthcare can worsen global climate crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use is growing

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

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

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

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

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

Other remedies available

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use is growing

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

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

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

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

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

Other remedies available

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five years to completion

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

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

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

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

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

Orangutans killed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five years to completion

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

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

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

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

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

Orangutans killed

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

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

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

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

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

Paris climate accord awaits Russian backing

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

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

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

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

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

Urgency missed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of ambition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urgency missed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of ambition

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

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

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

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

Planting more trees could cut carbon by 25%

Scientists now know where to start restoring the forests to soak up carbon and cool the planet, by planting more trees on unused land.

LONDON, 5 July, 2019 − Swiss scientists have identified an area roughly the size of the United States that could be newly shaded by planting more trees. If the world’s nations then protected these 9 million square kilometres  of canopy over unused land, the new global forest could in theory soak up enough carbon to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas by an estimated 25%.

That is, the extent of new tree canopy would be enough to take the main driver of global heating back to conditions on Earth a century ago.

And a second study, released in the same week, identifies 100 million hectares of degraded or destroyed tropical forest in 15 countries where restoration could start right now – and 87% of these hectares are in biodiversity hotspots that hold high concentrations of species found nowhere else.

The global study of the space available for tree canopy is published in the journal Science. Researchers looked for land not used for agriculture or developed for human settlement. They excluded wetlands and grasslands already fulfilling important ecological functions.

Huge canopy increase

They left existing forests out of their calculations. And they identified enough degraded, wasted, or simply unused land to provide another 0.9 billion hectares – that is, 9 million square kilometres – of tree canopy.

Such new or restored forest could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon. This is about two-thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of extra carbon humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago.

“We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today,” said Tom Crowther of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, now known as ETH Zurich.

“But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage.”

“Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable”

Forecasts for the future start with the data available now: the Swiss team worked from a dataset of observations of 80,000 forests, and used mapping software to predict possible tree cover worldwide under current conditions.

The big unknown is: what will global heating and climate change do for future forest growth? If nations go on burning fossil fuels at the present rates, then parts of the world could begin to experience harsher conditions and by 2050 the area available for tree cover could have dwindled by 223 million hectares, much of this in the tropics.

Forests are an integral part of the answer to the climate crisis. But forests worldwide, and particularly in the tropics, are also vulnerable to extremes of heat and drought and windstorm that are likely to come with ever higher average temperatures.

Where and when and how nations act to restore forests involves political decisions that must be based on evidence. So researchers have for years been trying to establish the extent of the global tree inventory, and its variety.

Unrecorded forest

They have confirmed the importance and value of urban forests. They have identified huge areas of woodland  hitherto not mapped or recorded. They have tried to make an estimate of the number of trees on the planet and the rate at which they are being felled, grazed, burned, or even extinguished.

They have identified threats to tropical forests, monitored the increasing damage to or degradation of what are  supposed to be protected areas, much of them forested, and they have measured changes in forests as the temperatures rise.

Right now, the world has 5.5 billion hectares of forest or woodland with at least 10% and up to 100% of tree cover: altogether this adds up to 2.8bn hectares of canopy. It also has a challenge to get on with: the Bonn Challenge to extend national forest areas by 350 million hectares by 2030 has been accepted by 48 countries so far.

The Swiss researchers calculated that there were up to 1.8 billion hectares of land of “low human activity” that could be reforested. If half of this was shaded by foliage, that would yield another 900 million hectares of canopy to soak up and store atmospheric carbon, and more than half of this potential tree space was in just six countries: Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

Best restoration options

But a second study, led by Brazilian scientists and published in the journal Science Advances, used high-resolution satellite studies to find that the most compelling opportunities for forest restoration exist in the lowland tropical rainforests of Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Almost three-fourths of the restoration hotspots were in countries that had already made commitments under the Bonn Challenge. The five nations with the largest areas in need of restoration are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia. Madagascar is also one of six African nations – the others are Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo and South Sudan – that, on average, offer the best immediate opportunities for forest restoration.

“Restoring tropical forests is fundamental to the planet’s health, now and for generations to come,” said Pedro Brancalion, of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the study.

“For the first time, our study helps governments, investors and others seeking to restore global tropical moist forests to determine precise locations where restoring forests is most viable, enduring and beneficial. Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable.” − Climate News Network

Scientists now know where to start restoring the forests to soak up carbon and cool the planet, by planting more trees on unused land.

LONDON, 5 July, 2019 − Swiss scientists have identified an area roughly the size of the United States that could be newly shaded by planting more trees. If the world’s nations then protected these 9 million square kilometres  of canopy over unused land, the new global forest could in theory soak up enough carbon to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas by an estimated 25%.

That is, the extent of new tree canopy would be enough to take the main driver of global heating back to conditions on Earth a century ago.

And a second study, released in the same week, identifies 100 million hectares of degraded or destroyed tropical forest in 15 countries where restoration could start right now – and 87% of these hectares are in biodiversity hotspots that hold high concentrations of species found nowhere else.

The global study of the space available for tree canopy is published in the journal Science. Researchers looked for land not used for agriculture or developed for human settlement. They excluded wetlands and grasslands already fulfilling important ecological functions.

Huge canopy increase

They left existing forests out of their calculations. And they identified enough degraded, wasted, or simply unused land to provide another 0.9 billion hectares – that is, 9 million square kilometres – of tree canopy.

Such new or restored forest could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon. This is about two-thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of extra carbon humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago.

“We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today,” said Tom Crowther of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, now known as ETH Zurich.

“But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage.”

“Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable”

Forecasts for the future start with the data available now: the Swiss team worked from a dataset of observations of 80,000 forests, and used mapping software to predict possible tree cover worldwide under current conditions.

The big unknown is: what will global heating and climate change do for future forest growth? If nations go on burning fossil fuels at the present rates, then parts of the world could begin to experience harsher conditions and by 2050 the area available for tree cover could have dwindled by 223 million hectares, much of this in the tropics.

Forests are an integral part of the answer to the climate crisis. But forests worldwide, and particularly in the tropics, are also vulnerable to extremes of heat and drought and windstorm that are likely to come with ever higher average temperatures.

Where and when and how nations act to restore forests involves political decisions that must be based on evidence. So researchers have for years been trying to establish the extent of the global tree inventory, and its variety.

Unrecorded forest

They have confirmed the importance and value of urban forests. They have identified huge areas of woodland  hitherto not mapped or recorded. They have tried to make an estimate of the number of trees on the planet and the rate at which they are being felled, grazed, burned, or even extinguished.

They have identified threats to tropical forests, monitored the increasing damage to or degradation of what are  supposed to be protected areas, much of them forested, and they have measured changes in forests as the temperatures rise.

Right now, the world has 5.5 billion hectares of forest or woodland with at least 10% and up to 100% of tree cover: altogether this adds up to 2.8bn hectares of canopy. It also has a challenge to get on with: the Bonn Challenge to extend national forest areas by 350 million hectares by 2030 has been accepted by 48 countries so far.

The Swiss researchers calculated that there were up to 1.8 billion hectares of land of “low human activity” that could be reforested. If half of this was shaded by foliage, that would yield another 900 million hectares of canopy to soak up and store atmospheric carbon, and more than half of this potential tree space was in just six countries: Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

Best restoration options

But a second study, led by Brazilian scientists and published in the journal Science Advances, used high-resolution satellite studies to find that the most compelling opportunities for forest restoration exist in the lowland tropical rainforests of Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Almost three-fourths of the restoration hotspots were in countries that had already made commitments under the Bonn Challenge. The five nations with the largest areas in need of restoration are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia. Madagascar is also one of six African nations – the others are Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo and South Sudan – that, on average, offer the best immediate opportunities for forest restoration.

“Restoring tropical forests is fundamental to the planet’s health, now and for generations to come,” said Pedro Brancalion, of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the study.

“For the first time, our study helps governments, investors and others seeking to restore global tropical moist forests to determine precise locations where restoring forests is most viable, enduring and beneficial. Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable.” − Climate News Network

Ice-free Greenland possible in 1,000 years

Look far enough ahead and in a millennium an ice-free Greenland is a possibility, scientists say. Sea levels too will be a lot higher by then.

LONDON, 25 June, 2019 − US scientists have just established that the long-term future may bring an ice-free Greenland, if melting continues at the current rate. By the year 3,000 it could simply be green, with rocky outcrops. Greenland’s icy mountains will have vanished.

By the end of this century, the island – the largest body of ice in the northern hemisphere, and home to 8% of the world’s fresh water in frozen form – will have lost 4.5% of its ice cover, and sea levels will have risen by up to 33cm.

And if melting continues, and the world goes on burning fossil fuels under climate science’s notorious “business as usual scenario”, then within another thousand years the entire cover will have run into the sea, which by then will have risen – just because of melting in Greenland – by more than seven metres, to wash away cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Shanghai and New Orleans.

“How Greenland will look in the future – in a couple of hundred years or in 1,000 years – whether there will be Greenland, or at least a Greenland similar to today, it’s up to us”, said Andy Aschwanden, of the University of Fairbanks, Alaska geophysical institute.

He and colleagues from the US and Denmark report in the journal Science Advances that they used new radar data that gave a picture of the thickness of the ice and the bedrock beneath it to estimate the total mass of ice.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”

They then selected three possible climate outcomes, depending on national and political responses to the climate emergency, considered the rates at which glaciers had begun to flow, the levels of summer and even winter ice melt, and the warming of the oceans, and ran 500 computer simulations to form a picture of the future.

Researchers have been warning for years that the rate of ice loss in Greenland is accelerating. Ice is being lost from the ice sheet surface, in some places at such speed that the bedrock beneath, once crushed by the weight of ice, is beginning to rise.

The great frozen rivers that carry ice to the sea to form summer icebergs are themselves gathering pace: one of these in 2014 was recorded as having quadrupled in speed, to move at almost 50 metres a day.

Research in polar regions is always difficult, and conclusions are necessarily tentative. On-the-ground studies are limited in summer and all but impossible in winter. The dynamic of ice loss changes, depending on conditions both in the atmosphere and the surrounding ocean.

Greenhouse gas increase

But the Fairbanks study is consistent with a huge body of other research. And the same computer simulations confirm that what happens depends ultimately on whether the world continues to heat up as a consequence of the profligate consumption of fossil fuels that increase the ratio of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

If carbon dioxide emissions are sharply reduced, the scientists say, the picture changes. Instead, the island could lose only up to a quarter of its ice cover by the end of this millennium, with a corresponding sea level rise of up to 1.88 metres.

Another, less hopeful scenario foresees a loss of up to 57% and sea level rise of up to 4.17 metres. In the worst case, the range of possible ice loss is from 72% to the lot, with the oceans higher by up to 7.28 metres, all of it from the existing ice mass of Greenland.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

Look far enough ahead and in a millennium an ice-free Greenland is a possibility, scientists say. Sea levels too will be a lot higher by then.

LONDON, 25 June, 2019 − US scientists have just established that the long-term future may bring an ice-free Greenland, if melting continues at the current rate. By the year 3,000 it could simply be green, with rocky outcrops. Greenland’s icy mountains will have vanished.

By the end of this century, the island – the largest body of ice in the northern hemisphere, and home to 8% of the world’s fresh water in frozen form – will have lost 4.5% of its ice cover, and sea levels will have risen by up to 33cm.

And if melting continues, and the world goes on burning fossil fuels under climate science’s notorious “business as usual scenario”, then within another thousand years the entire cover will have run into the sea, which by then will have risen – just because of melting in Greenland – by more than seven metres, to wash away cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Shanghai and New Orleans.

“How Greenland will look in the future – in a couple of hundred years or in 1,000 years – whether there will be Greenland, or at least a Greenland similar to today, it’s up to us”, said Andy Aschwanden, of the University of Fairbanks, Alaska geophysical institute.

He and colleagues from the US and Denmark report in the journal Science Advances that they used new radar data that gave a picture of the thickness of the ice and the bedrock beneath it to estimate the total mass of ice.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”

They then selected three possible climate outcomes, depending on national and political responses to the climate emergency, considered the rates at which glaciers had begun to flow, the levels of summer and even winter ice melt, and the warming of the oceans, and ran 500 computer simulations to form a picture of the future.

Researchers have been warning for years that the rate of ice loss in Greenland is accelerating. Ice is being lost from the ice sheet surface, in some places at such speed that the bedrock beneath, once crushed by the weight of ice, is beginning to rise.

The great frozen rivers that carry ice to the sea to form summer icebergs are themselves gathering pace: one of these in 2014 was recorded as having quadrupled in speed, to move at almost 50 metres a day.

Research in polar regions is always difficult, and conclusions are necessarily tentative. On-the-ground studies are limited in summer and all but impossible in winter. The dynamic of ice loss changes, depending on conditions both in the atmosphere and the surrounding ocean.

Greenhouse gas increase

But the Fairbanks study is consistent with a huge body of other research. And the same computer simulations confirm that what happens depends ultimately on whether the world continues to heat up as a consequence of the profligate consumption of fossil fuels that increase the ratio of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

If carbon dioxide emissions are sharply reduced, the scientists say, the picture changes. Instead, the island could lose only up to a quarter of its ice cover by the end of this millennium, with a corresponding sea level rise of up to 1.88 metres.

Another, less hopeful scenario foresees a loss of up to 57% and sea level rise of up to 4.17 metres. In the worst case, the range of possible ice loss is from 72% to the lot, with the oceans higher by up to 7.28 metres, all of it from the existing ice mass of Greenland.

“We project that Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, the researchers conclude. − Climate News Network

US military is huge greenhouse gas emitter

The US military is now the 47th greenhouse gas emitter. A machine powered to keep the world safer paradoxically increases the levels of climate danger.

LONDON, 21 June, 2019 – British scientists have identified one of the world’s great emitters of greenhouse gases, a silent agency which buys as much fuel as Portugal or Peru and emits more carbon dioxide than all of Romania: the US military.

Ironically, this agency is acutely aware that the climate emergency makes the world more dangerous,
increasing the risk of conflict around the planet. And simply because it is conscious of this risk, it is ever more likely to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The US military machine, with a global supply chain and massive logistical apparatus designed to confront perceived threats in war zones around the world, if it were a nation state, would be 47th in the global league tables for greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage alone.

And these figures are not included in the US aggregates for national greenhouse gas emissions because an exemption was granted under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (which in 2001 President Bush declined to sign). But they would be counted under the terms of the Paris Accord of 2015, from which President Trump has withdrawn, say researchers in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Basic contradiction

“The US military has long understood it is not immune from the potential consequences of climate change – recognising it as a threat-multiplier that can exacerbate other threats – nor has it ignored its own contribution to the problem,” said Patrick Bigger, of Lancaster University’s environment centre, and one of the authors.

“Yet its climate policy is fundamentally contradictory – confronting the effects of climate change while remaining the biggest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons around the world, a situation it is locked into for years to come because of its dependence on existing aircraft and warships for operations around the globe.”

The researchers started with information obtained under Freedom of Information laws and data from the US Defense Logistics Agency, and records from the World Bank, to build up a picture of energy use by what is in effect a state-within-a-state.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future”

The US military first launched its own global hydrocarbon supply system on the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and since then demand per fighting soldier, airman or sailor has grown.

In the Second World War, each soldier consumed one gallon of fuel daily. By the Vietnam War, with increased use of helicopters and airpower, this had increased ninefold. By the time US military personnel arrived in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel consumption had reached 22 gallons per soldier per day.

Now the Defense Logistics Agency’s energy division handles 14 million gallons of fuel per day at a cost of $53 million a day, and can deliver to 2,023 military outposts, camps and stations in 38 countries. It also supplies fuel stores to 51 countries and 506 air bases or fields that US aircraft might use.

Between 2015 and 2017, US forces were active in 76 countries. Of these seven were on the receiving end of air or drone strikes and 15 had “boots on the ground”. There were 44 overseas military bases, and 56 countries were receiving training in counter-terrorism. In 2017, all this added up to fuel purchases of 269,230 barrels of oil a day and the release of 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

‘Military’s vast furnace’

“Each of these missions requires energy – often considerable amounts of it,” the scientists say. The impacts of climate change are likely to continue in ways that are more intense, prolonged and widespread, which would give cover to even more extensive US military operations. The only way to cool what they call the “military’s vast furnace” is to turn it off.

Climate change campaigners too need to contest US military interventionism. “This will not only have the immediate effect of reducing emissions in the here-and-now, but will also disincentivize the development of new hydrocarbon infrastructure that would be financed (in whatever unrecognized part) on the presumption of the US military as an always-willing buyer and consumer,” the scientists conclude.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future.” – Climate News Network

The US military is now the 47th greenhouse gas emitter. A machine powered to keep the world safer paradoxically increases the levels of climate danger.

LONDON, 21 June, 2019 – British scientists have identified one of the world’s great emitters of greenhouse gases, a silent agency which buys as much fuel as Portugal or Peru and emits more carbon dioxide than all of Romania: the US military.

Ironically, this agency is acutely aware that the climate emergency makes the world more dangerous,
increasing the risk of conflict around the planet. And simply because it is conscious of this risk, it is ever more likely to burn ever-increasing levels of fossil fuels.

The US military machine, with a global supply chain and massive logistical apparatus designed to confront perceived threats in war zones around the world, if it were a nation state, would be 47th in the global league tables for greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage alone.

And these figures are not included in the US aggregates for national greenhouse gas emissions because an exemption was granted under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (which in 2001 President Bush declined to sign). But they would be counted under the terms of the Paris Accord of 2015, from which President Trump has withdrawn, say researchers in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Basic contradiction

“The US military has long understood it is not immune from the potential consequences of climate change – recognising it as a threat-multiplier that can exacerbate other threats – nor has it ignored its own contribution to the problem,” said Patrick Bigger, of Lancaster University’s environment centre, and one of the authors.

“Yet its climate policy is fundamentally contradictory – confronting the effects of climate change while remaining the biggest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons around the world, a situation it is locked into for years to come because of its dependence on existing aircraft and warships for operations around the globe.”

The researchers started with information obtained under Freedom of Information laws and data from the US Defense Logistics Agency, and records from the World Bank, to build up a picture of energy use by what is in effect a state-within-a-state.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future”

The US military first launched its own global hydrocarbon supply system on the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and since then demand per fighting soldier, airman or sailor has grown.

In the Second World War, each soldier consumed one gallon of fuel daily. By the Vietnam War, with increased use of helicopters and airpower, this had increased ninefold. By the time US military personnel arrived in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel consumption had reached 22 gallons per soldier per day.

Now the Defense Logistics Agency’s energy division handles 14 million gallons of fuel per day at a cost of $53 million a day, and can deliver to 2,023 military outposts, camps and stations in 38 countries. It also supplies fuel stores to 51 countries and 506 air bases or fields that US aircraft might use.

Between 2015 and 2017, US forces were active in 76 countries. Of these seven were on the receiving end of air or drone strikes and 15 had “boots on the ground”. There were 44 overseas military bases, and 56 countries were receiving training in counter-terrorism. In 2017, all this added up to fuel purchases of 269,230 barrels of oil a day and the release of 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere.

‘Military’s vast furnace’

“Each of these missions requires energy – often considerable amounts of it,” the scientists say. The impacts of climate change are likely to continue in ways that are more intense, prolonged and widespread, which would give cover to even more extensive US military operations. The only way to cool what they call the “military’s vast furnace” is to turn it off.

Climate change campaigners too need to contest US military interventionism. “This will not only have the immediate effect of reducing emissions in the here-and-now, but will also disincentivize the development of new hydrocarbon infrastructure that would be financed (in whatever unrecognized part) on the presumption of the US military as an always-willing buyer and consumer,” the scientists conclude.

“Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future.” – Climate News Network

Thirty years to climate meltdown – or not?

For years most of us largely ignored the idea of climate meltdown. Now we’re talking about it. So what should we be doing?

LONDON, 10 June, 2019 − How much of a threat is climate meltdown? Should we treat it as the biggest danger to life in the 21st century, or as one of many problems − serious, but manageable?

A new study says human civilisation itself could pass the point of no return by 2050. The Australian climate think-tank Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration says that unless humanity takes drastic and immediate action to save the climate, a combination of unstable food production, water shortages and extreme weather could lead to the breakdown of global society.

One renowned US climate scientist, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, says that Breakthrough is exaggerating and its report could be counter-productive.

In the UK, though, Mark Maslin of University College London says the report underlines the deep concerns expressed by some security experts.

Act together

Chris Barrie, a retired Royal Australian Navy admiral and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is now an honorary professor at the Australian National University, Canberra.

In a foreword to the Breakthrough study he writes: “We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”

David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director and a co-author of the study, says that “much knowledge produced for policymakers is too conservative,” but that the new paper, by showing the extreme end of what could happen in just the next three decades, aims to make the stakes clear. “The report speaks, in our opinion, a harsh but necessary truth,” he says.

“To reduce this risk and protect human civilisation, a massive global mobilisation of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate,” the report reads. “This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilisation.”

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly”

Breakthrough acknowledges that the worst possibility it foresees − the total collapse of civilisation by mid-century − is an example of a worst-case scenario, but it insists that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change.”

The picture of the possible near future it presents is stark. By 2050, it says, the world could have reached:

  • a 3°C temperature rise, with a further 1°C in store
  • sea levels 0.5 metres above today’s, with a possible eventual rise of 25m
  • 55% of the world’s people subject to more than 20 days a year of heat “beyond the threshold of human survivability”
  • one billion people forced to leave the tropics
  • a 20% decline in crop yields, leaving too little food to feed the world
  • armed conflict likely and nuclear war possible.

The report’s authors conclude: “The scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end.”

Warnings examined

Warnings of the possible end of human civilisation are not new. They range from those which offer highly-qualified hope for humanity’s future to others which find very little to celebrate, even tentatively.

The Breakthrough study fits unequivocally into the second group. To weigh the credibility of some of its statements, the journal New Scientist looks at the sources they cite and the wider context of the claims they make.

Its scrutiny ends with the views of two eminent climate scientists. Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, says: “I respect the authors and appreciate that their intentions are good, but … overblown rhetoric, exaggeration, and unsupportable doomist framing can be counteractive to climate action.”

For his part, Mark Maslin, professor of geography at UCL, tells New Scientist that the Breakthrough report adds to the deep concerns expressed by security experts such as the Pentagon over climate change.

Hope nurtured

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly,” he says.

The 2020 round of UN climate negotiations is due to take place in November next year, with hopes building that many countries will agree then to make much more radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than they have pledged so far.

Altogether 195 countries promised in 2015, in the Paris Agreement, to make the cuts needed to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C, and if possible to stay below a maximum rise of 1.5°C, the levels climate scientists say are the highest that can assure the planet’s safety. But the cuts that many countries have promised so far will not achieve either goal.

Scientists say it is still possible for the world to achieve the 1.5°C limit. But doing so requires immediate emissions cuts, on a scale and at a pace that are not yet in sight − “a very big ‘if’”, as one of them put it. − Climate News Network

For years most of us largely ignored the idea of climate meltdown. Now we’re talking about it. So what should we be doing?

LONDON, 10 June, 2019 − How much of a threat is climate meltdown? Should we treat it as the biggest danger to life in the 21st century, or as one of many problems − serious, but manageable?

A new study says human civilisation itself could pass the point of no return by 2050. The Australian climate think-tank Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration says that unless humanity takes drastic and immediate action to save the climate, a combination of unstable food production, water shortages and extreme weather could lead to the breakdown of global society.

One renowned US climate scientist, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, says that Breakthrough is exaggerating and its report could be counter-productive.

In the UK, though, Mark Maslin of University College London says the report underlines the deep concerns expressed by some security experts.

Act together

Chris Barrie, a retired Royal Australian Navy admiral and former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, is now an honorary professor at the Australian National University, Canberra.

In a foreword to the Breakthrough study he writes: “We must act collectively. We need strong, determined leadership in government, in business and in our communities to ensure a sustainable future for humankind.”

David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director and a co-author of the study, says that “much knowledge produced for policymakers is too conservative,” but that the new paper, by showing the extreme end of what could happen in just the next three decades, aims to make the stakes clear. “The report speaks, in our opinion, a harsh but necessary truth,” he says.

“To reduce this risk and protect human civilisation, a massive global mobilisation of resources is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and set in train the restoration of a safe climate,” the report reads. “This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilisation.”

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly”

Breakthrough acknowledges that the worst possibility it foresees − the total collapse of civilisation by mid-century − is an example of a worst-case scenario, but it insists that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change.”

The picture of the possible near future it presents is stark. By 2050, it says, the world could have reached:

  • a 3°C temperature rise, with a further 1°C in store
  • sea levels 0.5 metres above today’s, with a possible eventual rise of 25m
  • 55% of the world’s people subject to more than 20 days a year of heat “beyond the threshold of human survivability”
  • one billion people forced to leave the tropics
  • a 20% decline in crop yields, leaving too little food to feed the world
  • armed conflict likely and nuclear war possible.

The report’s authors conclude: “The scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end.”

Warnings examined

Warnings of the possible end of human civilisation are not new. They range from those which offer highly-qualified hope for humanity’s future to others which find very little to celebrate, even tentatively.

The Breakthrough study fits unequivocally into the second group. To weigh the credibility of some of its statements, the journal New Scientist looks at the sources they cite and the wider context of the claims they make.

Its scrutiny ends with the views of two eminent climate scientists. Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, says: “I respect the authors and appreciate that their intentions are good, but … overblown rhetoric, exaggeration, and unsupportable doomist framing can be counteractive to climate action.”

For his part, Mark Maslin, professor of geography at UCL, tells New Scientist that the Breakthrough report adds to the deep concerns expressed by security experts such as the Pentagon over climate change.

Hope nurtured

“Maybe, just maybe, it is time for our politicians to be worried and start to act to avoid the scenarios painted so vividly,” he says.

The 2020 round of UN climate negotiations is due to take place in November next year, with hopes building that many countries will agree then to make much more radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than they have pledged so far.

Altogether 195 countries promised in 2015, in the Paris Agreement, to make the cuts needed to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C, and if possible to stay below a maximum rise of 1.5°C, the levels climate scientists say are the highest that can assure the planet’s safety. But the cuts that many countries have promised so far will not achieve either goal.

Scientists say it is still possible for the world to achieve the 1.5°C limit. But doing so requires immediate emissions cuts, on a scale and at a pace that are not yet in sight − “a very big ‘if’”, as one of them put it. − Climate News Network

Global warming: Human activity is the cause

Fresh studies have again confirmed a vital fact about global warming: human activity is its cause. Science questions its own findings, which is why we should trust it.

LONDON, 29 May, 2019 − British scientists have re-asserted an essential reality about global warming: human activity, not slow-acting and so far unidentified natural cycles in the world’s oceans, is its cause.

That activity – including ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels as well as the devastation of the natural forest – is enough to account for almost all the warming over the last century.

Researchers from the University of Oxford report in the Journal of Climate that they looked at all the available observed land and ocean temperature data since 1850.

They matched this not just with greenhouse gas concentrations but also with records of volcanic eruptions, solar activity and air pollution peaks – all of which affect temperature readings.

“This sounds boring, but sometimes boring results are important”

And their analysis once again confirms a finding first proposed in the 19th century by the Swedish Nobel Laureate Svante Arrhenius: that greenhouse gases are enough to explain the big picture of a slowly but inexorably heating world. Slow-acting global oceanic cycles would have had little or no influence.

“Our study showed there are no hidden drivers of global mean temperature. The temperature change we observe is due to the drivers we know,” said Friederike Otto of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.

“This sounds boring, but sometimes boring results are important.”

Studies of this kind are a reminder of why science may, ultimately, be trusted: it takes nothing for granted. Researchers tend to go back and question their own and each other’s published conclusions. In the case of climate research, this has become almost a nervous tic.

Untidy evidence

But it is necessary because climate science in particular remains a work in progress: we live in a crowded, dynamic world and the evidence is always untidy and sometimes confusing, the interpretation of the data potentially subject to bias, and above all each conclusion is bedevilled by the question: is there something – some feedback, some factor, some actor – nobody has yet spotted?

So studies that confirm the big picture are always welcome, especially one that says: we can find no unknown factors. That is why boring results are important. It means that what humans do will change the outcome.

“In this case, it means we will not see any surprises when these drivers – such as gas emissions − change,” said Dr Otto.

“In good news, this means that when greenhouse concentrations go down, temperatures will do so as predicted; the bad news is there is nothing that saves us from temperatures going up as forecasted if we fail drastically to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” − Climate News Network

Fresh studies have again confirmed a vital fact about global warming: human activity is its cause. Science questions its own findings, which is why we should trust it.

LONDON, 29 May, 2019 − British scientists have re-asserted an essential reality about global warming: human activity, not slow-acting and so far unidentified natural cycles in the world’s oceans, is its cause.

That activity – including ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels as well as the devastation of the natural forest – is enough to account for almost all the warming over the last century.

Researchers from the University of Oxford report in the Journal of Climate that they looked at all the available observed land and ocean temperature data since 1850.

They matched this not just with greenhouse gas concentrations but also with records of volcanic eruptions, solar activity and air pollution peaks – all of which affect temperature readings.

“This sounds boring, but sometimes boring results are important”

And their analysis once again confirms a finding first proposed in the 19th century by the Swedish Nobel Laureate Svante Arrhenius: that greenhouse gases are enough to explain the big picture of a slowly but inexorably heating world. Slow-acting global oceanic cycles would have had little or no influence.

“Our study showed there are no hidden drivers of global mean temperature. The temperature change we observe is due to the drivers we know,” said Friederike Otto of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.

“This sounds boring, but sometimes boring results are important.”

Studies of this kind are a reminder of why science may, ultimately, be trusted: it takes nothing for granted. Researchers tend to go back and question their own and each other’s published conclusions. In the case of climate research, this has become almost a nervous tic.

Untidy evidence

But it is necessary because climate science in particular remains a work in progress: we live in a crowded, dynamic world and the evidence is always untidy and sometimes confusing, the interpretation of the data potentially subject to bias, and above all each conclusion is bedevilled by the question: is there something – some feedback, some factor, some actor – nobody has yet spotted?

So studies that confirm the big picture are always welcome, especially one that says: we can find no unknown factors. That is why boring results are important. It means that what humans do will change the outcome.

“In this case, it means we will not see any surprises when these drivers – such as gas emissions − change,” said Dr Otto.

“In good news, this means that when greenhouse concentrations go down, temperatures will do so as predicted; the bad news is there is nothing that saves us from temperatures going up as forecasted if we fail drastically to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” − Climate News Network

Football’s Euro finals will hurt the climate

One country − England − is home to every finalist in the Euro finals, Europe’s two top football competitions, this week.

LONDON, 28 May, 2019 − It’s unprecedented in the annals of European football: English clubs monopolise this week’s Euro finals.

All four finalists in Europe’s two top football competitions are from England, the first time one country has supplied all the teams playing. That might sound like great news for English football, but it’s bad news for the climate.

This Wednesday, Arsenal will take on Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. A few days later it’s Liverpool versus Tottenham in the Champions League in Madrid.

Thousands of fans of all four clubs will be flying from England to cheer on their teams. But air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-changing CO2 emissions.

It’s calculated that for every one of those fans making the return flight from London to Baku, the equivalent of 0.69 tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. For the shorter London to Madrid return trip, the figure is 0.21 tonnes.

“An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up more than half his or her entire carbon emissions budget for the year”.

Now consider the wider picture; in order to head off catastrophic climate change and keep the rise in average global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels to within 2°C, planetary emissions of CO2 have to be radically cut back.

That means not only cutting back on emissions from power stations and industrial plants, but also reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis.

To keep within the 2°C target agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference − now considered not to be ambitious enough − analysts say each of us should limit annual carbon emissions, whether by flying or driving or the food we consume, to 1.2 tonnes per year.

An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up, with that return journey, more than half his or her entire carbon emissions amount − or budget − for the year.

Inescapable changes ahead

The scale of the climate crisis facing us is enormous and demands fundamental changes in our lifestyles – particularly among those in the developed world.

At present the average citizen in the US is responsible for CO2 emissions of more than 19 tonnes per year; in the UK the figure is nearly 10 tonnes.

In Kenya – a country which like many others in the developing world is already feeling the impact of climate change – the figure per person is 0.3 tonnes per year.

Why not play the football finals in England? Supporters are complaining about the large sums of money they are having to pay for flights and the expense of hotels in both Baku and Madrid.

Dismal human rights

In the case of the game in Azerbaijan, concerns have been raised about staging such a high profile match in a country with a dismal human rights record.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian who is one of Arsenal’s key players, is not going to Baku due to safety fears; for many years Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia have been locked in conflict over various territorial disputes.

Footballing officials might point out that the stadiums in Madrid and Baku were booked long ago and they cannot change arrangements.

Yet if the challenges of climate change are going to be effectively dealt with, tough decisions have to be made. If not, it will be game over for the planet. − Climate News Network

One country − England − is home to every finalist in the Euro finals, Europe’s two top football competitions, this week.

LONDON, 28 May, 2019 − It’s unprecedented in the annals of European football: English clubs monopolise this week’s Euro finals.

All four finalists in Europe’s two top football competitions are from England, the first time one country has supplied all the teams playing. That might sound like great news for English football, but it’s bad news for the climate.

This Wednesday, Arsenal will take on Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. A few days later it’s Liverpool versus Tottenham in the Champions League in Madrid.

Thousands of fans of all four clubs will be flying from England to cheer on their teams. But air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of climate-changing CO2 emissions.

It’s calculated that for every one of those fans making the return flight from London to Baku, the equivalent of 0.69 tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. For the shorter London to Madrid return trip, the figure is 0.21 tonnes.

“An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up more than half his or her entire carbon emissions budget for the year”.

Now consider the wider picture; in order to head off catastrophic climate change and keep the rise in average global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels to within 2°C, planetary emissions of CO2 have to be radically cut back.

That means not only cutting back on emissions from power stations and industrial plants, but also reducing carbon emissions on an individual basis.

To keep within the 2°C target agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference − now considered not to be ambitious enough − analysts say each of us should limit annual carbon emissions, whether by flying or driving or the food we consume, to 1.2 tonnes per year.

An Arsenal or Chelsea fan flying to Baku and back is therefore using up, with that return journey, more than half his or her entire carbon emissions amount − or budget − for the year.

Inescapable changes ahead

The scale of the climate crisis facing us is enormous and demands fundamental changes in our lifestyles – particularly among those in the developed world.

At present the average citizen in the US is responsible for CO2 emissions of more than 19 tonnes per year; in the UK the figure is nearly 10 tonnes.

In Kenya – a country which like many others in the developing world is already feeling the impact of climate change – the figure per person is 0.3 tonnes per year.

Why not play the football finals in England? Supporters are complaining about the large sums of money they are having to pay for flights and the expense of hotels in both Baku and Madrid.

Dismal human rights

In the case of the game in Azerbaijan, concerns have been raised about staging such a high profile match in a country with a dismal human rights record.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian who is one of Arsenal’s key players, is not going to Baku due to safety fears; for many years Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia have been locked in conflict over various territorial disputes.

Footballing officials might point out that the stadiums in Madrid and Baku were booked long ago and they cannot change arrangements.

Yet if the challenges of climate change are going to be effectively dealt with, tough decisions have to be made. If not, it will be game over for the planet. − Climate News Network

Sea level rise may double forecast for 2100

Scientists say global sea level rise could far exceed predictions because of faster melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

LONDON, 22 May, 2019 − If you are among the many millions of people who live near the world’s coasts, it will probably be worth your while to read this: sea level rise could be much greater than we expect.

A team of international scientists led by the University of Bristol, UK, has looked again at the estimates of how much the world’s oceans are likely to rise during this century. It concludes that the figure could be far higher than previous studies suggested.

In an extreme case, the members say, sea level rise over the next 80 years could mean that by 2100 the oceans will have risen by around six feet (two metres) − roughly twice the level thought likely till now, with “pretty unimaginable” consequences

In its fifth assessment report, published in 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the continued warming of the Earth, if there were no major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, would see the seas rising by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100.

Sombre prospect

Many climate scientists have argued that this was a conservative estimate. The possibility that the eventual figure could be around double the forecast, threatening hundreds of millions of people with having to leave their homes, is sobering. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The Bristol team used a different way of trying to gauge the possible effect of the way the ice is melting in Greenland, West and East Antarctica, not relying simply on projections from numerical models.

Their method used a technique called a structured expert judgement study, which involved 22 ice sheet experts in estimating plausible ranges for future sea level rise caused by the projected melting of the ice sheets in each of the three areas studied, under low and high future global temperature rise scenarios.

If emissions continue on their current path, the business-as-usual scenario, the researchers say, then the world’s seas would be very likely to rise by between 62cm and 238cm by 2100. This would be in a world that had warmed by around 5°C, one of the worst-case scenarios for global warming.

 

“I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk. If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable”

“For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres,” said the lead author, Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.

He added: “Such a rise in global sea level could result in land loss of 1.79 million sq km, including critical regions of food production, and potential displacement of up to 187 million people.”

For temperature rises expected up to 2°C Greenland’s ice sheet makes the single biggest contribution to sea level rise. But as temperatures climb further the much larger Antarctic ice sheets become involved.

“When you start to look at these lower-likelihood but still plausible values, then the experts believe that there is a small but statistically significant probability that West Antarctica will transition to a very unstable state, and parts of East Antarctica will start contributing as well,” said Professor Bamber.

“But it’s only at these higher probabilities for 5°C that we see those types of behaviours kicking in.”

Mass exodus

Globally important food-growing areas such as the Nile delta would be liable to vanish beneath the waves, and large parts of Bangladesh. Major global cities including London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai would face significant threats.

“To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said Professor Bamber.

Polar science is making striking advances in understanding what is happening to the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. New satellite measurements are showing ice mass loss happening faster than models expected, and there is also something called the marine ice-cliff instability hypothesis, which assumes that coastal ice cliffs can rapidly collapse after ice shelves disintegrate, as a result of surface and sub-shelf melting caused by global warming.

Serious risk

The chances of sea level rise as devastating as this are small, the Bristol team say − about 5%. But they should be taken seriously.

“If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn’t go near it,” Professor Bamber said.

“Even a 1% probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.” − Climate News Network

Scientists say global sea level rise could far exceed predictions because of faster melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

LONDON, 22 May, 2019 − If you are among the many millions of people who live near the world’s coasts, it will probably be worth your while to read this: sea level rise could be much greater than we expect.

A team of international scientists led by the University of Bristol, UK, has looked again at the estimates of how much the world’s oceans are likely to rise during this century. It concludes that the figure could be far higher than previous studies suggested.

In an extreme case, the members say, sea level rise over the next 80 years could mean that by 2100 the oceans will have risen by around six feet (two metres) − roughly twice the level thought likely till now, with “pretty unimaginable” consequences

In its fifth assessment report, published in 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the continued warming of the Earth, if there were no major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, would see the seas rising by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100.

Sombre prospect

Many climate scientists have argued that this was a conservative estimate. The possibility that the eventual figure could be around double the forecast, threatening hundreds of millions of people with having to leave their homes, is sobering. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The Bristol team used a different way of trying to gauge the possible effect of the way the ice is melting in Greenland, West and East Antarctica, not relying simply on projections from numerical models.

Their method used a technique called a structured expert judgement study, which involved 22 ice sheet experts in estimating plausible ranges for future sea level rise caused by the projected melting of the ice sheets in each of the three areas studied, under low and high future global temperature rise scenarios.

If emissions continue on their current path, the business-as-usual scenario, the researchers say, then the world’s seas would be very likely to rise by between 62cm and 238cm by 2100. This would be in a world that had warmed by around 5°C, one of the worst-case scenarios for global warming.

 

“I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk. If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable”

“For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres,” said the lead author, Jonathan Bamber, of the University of Bristol.

He added: “Such a rise in global sea level could result in land loss of 1.79 million sq km, including critical regions of food production, and potential displacement of up to 187 million people.”

For temperature rises expected up to 2°C Greenland’s ice sheet makes the single biggest contribution to sea level rise. But as temperatures climb further the much larger Antarctic ice sheets become involved.

“When you start to look at these lower-likelihood but still plausible values, then the experts believe that there is a small but statistically significant probability that West Antarctica will transition to a very unstable state, and parts of East Antarctica will start contributing as well,” said Professor Bamber.

“But it’s only at these higher probabilities for 5°C that we see those types of behaviours kicking in.”

Mass exodus

Globally important food-growing areas such as the Nile delta would be liable to vanish beneath the waves, and large parts of Bangladesh. Major global cities including London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai would face significant threats.

“To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said Professor Bamber.

Polar science is making striking advances in understanding what is happening to the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. New satellite measurements are showing ice mass loss happening faster than models expected, and there is also something called the marine ice-cliff instability hypothesis, which assumes that coastal ice cliffs can rapidly collapse after ice shelves disintegrate, as a result of surface and sub-shelf melting caused by global warming.

Serious risk

The chances of sea level rise as devastating as this are small, the Bristol team say − about 5%. But they should be taken seriously.

“If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn’t go near it,” Professor Bamber said.

“Even a 1% probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a 5% probability, crikey − I think that’s a serious risk.

“If we see something like that in the next 80 years we are looking at social breakdown on scales that are pretty unimaginable.” − Climate News Network