Tag Archives: Human health

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

Coal exit will benefit health, wealth and nature

Human economies still depend on hydrocarbon fuels. But there are ways to achieve a coal exit, cut emissions and protect health.

LONDON, 30 March, 2020 − A fast coal exit and a switch away from all fossil fuels will offer multiple global benefits. In almost all circumstances, electric cars will be more climate-friendly than petrol-driven machines, even when that electricity is generated by coal combustion.

And nations that so far rely on coal will save substantially on health costs and environmental damage if they close the pits and convert to renewable energy.

The making and use of concrete – a big source of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – remains an obdurate source of global warming. But even so there are ways to cut the climate and health damage costs of cement and mortar by more than 40%.

Each of these three studies is a reminder that there is for the moment no way to stop all carbon emissions in human economies. But each also confirms that a switch away from fossil fuels continues to make economic sense.

Clear reduction

Almost one fourth of all the fossil fuel combustion emissions that threaten a climate crisis come from passenger road transport and household heating. It takes energy to manufacture an electric car, or a heat pump, and it takes energy to generate the electricity to make them function.

Dutch and British researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they considered the challenge in 59 regions of the globe and found that in 53 of their studies the switch to electric meant a clear reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

By 2050, half of all cars on the road could be electric. This would cut global emissions by up to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This is about what Russia puts into the atmosphere now.

The switch from homes heated by gas, coal or oil to electric pumps could save 800 million tonnes. This is about the same as Germany’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Mythical increase

Lifetime emissions from electric cars in Sweden and France − which already get most of their electricity from renewables or nuclear power − would be up to 70% lower than from petrol-driven cars, and 30% lower in the UK.

“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” said Florian Knobloch, of Radboud University in the Netherlands and Cambridge in the UK.

“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion of this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths.”

The 53 regions in the study represent 95% of world transport and heating demand. The scientists took into account energy use from the production chain at the beginning of a car’s or a heating system’s life, and the waste processing at the end, to find that the only exceptions were in places like Poland, which is still heavily dependent on coal.

“We decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far”

In 2015, the world’s nations agreed at an historic Paris meeting to attempt to limit average planetary warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. Right now, by 2100 global temperatures could rise by a catastrophic 3°C.

A new study in Nature Climate Change confirms that to get to the 2°C target it doesn’t just make climate sense to shut the mines and close down the coal-burning power stations: it would save money as well, just in terms of reducing the health hazards associated with pollution and the damage to ecosystems and the loss of wildlife.

“We’re well into the 21st century now and still rely heavily on burning coal, making it one of the biggest threats to our climate, our health and our environment.

“That’s why we decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far,” said Sebastian Rauner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

Concrete burden

And his colleague Gunnar Luderer added: “Benefits from reduced health and ecosystem impacts clearly overcompensate the direct economic costs of a coal exit – they amount to a net saving of about 1.5% of global economic output by 2050. That is, $370 (£300) for every human on Earth in 2050.”

Around 8% of all greenhouse gases come from the concrete industry: it too is a source of air pollution and environmental destruction. Cement has to be baked from stone, and aggregate has to be gathered, hauled and brought to building sites, and the two have to be mixed.

US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they quantified the costs in terms of climate, death and illness from the industry and arrived at damages of about $335bn a year.

They looked at ways of cleaner combustion in kiln fuel, the more efficient use of mineral additions that might replace cement, and the applications of clean energy: all of them available now.

Neglect of health

Methods to capture and store carbon emissions from the process are not yet ready: these could reduce climate damage costs by 50% to 65%.

If manufacturers used a fuel that burned more efficiently, they could reduce health damages by 14%. A mix of already available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage by 44%.

“There is a high emissions burden associated with the production of concrete because there is so much demand for it,” said Sabbie Miller of the University of California Davis, who led the study.

“We clearly care a great deal about greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t paid as much attention to health burdens, which are also driven in large part by this demand.” − Climate News Network

Human economies still depend on hydrocarbon fuels. But there are ways to achieve a coal exit, cut emissions and protect health.

LONDON, 30 March, 2020 − A fast coal exit and a switch away from all fossil fuels will offer multiple global benefits. In almost all circumstances, electric cars will be more climate-friendly than petrol-driven machines, even when that electricity is generated by coal combustion.

And nations that so far rely on coal will save substantially on health costs and environmental damage if they close the pits and convert to renewable energy.

The making and use of concrete – a big source of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – remains an obdurate source of global warming. But even so there are ways to cut the climate and health damage costs of cement and mortar by more than 40%.

Each of these three studies is a reminder that there is for the moment no way to stop all carbon emissions in human economies. But each also confirms that a switch away from fossil fuels continues to make economic sense.

Clear reduction

Almost one fourth of all the fossil fuel combustion emissions that threaten a climate crisis come from passenger road transport and household heating. It takes energy to manufacture an electric car, or a heat pump, and it takes energy to generate the electricity to make them function.

Dutch and British researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they considered the challenge in 59 regions of the globe and found that in 53 of their studies the switch to electric meant a clear reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

By 2050, half of all cars on the road could be electric. This would cut global emissions by up to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This is about what Russia puts into the atmosphere now.

The switch from homes heated by gas, coal or oil to electric pumps could save 800 million tonnes. This is about the same as Germany’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Mythical increase

Lifetime emissions from electric cars in Sweden and France − which already get most of their electricity from renewables or nuclear power − would be up to 70% lower than from petrol-driven cars, and 30% lower in the UK.

“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” said Florian Knobloch, of Radboud University in the Netherlands and Cambridge in the UK.

“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion of this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths.”

The 53 regions in the study represent 95% of world transport and heating demand. The scientists took into account energy use from the production chain at the beginning of a car’s or a heating system’s life, and the waste processing at the end, to find that the only exceptions were in places like Poland, which is still heavily dependent on coal.

“We decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far”

In 2015, the world’s nations agreed at an historic Paris meeting to attempt to limit average planetary warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. Right now, by 2100 global temperatures could rise by a catastrophic 3°C.

A new study in Nature Climate Change confirms that to get to the 2°C target it doesn’t just make climate sense to shut the mines and close down the coal-burning power stations: it would save money as well, just in terms of reducing the health hazards associated with pollution and the damage to ecosystems and the loss of wildlife.

“We’re well into the 21st century now and still rely heavily on burning coal, making it one of the biggest threats to our climate, our health and our environment.

“That’s why we decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far,” said Sebastian Rauner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

Concrete burden

And his colleague Gunnar Luderer added: “Benefits from reduced health and ecosystem impacts clearly overcompensate the direct economic costs of a coal exit – they amount to a net saving of about 1.5% of global economic output by 2050. That is, $370 (£300) for every human on Earth in 2050.”

Around 8% of all greenhouse gases come from the concrete industry: it too is a source of air pollution and environmental destruction. Cement has to be baked from stone, and aggregate has to be gathered, hauled and brought to building sites, and the two have to be mixed.

US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they quantified the costs in terms of climate, death and illness from the industry and arrived at damages of about $335bn a year.

They looked at ways of cleaner combustion in kiln fuel, the more efficient use of mineral additions that might replace cement, and the applications of clean energy: all of them available now.

Neglect of health

Methods to capture and store carbon emissions from the process are not yet ready: these could reduce climate damage costs by 50% to 65%.

If manufacturers used a fuel that burned more efficiently, they could reduce health damages by 14%. A mix of already available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage by 44%.

“There is a high emissions burden associated with the production of concrete because there is so much demand for it,” said Sabbie Miller of the University of California Davis, who led the study.

“We clearly care a great deal about greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t paid as much attention to health burdens, which are also driven in large part by this demand.” − Climate News Network

A second US Dust Bowl would hit world food stocks

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

Fast pandemic response could tackle climate crisis

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Regional nuclear war could bring global hunger

Limited nuclear war could certainly slow planetary heating. But it could also cast a lethal wider chill, unleashing global hunger.

LONDON, 25 March, 2020 – If a limited nuclear war is not already a contradiction in terms, it could still prove far wider in scope, inflicting global hunger without limit.

US and European scientists have worked out how to dramatically lower planetary temperatures and reduce rainfall. They do not recommend their latest study of explosive geo-engineering as a way of addressing the climate crisis, warning instead that even a very limited nuclear war between two nations could devastate global harvests.

Just possibly, they say, it could claim more lives in the non-combatant nations than in the incinerated cities of the warring states.

“Our results add to the reasons that nuclear weapons must be eliminated because, if they exist, they can be used with tragic consequences for the world,” said Alan Robock of Rutgers University in the US.

“As horrible as the direct effects of nuclear weapons would be, more people could die outside the target areas due to famine.”

Hypothetical studies like this can help illustrate the vulnerability of world food stocks to climate change, the scale on which climate change can and may yet happen, and the difficulties inherent in any attempts at global technofix.

No winners

They also demonstrate that – for everybody on the planet – nuclear war of any kind could be a confrontation with no winners.

It is a given among climate scientists that violent volcanic eruptions which hurl sulphate aerosols and soot particles into the stratosphere can suppress global average temperatures over a period of years.

That is why, as greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use build up in the atmosphere, and annual average global temperatures continue to climb, researchers repeatedly revisit the argument for deliberately and systematically darkening the skies to blot out some of the incoming sunlight and reduce global heating.

But again and again, scientists have used their war game models of potential nuclear battle to highlight the hazards of darkening the skies precipitately in a nuclear exchange.

The latest is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and calculates that any encounter that uses less than even 1% of the world’s nuclear arsenal could trigger the worst global food losses in modern history, and disrupt harvests and food trade worldwide for about a decade.

“Major breadbasket regions would cut exports, leaving countries worldwide short of supplies. A regional crisis would become global”

The impact of this would turn out to be even worse than the impact of human-made climate change by the end of the century.

“We now know that nuclear conflict would not be just a terrible tragedy in the region where it happens – it is also an underestimated risk for food security,” said Jonas Jägermeyr of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We find severe losses in agricultural production, but more importantly we evaluate trade repercussions affecting local food availability. It turns out that major breadbasket regions would cut exports, leaving countries worldwide short of supplies. A regional crisis would become global, because we all depend on the same climate system.”

The regional crisis, in this case, would be a nuclear exchange involving perhaps 100 Hiroshima-scale warheads over the most densely populated cities of India and Pakistan, neighbouring states with both nuclear weapons and a history of hostility.

The exchange could put five million tonnes of smoke and soot into the upper atmosphere, where the jet stream winds would start to sweep it around the hemisphere. Global average temperatures would drop by 1.8°C, and rainfall would be reduced by 8% for at least five years.

Fossil fuel combustion over the last two centuries has already warmed the planet by around 1°C, to threaten world harvests. But until now, nobody has calculated the cost of a sudden plunge in temperatures.

Four years to zero

The researchers did not factor in the losses in the combatant countries, nor the worldwide damage from radioactive fallout. They just considered the impact on all the other nations that stayed neutral.

In the first year, stocks of maize, wheat, rice and soy in the world’s granaries would buffer the immediate losses. But within four years, global grain stocks would be at almost zero and international trade systems would come to a stop.

Maize and wheat supplies would shrink by at least 20% in more than 70 countries, with about 1.3bn people. By the fourth year, 132 out of 153 countries, home to 5bn people, would experience shortages higher than 10%. Corn production in the US and Canada – source of 40% of all maize – would drop by 17.5% by the fifth year of darkened skies.

The scientists based their calculations on only 5 million tonnes of soot and ash in the stratosphere. In fact, a war between the two nations could yield 16 million tonnes of soot, and be three times as devastating.

And anyone who thinks that at least global warming would have been brought to a halt can think again. After about a decade, the researchers say, global temperatures would again start to surge. – Climate News Network

Limited nuclear war could certainly slow planetary heating. But it could also cast a lethal wider chill, unleashing global hunger.

LONDON, 25 March, 2020 – If a limited nuclear war is not already a contradiction in terms, it could still prove far wider in scope, inflicting global hunger without limit.

US and European scientists have worked out how to dramatically lower planetary temperatures and reduce rainfall. They do not recommend their latest study of explosive geo-engineering as a way of addressing the climate crisis, warning instead that even a very limited nuclear war between two nations could devastate global harvests.

Just possibly, they say, it could claim more lives in the non-combatant nations than in the incinerated cities of the warring states.

“Our results add to the reasons that nuclear weapons must be eliminated because, if they exist, they can be used with tragic consequences for the world,” said Alan Robock of Rutgers University in the US.

“As horrible as the direct effects of nuclear weapons would be, more people could die outside the target areas due to famine.”

Hypothetical studies like this can help illustrate the vulnerability of world food stocks to climate change, the scale on which climate change can and may yet happen, and the difficulties inherent in any attempts at global technofix.

No winners

They also demonstrate that – for everybody on the planet – nuclear war of any kind could be a confrontation with no winners.

It is a given among climate scientists that violent volcanic eruptions which hurl sulphate aerosols and soot particles into the stratosphere can suppress global average temperatures over a period of years.

That is why, as greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use build up in the atmosphere, and annual average global temperatures continue to climb, researchers repeatedly revisit the argument for deliberately and systematically darkening the skies to blot out some of the incoming sunlight and reduce global heating.

But again and again, scientists have used their war game models of potential nuclear battle to highlight the hazards of darkening the skies precipitately in a nuclear exchange.

The latest is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and calculates that any encounter that uses less than even 1% of the world’s nuclear arsenal could trigger the worst global food losses in modern history, and disrupt harvests and food trade worldwide for about a decade.

“Major breadbasket regions would cut exports, leaving countries worldwide short of supplies. A regional crisis would become global”

The impact of this would turn out to be even worse than the impact of human-made climate change by the end of the century.

“We now know that nuclear conflict would not be just a terrible tragedy in the region where it happens – it is also an underestimated risk for food security,” said Jonas Jägermeyr of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We find severe losses in agricultural production, but more importantly we evaluate trade repercussions affecting local food availability. It turns out that major breadbasket regions would cut exports, leaving countries worldwide short of supplies. A regional crisis would become global, because we all depend on the same climate system.”

The regional crisis, in this case, would be a nuclear exchange involving perhaps 100 Hiroshima-scale warheads over the most densely populated cities of India and Pakistan, neighbouring states with both nuclear weapons and a history of hostility.

The exchange could put five million tonnes of smoke and soot into the upper atmosphere, where the jet stream winds would start to sweep it around the hemisphere. Global average temperatures would drop by 1.8°C, and rainfall would be reduced by 8% for at least five years.

Fossil fuel combustion over the last two centuries has already warmed the planet by around 1°C, to threaten world harvests. But until now, nobody has calculated the cost of a sudden plunge in temperatures.

Four years to zero

The researchers did not factor in the losses in the combatant countries, nor the worldwide damage from radioactive fallout. They just considered the impact on all the other nations that stayed neutral.

In the first year, stocks of maize, wheat, rice and soy in the world’s granaries would buffer the immediate losses. But within four years, global grain stocks would be at almost zero and international trade systems would come to a stop.

Maize and wheat supplies would shrink by at least 20% in more than 70 countries, with about 1.3bn people. By the fourth year, 132 out of 153 countries, home to 5bn people, would experience shortages higher than 10%. Corn production in the US and Canada – source of 40% of all maize – would drop by 17.5% by the fifth year of darkened skies.

The scientists based their calculations on only 5 million tonnes of soot and ash in the stratosphere. In fact, a war between the two nations could yield 16 million tonnes of soot, and be three times as devastating.

And anyone who thinks that at least global warming would have been brought to a halt can think again. After about a decade, the researchers say, global temperatures would again start to surge. – Climate News Network

Extreme summer heat puts millions at risk

heat

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Summer on much of the planet could get too hot for comfort by the end of the century, with more than a billion people seriously affected by extreme heat.

LONDON, 20 March, 2020 – As many as 1.2 billion people could be at risk of serious medical stress by the year 2100 simply on the basis of the extreme summer temperatures forecast if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, according to new research.

The finding is, in essence, a confirmation of earlier studies: researchers looked closely at the threat to health and, indeed, to life in a globally-heating world have already made a calculation that “more than a billion” could be at risk not just from soaring summer temperatures over longer periods, but also from heightened humidity.

Urgent question

One study found that heat extremes can kill in up to 27 different ways. And lethal heat waves in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010 and Australia in 2012/2013 have confirmed this in the most unwelcome way possible.

But a study published in Environmental Research Letters journal takes a simple statistical approach to this increasingly urgent question and settles on a notional temperature that factors in not just how high the mercury rises but also how much water vapour might be in the air.

This is known to meteorologists as a “wet bulb” temperature. And the consensus is that, for fit, healthy, acclimatised people, a wet bulb temperature of 33°C is about the limit of tolerance – putting the very young, the very old, and the already ill at risk.

“Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense”

Humans can survive much higher thermometer readings in dry climates, but are designed to shed surplus body heat through perspiration – something that becomes increasingly difficult as atmospheric humidity begins to rise. Then the risks of heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke begin to multiply.

So researchers in the US looked at how heat and humidity will increase in a warming planet, for the existing population, and played with 40 climate simulations to build up a picture of probabilities as humans burned more fossil fuels, stoked levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and turned up the planetary thermostat.

They calculated that, by 2100, the numbers at risk of sweltering, gasping and sickening heat extremes will have multiplied.

The planet is already around 1.2°C warmer than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. If the temperature notches up to 1.5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then every year an estimated 500 million could be exposed to unsafe extremes.

If the temperature rises by 2°C – the upper limit the world set itself in an historic Paris climate meeting in 2015 – the numbers at risk would reach 800 million.

And if the planetary average annual temperature rise was by 3°C – and right now the planet is on course to exceed even that figure – then an estimated 1.2 billion would at least once a year be at risk of extended spells of dangerous heat and humidity.

Research leader Dawei Li, once of Rutgers University and now postdoctoral associate in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, says: “Every bit of global warming makes hot, humid days more frequent and intense.

“In New York City, for example, the hottest, most humid day in a typical year already occurs about 11 times more frequently than it would have done in the 19th century.” Climate News Network

Hunger threat as tropical fish seek cooler waters

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

Schools for girls can help to answer climate crisis

Educating both halves of humankind seems a no-brainer. Schools for girls could transform climate protection and so much else.

LONDON, 28 February, 2020 − If you really want to tackle the climate emergency, there’s one simple but often forgotten essential: throw your weight behind schools for girls, and ensure adult women can rely on the chance of an education.

Obviously, in a world of differences, some people can do more to tackle the climate crisis than others. So it’s essential to recognise how much neglected potential exists among nearly half the human race.

But there’s a snag, and it’s a massive one: the women and girls who can do so much to avert global heating reaching disastrous levels need to be able to exercise their right to education.

Bold claims?  Project Drawdown is a group of researchers who believe that stopping global heating is possible, with solutions that exist today. To do this, they say, we must work together to achieve drawdown, the point when greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere start to decline.

Educating girls has multiple benefits that go far beyond the individual and any particular society. It can also result in rapid and transformative change that affects the planet itself”

The project’s conclusions are startling − and positive. One is that educating girls works better to protect the climate than many technological solutions, vital though they are, and including several variants of renewable energy.

Yet, the group finds, girls and women suffer disproportionately from climate breakdown, and failures in access to education worsen this problem. After the horrendous 2004 tsunami, for example, an Oxfam report found that male survivors outnumbered women by almost 3:1 in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Men were more likely to be able to swim, and women lost precious evacuation time trying to look after children and other relatives.

But given more power and say in how we adapt to and try to prevent global heating, the female half of humankind could make disproportionally positive contributions, the project says.

Using UN data, it suggests that educating girls could result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 51.48 gigatonnes by 2050. The UN Environment Programme says that total greenhouse gas emissions had reached a record high of 55.3 gigatonnes in 2018.

Multiple barriers

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

It says that although access to education is a basic human right, across the world. girls continue to face multiple barriers based on their gender and its links to other factors such as age, ethnicity, poverty and disability.

But the RTA adds: “Research shows that for each intake of students, educating girls has multiple benefits that go far beyond the individual and any particular society. It can also result in rapid and transformative change that affects the planet itself.”

One example it cites is from Mali, in West Africa, where women with secondary education or higher have an average of 3 children, while those with no education have an average of 7 children.

Environmentalists’ failure

It says that while the UN currently thinks the world’s population will grow from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 bn by 2050, with most of the growth happening in developing countries, recent research shows that if girls’ education continues to expand, that number would total 2 billion fewer people by 2045.

It argues that it is not just politicians and the media who fail to focus on this grossly slewed access to education. The RTA says the environmental movement itself rarely makes connections between the education of girls and success in tackling climate change.

One example of conservation work being tied successfully to educating and empowering women it cites is the Andavadoaka clinic in Madagascar, which is funded by a British charity, Blue Ventures Conservation (BVC).

The link between population growth, the lack of family planning facilities and the increasing pressure on fragile natural resources prompted BVC to establish the clinic, which has been running for over a decade and is part of a wider programme serving 45,000 people. As well as the original clinic other projects have grown up that concentrate on specific economic and participation opportunities for women and girls.

Making a difference

In the least developed countries women make up almost half of the agricultural labour force, giving them a huge role in feeding the future population. But there is a massive gap between men and women in their control over land, their ability to obtain inputs and the pay they can expect.

Individual girls and women continue to make a massive difference, whether Greta Thunberg spurring action on climate change or Malala Yousafzai, shot for trying to attend school in Afghanistan, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign for girls’ education.

Women who have climbed high up the political ladder have sometimes used their success to ensure that girls are taken seriously. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of an African country − Liberia − used her power to expand the quality of provision in pre-school and primary education by joining the Global Partnership for Education, and the former US First Lady, Michele Obama, spearheaded the Let Girls Learn organisation.

The Rapid Transition Alliance’s conclusion is short and simple: “Educating girls brings broad benefits to wider society as well improving efforts to tackle the climate emergency.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Educating both halves of humankind seems a no-brainer. Schools for girls could transform climate protection and so much else.

LONDON, 28 February, 2020 − If you really want to tackle the climate emergency, there’s one simple but often forgotten essential: throw your weight behind schools for girls, and ensure adult women can rely on the chance of an education.

Obviously, in a world of differences, some people can do more to tackle the climate crisis than others. So it’s essential to recognise how much neglected potential exists among nearly half the human race.

But there’s a snag, and it’s a massive one: the women and girls who can do so much to avert global heating reaching disastrous levels need to be able to exercise their right to education.

Bold claims?  Project Drawdown is a group of researchers who believe that stopping global heating is possible, with solutions that exist today. To do this, they say, we must work together to achieve drawdown, the point when greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere start to decline.

Educating girls has multiple benefits that go far beyond the individual and any particular society. It can also result in rapid and transformative change that affects the planet itself”

The project’s conclusions are startling − and positive. One is that educating girls works better to protect the climate than many technological solutions, vital though they are, and including several variants of renewable energy.

Yet, the group finds, girls and women suffer disproportionately from climate breakdown, and failures in access to education worsen this problem. After the horrendous 2004 tsunami, for example, an Oxfam report found that male survivors outnumbered women by almost 3:1 in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Men were more likely to be able to swim, and women lost precious evacuation time trying to look after children and other relatives.

But given more power and say in how we adapt to and try to prevent global heating, the female half of humankind could make disproportionally positive contributions, the project says.

Using UN data, it suggests that educating girls could result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 51.48 gigatonnes by 2050. The UN Environment Programme says that total greenhouse gas emissions had reached a record high of 55.3 gigatonnes in 2018.

Multiple barriers

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

It says that although access to education is a basic human right, across the world. girls continue to face multiple barriers based on their gender and its links to other factors such as age, ethnicity, poverty and disability.

But the RTA adds: “Research shows that for each intake of students, educating girls has multiple benefits that go far beyond the individual and any particular society. It can also result in rapid and transformative change that affects the planet itself.”

One example it cites is from Mali, in West Africa, where women with secondary education or higher have an average of 3 children, while those with no education have an average of 7 children.

Environmentalists’ failure

It says that while the UN currently thinks the world’s population will grow from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 bn by 2050, with most of the growth happening in developing countries, recent research shows that if girls’ education continues to expand, that number would total 2 billion fewer people by 2045.

It argues that it is not just politicians and the media who fail to focus on this grossly slewed access to education. The RTA says the environmental movement itself rarely makes connections between the education of girls and success in tackling climate change.

One example of conservation work being tied successfully to educating and empowering women it cites is the Andavadoaka clinic in Madagascar, which is funded by a British charity, Blue Ventures Conservation (BVC).

The link between population growth, the lack of family planning facilities and the increasing pressure on fragile natural resources prompted BVC to establish the clinic, which has been running for over a decade and is part of a wider programme serving 45,000 people. As well as the original clinic other projects have grown up that concentrate on specific economic and participation opportunities for women and girls.

Making a difference

In the least developed countries women make up almost half of the agricultural labour force, giving them a huge role in feeding the future population. But there is a massive gap between men and women in their control over land, their ability to obtain inputs and the pay they can expect.

Individual girls and women continue to make a massive difference, whether Greta Thunberg spurring action on climate change or Malala Yousafzai, shot for trying to attend school in Afghanistan, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign for girls’ education.

Women who have climbed high up the political ladder have sometimes used their success to ensure that girls are taken seriously. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of an African country − Liberia − used her power to expand the quality of provision in pre-school and primary education by joining the Global Partnership for Education, and the former US First Lady, Michele Obama, spearheaded the Let Girls Learn organisation.

The Rapid Transition Alliance’s conclusion is short and simple: “Educating girls brings broad benefits to wider society as well improving efforts to tackle the climate emergency.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Renewable energy could power the world by 2050

Wind, water and solar sources − the renewable energy trio − could meet almost all the needs of our power-hungry society in 30 years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2020 − Virtually all the world’s demand for electricity to run transport and to heat and cool homes and offices, as well as to provide the power demanded by industry, could be met by renewable energy by mid-century.

This is the consensus of 47 peer-reviewed research papers from 13 independent groups with a total of 91 authors that have been brought together by Stanford University in California.

Some of the papers take a broad sweep across the world, adding together the potential for each technology to see if individual countries or whole regions could survive on renewables.

Special examinations of small island states, sub-Saharan Africa and individual countries like Germany look to see what are the barriers to progress and how they could be removed.

In every case the findings are that the technology exists to achieve 100% renewable power if the political will to achieve it can be mustered.

“It seems that every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs”

The collection of papers is a powerful rebuff to those who say that renewables are not reliable or cannot be expanded fast enough to take over from fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Once proper energy efficiency measures are in place, a combination of wind, solar and water power, with various forms of storage capacity, can add up to 100% of energy needs in every part of the planet.

Stanford puts one of its own papers at the top of the list. It studies the impacts of the Green New Deal proposals on grid stability, costs, jobs, health and climate in 143 countries.

With the world already approaching 1.5°C of heating, it says, seven million people killed by air pollution annually, and limited fossil fuel resources potentially sparking conflict, Stanford’s researchers wanted to compare business-as-usual with a 100% transition to wind-water-solar energy, efficiency and storage by 2050 – with at least 80% by 2030.

By grouping the countries of the world together into 24 regions co-operating on grid stability and storage solutions, supply could match demand by 2050-2052 with 100% reliance on renewables. The amount of energy used overall would be reduced by 57.1%, costs would fall by a similar amount, and 28.6 million more long-term full-time jobs would be created than under business-as-usual.

Clean air bonus

The remarkable consensus among researchers is perhaps surprising, since climate and weather conditions differ so much in different latitudes. It seems though that as the cost of renewables, particularly wind and solar, has tumbled, and energy storage solutions multiplied, every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs.

That, plus the benefit of clean air, particularly in Asian countries like India and China, makes renewables far more beneficial on any cost-benefit analysis.

The appearance of so many papers mirrors the consensus that climate scientists have managed to achieve in warning the world’s political leaders that time is running out for them to act to keep the temperature below dangerous levels.

Since in total the solutions offered cover countries producing more than 97% of the world’s greenhouse gases, they provide a blueprint for the next round of UN climate talks, to be held in Glasgow in November. At COP-26, as the conference is called, politicians will be asked to make new commitments to avoid dangerous climate change.

This Stanford file shows them that all they need is political will for them to be able to achieve climate stability. − Climate News Network

Wind, water and solar sources − the renewable energy trio − could meet almost all the needs of our power-hungry society in 30 years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2020 − Virtually all the world’s demand for electricity to run transport and to heat and cool homes and offices, as well as to provide the power demanded by industry, could be met by renewable energy by mid-century.

This is the consensus of 47 peer-reviewed research papers from 13 independent groups with a total of 91 authors that have been brought together by Stanford University in California.

Some of the papers take a broad sweep across the world, adding together the potential for each technology to see if individual countries or whole regions could survive on renewables.

Special examinations of small island states, sub-Saharan Africa and individual countries like Germany look to see what are the barriers to progress and how they could be removed.

In every case the findings are that the technology exists to achieve 100% renewable power if the political will to achieve it can be mustered.

“It seems that every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs”

The collection of papers is a powerful rebuff to those who say that renewables are not reliable or cannot be expanded fast enough to take over from fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Once proper energy efficiency measures are in place, a combination of wind, solar and water power, with various forms of storage capacity, can add up to 100% of energy needs in every part of the planet.

Stanford puts one of its own papers at the top of the list. It studies the impacts of the Green New Deal proposals on grid stability, costs, jobs, health and climate in 143 countries.

With the world already approaching 1.5°C of heating, it says, seven million people killed by air pollution annually, and limited fossil fuel resources potentially sparking conflict, Stanford’s researchers wanted to compare business-as-usual with a 100% transition to wind-water-solar energy, efficiency and storage by 2050 – with at least 80% by 2030.

By grouping the countries of the world together into 24 regions co-operating on grid stability and storage solutions, supply could match demand by 2050-2052 with 100% reliance on renewables. The amount of energy used overall would be reduced by 57.1%, costs would fall by a similar amount, and 28.6 million more long-term full-time jobs would be created than under business-as-usual.

Clean air bonus

The remarkable consensus among researchers is perhaps surprising, since climate and weather conditions differ so much in different latitudes. It seems though that as the cost of renewables, particularly wind and solar, has tumbled, and energy storage solutions multiplied, every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs.

That, plus the benefit of clean air, particularly in Asian countries like India and China, makes renewables far more beneficial on any cost-benefit analysis.

The appearance of so many papers mirrors the consensus that climate scientists have managed to achieve in warning the world’s political leaders that time is running out for them to act to keep the temperature below dangerous levels.

Since in total the solutions offered cover countries producing more than 97% of the world’s greenhouse gases, they provide a blueprint for the next round of UN climate talks, to be held in Glasgow in November. At COP-26, as the conference is called, politicians will be asked to make new commitments to avoid dangerous climate change.

This Stanford file shows them that all they need is political will for them to be able to achieve climate stability. − Climate News Network

Cities turn to freewheeling public transport

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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