Tag Archives: Political action

Faster glacier melting raises hunger threat

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

The world’s upland icecaps are in retreat. Faster glacier melting could slow to a trickle streams that once fed foaming rivers.

LONDON, 5 May, 2021 − Glacial retreat − the rate at which mountain ice is turning to running water − has accelerated. In the last two decades, the world’s 220,000 glaciers have lost ice at the rate of 267 billion tonnes a year on average, and this faster glacier melting could soon imperil downstream food and water supplies.

To make sense of this almost unimaginable volume, think of a country the size of Switzerland. And then submerge it six metres deep in water. And then go on doing that every year for 20 years.

European scientists report in the journal Nature that, on the basis of satellite data, they assembled a global snapshot of the entire world’s stock of land-borne ice, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. And then they began to measure the impact of global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use on the lofty, frozen beauty of the Alps, the Hindu Kush, the Andes, the Himalayas and the mountains of Alaska.

They found not just loss, but a loss that was accelerating sharply. Between 2000 and 2004, the glaciers together surrendered 227 billion tons of ice a year on average. By 2015 to 2019, the annual loss had risen to 298 billion tonnes. The run-off from the retreating glaciers alone caused more than one-fifth of observed sea level rise this century.

“The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario”

Right now an estimated 200 million people live on land that is likely to be flooded by high tides at the close of this century. Altogether, one billion people could face water shortages and failed harvests within the next three decades, in many instances because of glacier loss.

Glacial ice in the high mountains represents so much water stored, to be released in the summer melt to nourish crops downstream. The fastest melt is in Alaska, Iceland and the Alps, but global warming is also affecting the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and other peaks in Central Asia.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” said Romain Hugonnet, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, and the University of Toulouse.

“During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face food and water shortages in a few decades.”

Climate change link

Such news could hardly be a shock to geographers and climate scientists: researchers have been warning for years that as many as half of the planet’s mountain glaciers could be gone by the century’s end. Europe’s Alps could by 2100 have lost nine-tenths of all the continent’s flowing ice.

Researchers have also identified the consequent risk to water supplies for millions, and confirmed an “irrefutable” link between human-induced climate change and glacier loss. So the latest research is an update, and a check on subtle changes in rates of loss, based on imagery from Nasa’s Terra satellite, which has been orbiting the planet every 100 minutes since 1999.

The scientists found that melt rates in Greenland, Iceland and Scandinavia all slowed in the first two decades of the century, perhaps because of a change in temperatures and precipitation in the North Atlantic. Conversely, glaciers in the Karakoram range that had once seemed anomalously stable had now started to melt.

“Our findings are important on a political level,” said Daniel Farinotti, also of ETH Zurich. “The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst case climate change scenario.” − Climate News Network

Biden’s climate summit faces challenge by Brazil

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

Building back better needs radical change − by us

We’ve got the money, we’ve got the knowhow, but averting the worst of the climate crisis needs radical change by us.

LONDON, 20 April, 2021 − With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the globe, plenty of thinkers are devoting their time to what comes next. The hopeful argue for an effort to Build Back Better. The less hopeful doubt that that will be easy, or perhaps even possible, and not necessarily because of the pandemic itself. The pragmatists say the future can be different, if humans can achieve radical change in themselves and their lives.

They start from where we are and try to plot a way through to where we want to be. One of these is a UK think tank, the  Cambridge Sustainability Commission on behaviour change and the climate crisis, whose report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

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

The Commission’s report notes that some of us need to change our behaviour more than others. “Globally, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest half is responsible for less than 10%,” it says.

“The lifestyle emissions of the richest in society are actually increasing … Relying on conscientious individuals to ‘do their bit’ will never be enough to put society on a sustainable pathway without substantial shifts in the behaviour of the polluter elite.”

“I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity”

The report looks beyond the problem of taming the polluter elite, identifying several other “behaviour hotspots”. One, described as high-impact behaviours and ways of life, not very surprisingly lists these as “car and plane mobility, the consumption of meat and dairy, and the heating of residential homes”.

Some readers, though, may gulp to see a fourth candidate suggested for the list − the need for a 25% reduction in average personal living space in order to stay below the stricter emissions limit adopted by the Paris Agreement, 1.5°C.

How should we measure lifestyle sustainability? The Cambridge report says that as “global meat production (which roughly mirrors consumption) has fallen for the past two years (FAO, 2020), strategies to reduce meat consumption could accelerate the move away from meat-heavy diets and food production, acting as a social tipping point.”

Earlier it defines these as small quantitative changes which “lead to a qualitatively different state of the social system”, and are therefore to be welcomed.

Eager for change

There are certainly grounds in the report for thinking that more Britons are ready to change the way they behave than to stay the way they are.

The authors report a substantial appetite in the United Kingdom for post-pandemic behavioural change, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) RESET enquiry, led by Caroline Lucas MP. This found that, from a sample of more than 57,000 people:

  • 66% of UK adults want the government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of citizens over GDP growth
  • 66% of the public think the Government should intervene to make society fairer
  • 60% support a shorter working week
  • 63% support a jobs guarantee
  • 57% support some form of universal basic income
  • 65% support rent caps

But these changes may be a long way from all that’s needed. Chapter 5 of the Cambridge report, Future intervention points, starts with a warning: “As things stand under a business-as-usual scenario, we are headed towards 3-4°C of warming by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

Simple step

The end of the century may feel comfortably far distant for much of humanity, but not everybody is confident that we have even that much time to change. In March the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published a report, Global Trends 2040. The website Axios offered a summary: “This is not your typical grim climate report projecting disaster in the year 2100, i.e. the distant future.

“Instead, the climate change we will see through midcentury is already baked into the climate system, thanks to how the oceans absorb and redistribute heat. Studies show that even if emissions are sharply reduced now we are still in for additional amounts of warming through mid-century, which will lead to more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other effects … Buckle your seatbelt, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Perhaps the NIC is right. But just possibly we’re overcomplicating one of our main problems in the UK − and even globally. How do you cut crime? It’s simple, says one of Britain’s most senior police officers, Andy Cooke, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside in north-west England, in an interview with the Guardian: you give people something to hope for by reducing poverty.

Asked what he would do if he had £5 billion (US$7bn) to cut crime, Cooke said reducing inequality and deprivation would be his priority: “I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity.”

That would go a long way to stamping out the drugs war in Liverpool and the rest of Andy Cooke’s patch. Scaled up across the globe, it could stem the wretched flow of migrants struggling to survive. It would, in fact, give hope to people who have lost it. Is that really a radical change? − 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.

We’ve got the money, we’ve got the knowhow, but averting the worst of the climate crisis needs radical change by us.

LONDON, 20 April, 2021 − With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the globe, plenty of thinkers are devoting their time to what comes next. The hopeful argue for an effort to Build Back Better. The less hopeful doubt that that will be easy, or perhaps even possible, and not necessarily because of the pandemic itself. The pragmatists say the future can be different, if humans can achieve radical change in themselves and their lives.

They start from where we are and try to plot a way through to where we want to be. One of these is a UK think tank, the  Cambridge Sustainability Commission on behaviour change and the climate crisis, whose report is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

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

The Commission’s report notes that some of us need to change our behaviour more than others. “Globally, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest half is responsible for less than 10%,” it says.

“The lifestyle emissions of the richest in society are actually increasing … Relying on conscientious individuals to ‘do their bit’ will never be enough to put society on a sustainable pathway without substantial shifts in the behaviour of the polluter elite.”

“I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity”

The report looks beyond the problem of taming the polluter elite, identifying several other “behaviour hotspots”. One, described as high-impact behaviours and ways of life, not very surprisingly lists these as “car and plane mobility, the consumption of meat and dairy, and the heating of residential homes”.

Some readers, though, may gulp to see a fourth candidate suggested for the list − the need for a 25% reduction in average personal living space in order to stay below the stricter emissions limit adopted by the Paris Agreement, 1.5°C.

How should we measure lifestyle sustainability? The Cambridge report says that as “global meat production (which roughly mirrors consumption) has fallen for the past two years (FAO, 2020), strategies to reduce meat consumption could accelerate the move away from meat-heavy diets and food production, acting as a social tipping point.”

Earlier it defines these as small quantitative changes which “lead to a qualitatively different state of the social system”, and are therefore to be welcomed.

Eager for change

There are certainly grounds in the report for thinking that more Britons are ready to change the way they behave than to stay the way they are.

The authors report a substantial appetite in the United Kingdom for post-pandemic behavioural change, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) RESET enquiry, led by Caroline Lucas MP. This found that, from a sample of more than 57,000 people:

  • 66% of UK adults want the government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of citizens over GDP growth
  • 66% of the public think the Government should intervene to make society fairer
  • 60% support a shorter working week
  • 63% support a jobs guarantee
  • 57% support some form of universal basic income
  • 65% support rent caps

But these changes may be a long way from all that’s needed. Chapter 5 of the Cambridge report, Future intervention points, starts with a warning: “As things stand under a business-as-usual scenario, we are headed towards 3-4°C of warming by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences for humanity and the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

Simple step

The end of the century may feel comfortably far distant for much of humanity, but not everybody is confident that we have even that much time to change. In March the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published a report, Global Trends 2040. The website Axios offered a summary: “This is not your typical grim climate report projecting disaster in the year 2100, i.e. the distant future.

“Instead, the climate change we will see through midcentury is already baked into the climate system, thanks to how the oceans absorb and redistribute heat. Studies show that even if emissions are sharply reduced now we are still in for additional amounts of warming through mid-century, which will lead to more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and other effects … Buckle your seatbelt, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Perhaps the NIC is right. But just possibly we’re overcomplicating one of our main problems in the UK − and even globally. How do you cut crime? It’s simple, says one of Britain’s most senior police officers, Andy Cooke, the retiring chief constable of Merseyside in north-west England, in an interview with the Guardian: you give people something to hope for by reducing poverty.

Asked what he would do if he had £5 billion (US$7bn) to cut crime, Cooke said reducing inequality and deprivation would be his priority: “I’d put a billion into law enforcement and the rest into reducing poverty and increasing opportunity.”

That would go a long way to stamping out the drugs war in Liverpool and the rest of Andy Cooke’s patch. Scaled up across the globe, it could stem the wretched flow of migrants struggling to survive. It would, in fact, give hope to people who have lost it. Is that really a radical change? − 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.

UK court urged to respect 1.5°C climate limit

The UK faces growing pressure not to expand Heathrow airport but to respect the 1.5°C limit agreed on global heating.

LONDON, 1 April, 2021 − In a significant challenge to the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, several leading climate scientists have said a recent ruling it made on the expansion of London’s main airport, Heathrow, will cause serious damage to the global environment, urging it to rule that the government must respect the 1.5°C limit internationally agreed to rein in  global heating.

Almost 150 lawyers, academics and policy-makers from around the world have written to the court, urging it “to mitigate the profound harm” which they say will be caused by its judgement allowing the government to go ahead with its plans to expand Heathrow.

They add: “Recklessly ignoring the spirit and letter of the law of the Paris Agreement sends a message to the world that the UK has joined the ranks of the climate wreckers, betraying the world’s vulnerable countries and communities.”

Signatories include the government’s own former chief scientist, Sir David King; Dr James Hansen, the former NASA scientist once hailed as one of the “true giants” of climate science; and Dr Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and former advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General.

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

The Paris Agreement on climate change, reached in 2015, “aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C while pursuing means to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C.”

Although the UK is a signatory to the Agreement, and was a keen supporter of it six years ago, the present government appears unwilling to give it effect. At several points it has faced challenges from the charity Plan B, set up to support strategic legal action against climate change.

In February 2020 the Court of Appeal considered a case brought by Plan B, appealing against a previous High Court decision to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow, an argument advanced by the then Transport Minister, Chris Grayling. The Court of Appeal heard evidence from a range of witnesses and ended the hearing by finding unanimously in favour of Plan B’s challenge to the government’s plans, setting a precedent with global implications.

It has emerged subsequently that Mr Grayling’s argument to the High Court had hinged on reliance (which Plan B says was not disclosed to the court at the time) on the higher tolerable temperature increase agreed in Paris, 2°C, which the charity says would condemn many millions of people to an intolerable future,  rather than the less disastrous 1.5°C figure.

Prime ministerial assurance

There appeared at this point to be solid government backing for Plan B. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said he accepted the court’s ruling, telling Parliament on 4 March: “We will ensure that we abide by the judgment and take account of the Paris convention on climate change.”

But the government told Plan B in August 2020 that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. So it argued that it was entitled to rely on the 2°C figure which Plan B insisted would mean global disaster.

The government’s critics argue that this argument is a strange one to use when the UK is poised to host the annual UN climate conference, COP-26, being held this year in Glasgow in November.

In December 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s plans to expand Heathrow were lawful, upholding the government’s assertion  that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant, and despite uncontested evidence that the expansion would result in emissions of 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, by 2050 from UK aviation alone. This would be clearly inconsistent with the more stringent and safer 1.5°C Paris temperature limit.

Facing prison

The director of Plan B, Tim Crosland, a professional lawyer, already faces court action and a possible two-year prison sentence for revealing the decision of the Supreme Court while it was still under embargo in other words, not yet authorised for publication.

In a personal statement published on 15 December 2020 he said he had decided to break the embargo “as an act of civil disobedience. This will be treated as a ‘contempt of court’ and I am ready to face the consequences.

“I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the Court’s ruling … The Supreme Court’s judgment, which has legitimised Mr Grayling’s use of the deadly 2˚C threshold, has betrayed us all.”

Mr Crosland said: “The Heathrow case … was about much more than the third runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth. It can’t keep telling us it’s committed to the Paris Agreement temperature limit, if its actions say the opposite.” Climate News Network

The UK faces growing pressure not to expand Heathrow airport but to respect the 1.5°C limit agreed on global heating.

LONDON, 1 April, 2021 − In a significant challenge to the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, several leading climate scientists have said a recent ruling it made on the expansion of London’s main airport, Heathrow, will cause serious damage to the global environment, urging it to rule that the government must respect the 1.5°C limit internationally agreed to rein in  global heating.

Almost 150 lawyers, academics and policy-makers from around the world have written to the court, urging it “to mitigate the profound harm” which they say will be caused by its judgement allowing the government to go ahead with its plans to expand Heathrow.

They add: “Recklessly ignoring the spirit and letter of the law of the Paris Agreement sends a message to the world that the UK has joined the ranks of the climate wreckers, betraying the world’s vulnerable countries and communities.”

Signatories include the government’s own former chief scientist, Sir David King; Dr James Hansen, the former NASA scientist once hailed as one of the “true giants” of climate science; and Dr Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and former advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General.

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

The Paris Agreement on climate change, reached in 2015, “aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C while pursuing means to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C.”

Although the UK is a signatory to the Agreement, and was a keen supporter of it six years ago, the present government appears unwilling to give it effect. At several points it has faced challenges from the charity Plan B, set up to support strategic legal action against climate change.

In February 2020 the Court of Appeal considered a case brought by Plan B, appealing against a previous High Court decision to allow the building of a third runway at Heathrow, an argument advanced by the then Transport Minister, Chris Grayling. The Court of Appeal heard evidence from a range of witnesses and ended the hearing by finding unanimously in favour of Plan B’s challenge to the government’s plans, setting a precedent with global implications.

It has emerged subsequently that Mr Grayling’s argument to the High Court had hinged on reliance (which Plan B says was not disclosed to the court at the time) on the higher tolerable temperature increase agreed in Paris, 2°C, which the charity says would condemn many millions of people to an intolerable future,  rather than the less disastrous 1.5°C figure.

Prime ministerial assurance

There appeared at this point to be solid government backing for Plan B. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said he accepted the court’s ruling, telling Parliament on 4 March: “We will ensure that we abide by the judgment and take account of the Paris convention on climate change.”

But the government told Plan B in August 2020 that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. So it argued that it was entitled to rely on the 2°C figure which Plan B insisted would mean global disaster.

The government’s critics argue that this argument is a strange one to use when the UK is poised to host the annual UN climate conference, COP-26, being held this year in Glasgow in November.

In December 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s plans to expand Heathrow were lawful, upholding the government’s assertion  that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant, and despite uncontested evidence that the expansion would result in emissions of 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, by 2050 from UK aviation alone. This would be clearly inconsistent with the more stringent and safer 1.5°C Paris temperature limit.

Facing prison

The director of Plan B, Tim Crosland, a professional lawyer, already faces court action and a possible two-year prison sentence for revealing the decision of the Supreme Court while it was still under embargo in other words, not yet authorised for publication.

In a personal statement published on 15 December 2020 he said he had decided to break the embargo “as an act of civil disobedience. This will be treated as a ‘contempt of court’ and I am ready to face the consequences.

“I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the Court’s ruling … The Supreme Court’s judgment, which has legitimised Mr Grayling’s use of the deadly 2˚C threshold, has betrayed us all.”

Mr Crosland said: “The Heathrow case … was about much more than the third runway. Fundamentally it was about the obligation of the government to tell the truth. It can’t keep telling us it’s committed to the Paris Agreement temperature limit, if its actions say the opposite.” Climate News Network

Refugees gain hope from Latin American example

The UK’s new plan to control immigration has alarmed human rights groups. A Latin American example could offer hope instead.

LONDON, 31 March, 2021 − A year after Covid-19 began its devastating planetary spread, most of the world is still searching for ways to return to normality, however countries define it. A more far-sighted approach could be to rebuild better, using this global upheaval to avoid the errors of the past − including the treatment of refugees. A Latin American example could show the way.

Earlier this month the UK government unveiled its New Plan for Immigration, intended, it said, “to build a fair but firm asylum and illegal migration system”. Its proposals are novel, and not reassuring for those fleeing persecution: the Refugee Council, for example, dismissed them as “shaming Britain”.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says one per cent of the world’s population have fled their homes as a result of conflict or persecution: 79.5 million people. Among them are nearly 26 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.

Many seek safety within more peaceful parts of their own countries. The British Red Cross says the vast majority of asylum seekers flee over their nearest border, where they’re likely to live in camps. The proportion of the British population who are refugees or asylum seekers − not the same thing − is 0.26%.

In 2015 a prominent British politician, the late (Lord) Paddy Ashdown, said the world faced a humanitarian crisis on an immense scale if millions of people had to flee the impacts of the climate crisis.

Security on offer

He told the Climate News Network: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Perhaps prophetically, Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, said: “The idea of Open Europe is now under threat. We have to discuss how we can manage the future. Can you imagine what is going to happen? The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster.”

Climate-induced migration is already occurring; in 2018 climate and weather-related hazards led to 16.1 million newly displaced people.

Research from the World Bank indicates that by 2050 there will be 143 million internally displaced people due to slow-onset climate impacts, if there is no significant climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

One Latin American country, though, has taken a bold step which promises limited security to those seeking safety within its borders, and which could be a model for other states thinking of following suit.

“The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming”

In February this year the Colombian leader, President Iván Duque, granted what is known as Temporary Protection Status to Venezuelan refugees and migrants living in Colombia, giving them a decade of legal residence.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, hailed the surprise decision, calling it “historic.” Former US president Bill Clinton said: “This decision will save lives.” But while it may prompt some of Colombia’s neighbours to follow its lead, there are fears that rising regional xenophobia could prove a deterrent to others.

Within Colombia itself, however, the decision has been broadly welcomed. Until February fewer than half of the 1.7 million Venezuelans living there had enjoyed legal status. The president’s decision offers security to refugees, including access to basic services such as education and health, as well as to Colombia’s Covid-19 vaccination plan.

The latest figures show 5.4 million Venezuelans have left their country because of political and economic instability under the authoritarian government of President Nicolás Maduro, which  has led to shortages of food, medicine, and fuel. The UNHCR calls the problem of Venezuelan migration “one of the largest displacement crises in the world.”

Colombia has set an example for how to set about defusing tensions and misinformation over the links between migration and the climate crisis something that was growing urgent in Europe well before President Duque’s move. The UK’s latest initiative shows little sign that British politicians have yet been swayed by the Latin American example they have been offered. − Climate News Network

The UK’s new plan to control immigration has alarmed human rights groups. A Latin American example could offer hope instead.

LONDON, 31 March, 2021 − A year after Covid-19 began its devastating planetary spread, most of the world is still searching for ways to return to normality, however countries define it. A more far-sighted approach could be to rebuild better, using this global upheaval to avoid the errors of the past − including the treatment of refugees. A Latin American example could show the way.

Earlier this month the UK government unveiled its New Plan for Immigration, intended, it said, “to build a fair but firm asylum and illegal migration system”. Its proposals are novel, and not reassuring for those fleeing persecution: the Refugee Council, for example, dismissed them as “shaming Britain”.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says one per cent of the world’s population have fled their homes as a result of conflict or persecution: 79.5 million people. Among them are nearly 26 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.

Many seek safety within more peaceful parts of their own countries. The British Red Cross says the vast majority of asylum seekers flee over their nearest border, where they’re likely to live in camps. The proportion of the British population who are refugees or asylum seekers − not the same thing − is 0.26%.

In 2015 a prominent British politician, the late (Lord) Paddy Ashdown, said the world faced a humanitarian crisis on an immense scale if millions of people had to flee the impacts of the climate crisis.

Security on offer

He told the Climate News Network: “The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming.”

Perhaps prophetically, Lord Ashdown, a former marine and diplomat, said: “The idea of Open Europe is now under threat. We have to discuss how we can manage the future. Can you imagine what is going to happen? The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster.”

Climate-induced migration is already occurring; in 2018 climate and weather-related hazards led to 16.1 million newly displaced people.

Research from the World Bank indicates that by 2050 there will be 143 million internally displaced people due to slow-onset climate impacts, if there is no significant climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

One Latin American country, though, has taken a bold step which promises limited security to those seeking safety within its borders, and which could be a model for other states thinking of following suit.

“The numbers we now have of refugees fleeing battle zones are going to be diminished into almost nothing when we see the mass movement of populations caused by global warming”

In February this year the Colombian leader, President Iván Duque, granted what is known as Temporary Protection Status to Venezuelan refugees and migrants living in Colombia, giving them a decade of legal residence.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, hailed the surprise decision, calling it “historic.” Former US president Bill Clinton said: “This decision will save lives.” But while it may prompt some of Colombia’s neighbours to follow its lead, there are fears that rising regional xenophobia could prove a deterrent to others.

Within Colombia itself, however, the decision has been broadly welcomed. Until February fewer than half of the 1.7 million Venezuelans living there had enjoyed legal status. The president’s decision offers security to refugees, including access to basic services such as education and health, as well as to Colombia’s Covid-19 vaccination plan.

The latest figures show 5.4 million Venezuelans have left their country because of political and economic instability under the authoritarian government of President Nicolás Maduro, which  has led to shortages of food, medicine, and fuel. The UNHCR calls the problem of Venezuelan migration “one of the largest displacement crises in the world.”

Colombia has set an example for how to set about defusing tensions and misinformation over the links between migration and the climate crisis something that was growing urgent in Europe well before President Duque’s move. The UK’s latest initiative shows little sign that British politicians have yet been swayed by the Latin American example they have been offered. − Climate News Network

Could ecological interest rates help the Earth?

The global economy doesn’t reflect the Earth’s crisis and its warming climate. Might ecological interest rates help link them?

Andrew Simms, a political economist and co-author of the original Green New Deal, believes ecological interest rates could prevent financial institutions investing in fossil fuels and connect the monetary system to the reality of the planet’s finite ecosystems. This is an edited extract from his new pamphlet written jointly for Prime Economics, the New Weather Institute and the Rapid Transition Alliance.

LONDON, 3 March, 2021 − We need a new global economy, one which recognises the deepening crisis facing life on Earth and is designed to help to solve it. And a good way to build one, experts say, is to switch to something called ecological interest rates.

Interest rates usually capture people’s attention only if they have savings, when they’re bothered by low rates, or borrowings such as a mortgage, which means high ones. But economists are becoming unusually preoccupied with them, partly because it’s very likely that they will soon do something shocking and unusual: go negative.

There’s another reason, though. With intense focus on a green economic recovery after the pandemic, there’s a growing realisation that there is no real link between money, its cost and our ecological life-support system.

The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity, as a conservative annual assessment of ecological overshoot makes clear. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes.

The size of the economy, in turn, is fuelled by the supply of credit in different monetary forms. More money in circulation tends to increase conventional economic growth.

Excessive economic footprint

This doesn’t necessarily mean the productive economy is getting bigger, though. For example, if banks lend money in a risky way – as happened with the sub-prime mortgage debacle behind the 2007-08 financial crisis – they can create an asset bubble which, when it bursts, can trigger recession.

Interest rates are the price we pay to borrow money, and when the price of money is positive, which it usually is, we have to pay back more than we actually borrowed. So interest also motivates orthodox growth, which relies on exploiting the biosphere and human labour.

What matters with an issue like climate breakdown is what happens in aggregate, and how this relates to any change in impact needed for the economy to operate within a particular planetary boundary – in effect, to fit its shoe size.

The economy’s footprint is already too big. So, to be environmentally sustainable, improvements in material efficiency must be big enough not only to compensate for the effects of growth, but also to reduce absolute consumption in line with getting back to the right shoe size again.

For example, there’s a lot of hype about improved aviation fuel efficiency. But, between 2013 and 2019, aviation passenger traffic went up four times faster than fuel efficiency improved. Elsewhere, the carbon emission benefits of supposedly efficient hybrid cars were shown to be only around one third of those promised.

The International Resource Panel (IRP) report, Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future, found that emissions from the extraction and production of materials such as metals, minerals, woods and plastics more than doubled from 1995 to 2015, accounting for a quarter of global emissions. Measures to improve resource efficiency did not come close to cancelling out the rise.

“The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes”

Global resource use continues to grow. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently spoke of humanity waging a “suicidal war” on nature:  global material use is projected to rise to 170-184 billion tonnes by 2050.

Money is a means of exchange, a store and a measure of value, or a unit of account. In essence, though, it isn’t a note or a coin but a social contract, an agreement about how to allocate resources. And the way our current money system is allocating resources is pushing us rapidly over a climate and ecological cliff.

That’s because money – a social construct, “a promise to pay” – cannot be finite. We can always make another promise. But the ecosystem’s ability to fulfil that promise – to meet the liability – is finite.

A price is what you pay, in money, for goods or services. But in practice prices often don’t carry vital information − the human cost of production, the impact on human health, or current and future environmental damage.

And there are larger issues. If someone planned to build on a much-loved meadow, you would face two questions: how much would you pay to save it, or how much compensation would you demand for its loss? Two very different prices would result, one limited by your ability to pay, the other possibly infinitely high. It could be no price.

Prices are judgements of value. How would you set the price of the notional tonne of carbon which, when burned, tipped the balance towards irreversible runaway global warming? You’d ask the price of a climate capable of supporting human civilisation.

Heading for 4°C

Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, has said that the financial sector is investing in fossil fuels so “that if you add up the policies of all of the companies out there, they are consistent with warming of 3.7-3.8°C”. The globally agreed target is to keep climate heating below 1.5°C.

Many currencies are too big, covering areas that are too large and include a range of economic circumstances for which no single interest rate can be optimal. There are always some areas likely to be “overheating” and others that are struggling. You cannot set an interest rate that suits everyone; money is likely to be too cheap in one place or too expensive in another. Many people therefore argue for more currencies.

One way of reconnecting the money supply to the real world of natural resources is to have currencies which are backed by something real – like commodities. Several could address economic inequality (think various ways of providing universal income and/or services, such as access to energy and built-in incentives to veer away from carbon use).

It’s a sign of the times that alongside the base rate on the Bank of England’s website, the large-scale public creation of money (quantitative easing) has gone from being a seemingly exotic tool to one so standard that it is now one of the two default tools of monetary policy.

Ultimately, though, overuse of the biosphere requires limits on resource consumption. This still leaves quite a lot of room for action, such as making money expensive for what you want to avoid, like more fossil fuel, and cheap for what you need, a switch to job-creating, and clean, renewable energy. So credit should be more expensive for what you want less of.

Mark Carney says banks currently have portfolios of investment that will lead to catastrophic global heating of around 4°C. That shows the cost of borrowing should be made much higher for those investors who are fuelling the crisis.

Lessons from the pandemic

An ecological rate of interest would price money in terms of environmental limits. Current interest rates rarely if ever do this. A few banks are starting to incorporate so-called ESG factors (environmental, social and governance). A few are ceasing to lend to some of the most climate-damaging activities and to vary the cost of capital to reflect environmental risks. But they’re not even scratching the surface of the problem.

One way to do this would be to raise sharply the so-called risk weighting of all high-carbon loans, whether from a bank to a coal mine or for the purchase of a petrol-driven car, making the loan more expensive and sending a decisive market signal.

Central banks and supervisory monetary authorities have as their core mandate the maintenance of financial and monetary stability. Acting to prevent the allocation of vast financial resources to climate breakdown, with its catastrophic implications for humanity and the wider economy, is therefore directly aligned with their fundamental purpose.

What the world needs is something which goes beyond a greener money supply, something which deals with the aggregate size of the economy. There is a growing consensus among a wide spectrum of progressive voices about how a range of economic and social problems could be addressed at the same time as moving away from a growth-dependent economy.

With a rapid, just transition, to live within our ecological means (and the potential for radical policy and behaviour change has been widely demonstrated by responses to the coronavirus pandemic) what might it mean to align the economy with planetary boundaries?

Climate scientists say we should be aiming to return to a carbon concentration in the atmosphere no higher than 350 parts per million of CO2. An ecological growth rate would then be one compatible with stabilising greenhouse gases at no higher than this level. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Andrew Simms is an author, political economist and campaigner. He is co-director of the New Weather institute, co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, and a research associate at the University of Sussex. He was for many years the policy director of the New Economics Foundation and led its work on environment, energy, climate and interdependence, as well as on the health of local economies. He tweets from @andrewsimms_uk

The global economy doesn’t reflect the Earth’s crisis and its warming climate. Might ecological interest rates help link them?

Andrew Simms, a political economist and co-author of the original Green New Deal, believes ecological interest rates could prevent financial institutions investing in fossil fuels and connect the monetary system to the reality of the planet’s finite ecosystems. This is an edited extract from his new pamphlet written jointly for Prime Economics, the New Weather Institute and the Rapid Transition Alliance.

LONDON, 3 March, 2021 − We need a new global economy, one which recognises the deepening crisis facing life on Earth and is designed to help to solve it. And a good way to build one, experts say, is to switch to something called ecological interest rates.

Interest rates usually capture people’s attention only if they have savings, when they’re bothered by low rates, or borrowings such as a mortgage, which means high ones. But economists are becoming unusually preoccupied with them, partly because it’s very likely that they will soon do something shocking and unusual: go negative.

There’s another reason, though. With intense focus on a green economic recovery after the pandemic, there’s a growing realisation that there is no real link between money, its cost and our ecological life-support system.

The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity, as a conservative annual assessment of ecological overshoot makes clear. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes.

The size of the economy, in turn, is fuelled by the supply of credit in different monetary forms. More money in circulation tends to increase conventional economic growth.

Excessive economic footprint

This doesn’t necessarily mean the productive economy is getting bigger, though. For example, if banks lend money in a risky way – as happened with the sub-prime mortgage debacle behind the 2007-08 financial crisis – they can create an asset bubble which, when it bursts, can trigger recession.

Interest rates are the price we pay to borrow money, and when the price of money is positive, which it usually is, we have to pay back more than we actually borrowed. So interest also motivates orthodox growth, which relies on exploiting the biosphere and human labour.

What matters with an issue like climate breakdown is what happens in aggregate, and how this relates to any change in impact needed for the economy to operate within a particular planetary boundary – in effect, to fit its shoe size.

The economy’s footprint is already too big. So, to be environmentally sustainable, improvements in material efficiency must be big enough not only to compensate for the effects of growth, but also to reduce absolute consumption in line with getting back to the right shoe size again.

For example, there’s a lot of hype about improved aviation fuel efficiency. But, between 2013 and 2019, aviation passenger traffic went up four times faster than fuel efficiency improved. Elsewhere, the carbon emission benefits of supposedly efficient hybrid cars were shown to be only around one third of those promised.

The International Resource Panel (IRP) report, Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future, found that emissions from the extraction and production of materials such as metals, minerals, woods and plastics more than doubled from 1995 to 2015, accounting for a quarter of global emissions. Measures to improve resource efficiency did not come close to cancelling out the rise.

“The global economy has outgrown the biosphere’s carrying capacity. It is as if we were trying to shove size 10 economic feet into size six planetary shoes”

Global resource use continues to grow. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently spoke of humanity waging a “suicidal war” on nature:  global material use is projected to rise to 170-184 billion tonnes by 2050.

Money is a means of exchange, a store and a measure of value, or a unit of account. In essence, though, it isn’t a note or a coin but a social contract, an agreement about how to allocate resources. And the way our current money system is allocating resources is pushing us rapidly over a climate and ecological cliff.

That’s because money – a social construct, “a promise to pay” – cannot be finite. We can always make another promise. But the ecosystem’s ability to fulfil that promise – to meet the liability – is finite.

A price is what you pay, in money, for goods or services. But in practice prices often don’t carry vital information − the human cost of production, the impact on human health, or current and future environmental damage.

And there are larger issues. If someone planned to build on a much-loved meadow, you would face two questions: how much would you pay to save it, or how much compensation would you demand for its loss? Two very different prices would result, one limited by your ability to pay, the other possibly infinitely high. It could be no price.

Prices are judgements of value. How would you set the price of the notional tonne of carbon which, when burned, tipped the balance towards irreversible runaway global warming? You’d ask the price of a climate capable of supporting human civilisation.

Heading for 4°C

Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, has said that the financial sector is investing in fossil fuels so “that if you add up the policies of all of the companies out there, they are consistent with warming of 3.7-3.8°C”. The globally agreed target is to keep climate heating below 1.5°C.

Many currencies are too big, covering areas that are too large and include a range of economic circumstances for which no single interest rate can be optimal. There are always some areas likely to be “overheating” and others that are struggling. You cannot set an interest rate that suits everyone; money is likely to be too cheap in one place or too expensive in another. Many people therefore argue for more currencies.

One way of reconnecting the money supply to the real world of natural resources is to have currencies which are backed by something real – like commodities. Several could address economic inequality (think various ways of providing universal income and/or services, such as access to energy and built-in incentives to veer away from carbon use).

It’s a sign of the times that alongside the base rate on the Bank of England’s website, the large-scale public creation of money (quantitative easing) has gone from being a seemingly exotic tool to one so standard that it is now one of the two default tools of monetary policy.

Ultimately, though, overuse of the biosphere requires limits on resource consumption. This still leaves quite a lot of room for action, such as making money expensive for what you want to avoid, like more fossil fuel, and cheap for what you need, a switch to job-creating, and clean, renewable energy. So credit should be more expensive for what you want less of.

Mark Carney says banks currently have portfolios of investment that will lead to catastrophic global heating of around 4°C. That shows the cost of borrowing should be made much higher for those investors who are fuelling the crisis.

Lessons from the pandemic

An ecological rate of interest would price money in terms of environmental limits. Current interest rates rarely if ever do this. A few banks are starting to incorporate so-called ESG factors (environmental, social and governance). A few are ceasing to lend to some of the most climate-damaging activities and to vary the cost of capital to reflect environmental risks. But they’re not even scratching the surface of the problem.

One way to do this would be to raise sharply the so-called risk weighting of all high-carbon loans, whether from a bank to a coal mine or for the purchase of a petrol-driven car, making the loan more expensive and sending a decisive market signal.

Central banks and supervisory monetary authorities have as their core mandate the maintenance of financial and monetary stability. Acting to prevent the allocation of vast financial resources to climate breakdown, with its catastrophic implications for humanity and the wider economy, is therefore directly aligned with their fundamental purpose.

What the world needs is something which goes beyond a greener money supply, something which deals with the aggregate size of the economy. There is a growing consensus among a wide spectrum of progressive voices about how a range of economic and social problems could be addressed at the same time as moving away from a growth-dependent economy.

With a rapid, just transition, to live within our ecological means (and the potential for radical policy and behaviour change has been widely demonstrated by responses to the coronavirus pandemic) what might it mean to align the economy with planetary boundaries?

Climate scientists say we should be aiming to return to a carbon concentration in the atmosphere no higher than 350 parts per million of CO2. An ecological growth rate would then be one compatible with stabilising greenhouse gases at no higher than this level. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Andrew Simms is an author, political economist and campaigner. He is co-director of the New Weather institute, co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, and a research associate at the University of Sussex. He was for many years the policy director of the New Economics Foundation and led its work on environment, energy, climate and interdependence, as well as on the health of local economies. He tweets from @andrewsimms_uk

Hope springs eternal for species facing extinction

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

India’s energy policy is key to the planet’s future

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

Carbon-free future is in reach for the US by 2050

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network

America could have a carbon-free future by 2050 with a big switch to wind and solar power, say US government scientists.

LONDON, 11 February, 2021 − The US − per head of population perhaps the world’s most prodigal emitter of greenhouse gases − can reverse that and have a carbon-free future within three decades, at a cost of no more than $1 per person per day.

That would mean renewable energy to power all 50 states: giant wind power farms, solar power stations, electric cars, heat pumps and a range of other technological solutions.

The argument has been made before: made repeatedly; and contested too. But this time the reasoning comes not from individual scientists in a handful of US universities, but from an American government research base: the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with help from the University of San Francisco.

To make the switch more politically feasible, the authors argue, existing power plant could be allowed to live out its economic life; nobody need be asked to scrap a brand new gasoline-driven car for an electric vehicle.

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries”

Their study − in the journal AGU Advances − looked at a range of ways to get to net zero carbon emissions, at costs as low as 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP, the economist’s favourite measure of national wealth), or as high as 1.2%, with about 90% of power generated by wind or solar energy.

“The decarbonisation of the US energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation,” said Margaret Torn, of the Berkeley Lab, one of the authors.

“It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings, while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”

The economic costs would be almost exclusively capital costs necessitated by the new infrastructure. That is both bad and good.

Jobs aplenty

“All that infrastructure build equates to jobs, and potentially jobs in the US, as opposed to spending money overseas to buy oil from other countries.

“There’s no question that there will need to be a well thought-out economic transition strategy for fossil fuel-based industries and communities, but there’s also no question that there are a lot of jobs in building a low carbon economy.”

The study also suggests the US could even become a source of what the scientists call “net negative” emissions by mid-century, taking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added.

This would mean systematic carbon capture, investment in biofuels, and a lot more electric power; which in turn would cost inland and interstate transmission lines. But, the authors argue, this would be affordable to society just on energy grounds alone. − Climate News Network