Cars using diesel fuel cause more climate damage than petrol-driven vehicles, campaigners say, and are also a health risk.

LONDON, 18 February, 2016 – In a sharp reminder of the dangers posed by diesel fuel,  campaigners say Europe needs to act decisively to counter its dual dangers. Not only is it a serious health hazard, they argue, but it also worsens climate change.

The group, Green Budget Europe (GBE), says that after including the global warming caused by black carbon – or soot – from diesel engines, cars that use the fuel do more harm to the climate than petrol-driven vehicles.

Their conclusion, which contradicts industry claims, is contained in a briefing for members of the European Parliament by Eckard Helmers, professor of chemical and environmental analysis at Trier University of Applied Sciences, Germany.

According to Professor Helmers, diesel’s share of new car sales in Western Europe rose from 15% during the early 1990s to more than half in recent years, because of reduced taxes and lower air pollution standards for diesel fuel and diesel cars.

GBE says the constant improvement in petrol engines is one factor explaining why diesel cars now have a worse climate record than petrol cars. But it says it is black carbon that pushes the climate emissions from diesel cars significantly higher.

Flawed results

When black carbon is expressed in terms of CO2, the emissions of pre-2005 diesel cars, few of which have particulate filters, are 25 – 50% (40 – 80g) higher per kilometre than suggested by official estimates dating back to when the cars were sold.

Almost all post-2005 diesel cars are fitted with devices to cut particulates. But the briefing says testing in France shows the devices do not work properly on 75% of cars.

With diesel cars outselling petrol in Europe every year for the last decade, Professor Helmers says the continent’s refineries are now under strain, and grappling with a growing diesel/petrol imbalance. The tripling of diesel demand since the mid-1990s has led to increased diesel imports from Russia, adding security-of-supply concerns to the higher emissions of a longer supply chain.

GBE thinks Europe should learn from Japan’s adoption of different technology. It says:  “Progressing hybrids instead of diesel since the early 1990s, Japan now commands a substantial climate lead over Europe in producing low-CO2 cars for the mass market.”

“A continued pro-diesel bias in Europe . . . would be a strategic mistake, risking the long-term competitiveness of European car-making”

Japan’s CO2 emissions from new cars are now on average 16% lower than Europe’s – 108g per kilometre in Japan, 128g in Europe..

GBE says: “A continued pro-diesel bias in Europe, either through reduced taxes, weaker air pollution standards, or both, would be a strategic mistake, risking the long-term competitiveness of European car-making.”

France is preparing to increase taxation on diesel fuel in 2016, and GBE says it is now time for Germany to follow suit: “The longer Germany waits before reducing its 18 cent tax gap between diesel and petrol, the harder it will become for its car-makers to become more competitive in making mass-market hybrids and electric vehicles.”

Diesel vehicles also make a significant contribution to air pollution. A recently-published study of 368,000 Britons over 38 years found that the health effects of exposure to polluted air persist for many decades after exposure.

Paying for pollution

The World Health Organisation says outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012, 88% of them in low- and middle-income countries, and the greatest number in its Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions. 

Green Budget Europe argues for the use of environmental fiscal reform (EFR) in order to bring tax and spending into line with environmental goals.

Through green taxes, emissions trading, subsidy reform, the promotion of renewable energy and other measures, it aims at increasing the price of pollution and environmental damage and correcting market distortions.

It says this would “make prices tell the ecological truth”, and wants higher taxes on pollution to be balanced by reduced labour taxes. – Climate News Network

California’s drought has already imperilled many of its trees, and within 80 years climate change could destroy the evergreen forests of the entire US southwest.

LONDON, 29 December, 2015 – Tens of millions of trees in California are now at risk because of sustained drought, according to new research. And a different study in a different journal foresees a parched future for the evergreen forests not just in the Golden State but in the entire US southwest.

Gregory Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California and colleagues used airborne, laser-guided imaging instruments to measure, for the first time, the full impact of California’s four-year drought, and combined their measurements with satellite data going back to 2011. What they were looking for, precisely, were the levels of water content in the forest canopy.

They report, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that 58 million Californian trees – pines, firs, hemlocks, juniper, sequoia and so on – are now suffering losses “extremely threatening” to long-term health.

Their study covered 41,000 square miles, or 10.6 million hectares, containing 888 million large trees. All experienced measurable losses of canopy water between 2011 and 2015.

Multiple benefits

Forests of course are vital components of the planetary survival machine: they provide habitat and nourishment to a host of species, they serve as reservoirs of water, they maintain the stability of mountainsides, they sequester carbon from the atmosphere, they supply industry and – in California especially – the giant redwoods of Mariposa and other forests are tourist attractions. 

“So they are tremendously important ecologically, economically and culturally,” said Professor Asner. “The drought put the forests in tremendous peril, a situation that may cause long-term changes in ecosystems that could impact animal habitats and biodiversity.”

In the longer term, too, peril is on the way. US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they devised models to project the impact of global warming on the forests of the American Southwest – a climatic zone that includes Arizona, and parts of New Mexico, California, Colorado, Utah and Texas – up to the year 2100. The region is home to 11 national forests.

They looked at field results, climate models and a whole range of studies and kept arriving at the same grim conclusion: the outcome was dire. Massive mortality was predicted for the conifers of the region.

“No matter how we investigated the problem, we got the same result. This consensus gives us confidence in this projection of forest mortality,” said Sara Rauscher, of the University of Delaware, one of the authors.

“A treeless Southwest would be a major change not only to the landscape, but to the overall ecosystem”

The study suggests that 72% of the region’s needleleaf, evergreen forests will die by 2050, with nearly 100% mortality of Southwest forests by 2100.

The study does not allow for the forests to adapt. It does consider the worst case scenario, one in which humans go on burning fossil fuels on a business-as-usual principle, releasing ever more carbon dioxide to accelerate increasingly calamitous climate change. The scientists have not considered forest fires and insect plagues that could make their projections even worse.

“This region of the U.S. has beautiful, old forests with historic trees like Ponderosa pine that you don’t find in many other places. A treeless Southwest would be a major change not only to the landscape, but to the overall ecosystem,” Dr Rauscher said.

“There is always hope that if we reduce carbon emissions, if we continue to address climate change, then perhaps these dire projections won’t come to pass.” – Climate News Network

One straightforward way to combat both climate change and mass hunger is to replace carbon lost from the soil.

LONDON, 23 December, 2015 – All sorts of clever, expensive and downright daft ideas for removing carbon from the atmosphere have been suggested, but one of the simplest and most effective – building up carbon in the soil – hardly rates a mention.

It is a process that happens naturally, but intensive agriculture, deep ploughing, heavy artificial fertiliser use and cutting down forests have impoverished soils worldwide. If the process could be reversed by adding extra organic matter to the soil each year, then the worst effects of climate change could be averted.

Although the issue was hardly raised in the two weeks of negotiations on the Paris Agreement in early December, behind the scenes the way farmers produce crops remains central to knowing whether we can hope to avoid the full impact of the warming climate.

More than 100 of the 196 countries present in Paris which submitted plans beforehand on how to reduce their own carbon emissions put agriculture, forestry and replacing carbon in soils into their programmes.

Better yields

Also, on the fringes of the conference, the CGIAR Consortium, a partnership of leading agricultural research organisations, announced a US$225 million five-year plan to mitigate climate change by putting carbon back into the soil while improving developing world agricultural yields.

This is part of a much longer-running international initiative started by France, the 4% Initiative, which aims to increase the carbon content of soil by four parts per thousand each year, enough to counteract human interference with the climate from the continued burning of fossil fuels.

The CGIAR plan they call “climate-smart agriculture” will help farmers in Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Nepal and Colombia. The aim is to disturb soils as little as possible, using zero tillage techniques, encouraging 10% tree cover and better management of rangelands. All of these methods increase yields, return carbon to the soil and help retain moisture.

According to CGIAR: “Soil is a massive carbon reservoir, containing two to three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Increasing soil carbon by 0.4% per year would offset atmospheric carbon emissions.

“Organic agriculture used to be ridiculed for a long time but now science backs us as a solution to climate change”

“Increasing soil carbon not only mitigates climate change, it also would increase – or restore – soil health and fertility, thereby helping agriculture to adapt to climate change and improve environmental health overall.”

One of the key organisations supporting the 4 per1000 initiative is Organics International (IFOAM), the international organic farming organisation that has 800 members in 125 countries. The president, André Leu, is a tropical fruit farmer in Australia who says that food security and carbon sequestration in the soil are central to saving the planet from the extreme impacts of climate change.

“It does not matter which part of the world you are in and what you grow. Putting carbon back into the soil, increasing the organic matter, is essential to improving yields in the long run,” he said.

“If we are to combat droughts then organic matter retains moisture as well as carbon, so we make soils more resilient and productive. Organic agriculture used to be ridiculed for a long time but now science backs us as a solution to climate change. We want to share our knowledge so that many farmers and consumers across the world can benefit.” – Climate News Network

The world’s lakes are heating up fast, threatening the fish on which millions depend and rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

LONDON, 21 December, 2015 – US scientists report that lakes worldwide are warming by an average of more than 1°C every 30 years, faster than the warming rate of either the ocean or the atmosphere.

The warming is expected to increase algal blooms and to mean global emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a century, will increase by 4% over the next decade. Over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more powerful than CO2. 

The rapid warming of the lakes threatens freshwater supplies and ecosystems, the scientists report in their study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. They say their study is the largest of its kind and the first to combine satellite temperature data and long-term ground measurements.

They monitored 235 lakes, representing more than half the world’s freshwater supply, for at least 25 years and found that they are warming by an average of 0.34°C each decade. Among the profound effects they say may follow is an increase in algal blooms

“These results suggest that large changes in our lakes are not only unavoidable, but are probably already happening”

The blooms, which can ultimately rob water of oxygen, are projected to increase by 20% in lakes over the next century as warming rates increase. Blooms which are toxic to fish and animals would increase by 5%. If these rates continue, the authors say, emissions of methane from the lakes will increase by 4% by 2025.

Stephanie Hampton, of Washington State University, one of the study’s co-authors, said: “Society depends on surface water for the vast majority of human uses – not just for drinking water, but for manufacturing, for energy production, for irrigation of our crops. Protein from freshwater fish is especially important in the developing world.”

The authors say the temperature of water affects many of its other properties essential to the health and viability of ecosystems. When temperature swings quickly and widely from the norm, lifeforms in a lake can change dramatically and even disappear.

“These results suggest that large changes in our lakes are not only unavoidable, but are probably already happening,” says Catherine O’Reilly of Illinois State University, the lead author of the study. Earlier research by Professor O’Reilly has seen declining productivity in lakes with rising temperatures.

Longer record

Another co-author, Simon Hook of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said satellite measurements provided a broad view of lake temperatures over the entire globe. But they measured only surface temperature, while hand measurements could detect temperature changes throughout a lake. And although satellite measurements went back 30 years, some surface measurements were more than a century old.

“Combining the ground and satellite measurements provides the most comprehensive view of how lake temperatures are changing around the world,” he said.

The researchers say various climate factors are associated with the warming trend. In northern climates lakes are losing their ice cover earlier, and many areas of the world have less cloud cover, exposing their waters more to the Sun. They say the greatest warming is occurring at high latitudes, as other climate warming studies have also found.

Tropical lakes may be seeing less dramatic temperature increases, but still enough to harm fish significantly. That can be particularly important in places like the African Great Lakes, where fish is an important source of food. – Climate News Network

COP21: Planning and preparation can lessen the heavy human toll of natural disasters linked to climate change, survivors tell UN summit delegates. 

PARIS, 7 December, 2015 – More than half a million people have perished in 15,000 climate-related disasters since 1995, at a cost of $US2.97 trillion, according to new statistics released during the COP21 climate summit.  

This is the second such tally of devastation and death accumulated since COP1, the first meeting two decades ago of world governments to confront the challenge of climate change.

That the latest Global Climate Risk Index, compiled by the organisation Germanwatch, differs from the UN’s own recent estimates over the same two decades is partly because compilers used different approaches and criteria, partly an indicator of the innate difficulties of linking sustained suffering and loss to discrete meteorological events, and partly because Germanwatch does not include all the statistics from slowly-emerging events such as drought.

But both sets of figures confirm that as global temperatures creep ever higher, as a consequence of greater concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, in turn because of human activity, extreme events present ever greater hazards in the form of storms, hail, tornadoes, storm surges, floods, landslides, ice storms, wildfires and droughts.

In 2014, the worst three affected countries were Serbia – hit by catastrophic floods that swept through southeast Europe that year – Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The three worst affected countries over the two decades are Honduras, Myanmar and Haiti, with the Philippines in fourth place, just above Nicaragua and Bangladesh.

Lower target

The Philippines, a vast archipelago of 7,000 large and small islands, is in the path of around 20 to 25 typhoons a year that increasingly hit communities that had once considered themselves relatively safe. The 190 nations attending COP21 have committed themselves to containing global warming to an average of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but the Philippines is one of a large group that would prefer the world to aim for 1.5°C.

Tropical cyclones are linked to sea surface temperatures and could become more intense, more frequent or more extensive as temperatures rise, and tropical countries with vast coastlines are inevitably more likely to be in the path of the coming storms.

But the nations most at hazard have, under a UN umbrella programme, also been trying to anticipate the worst. And COP21 delegates heard that the Philippines government, for the first time, has started to keep tally not just of the statistics of catastrophe, but also of the disasters that did not happen.

Attitudes to hazard have changed. What had once been the country’s national disaster agency co-ordinating council is now a national disaster risk management council.

“We consider ourselves already survivors of climate change, and survivors have stories to tell”

Raymund Liboro, the Philippines assistant secretary for climate change and disaster risk reduction, told the conference: “While we consider ourselves as vulnerable, we do not consider ourselves helpless.”

One case in point was Typhoon Koppu, the thirteenth tropical cyclone to hit the nation in 2015. Winds reached 240 km an hour, prodigious quantities of rain were dumped on the hills, and in one region more than 1,000 millimetres of rain fell in 24 hours. It triggered a huge flow of debris that buried three townships.

Communities saved

In 2012, during a similar storm, more than 1,000 people died. But although Typhoon Koppu in October dislodged 41 million cubic metres of rock, rubble and forest from the mountainsides, it killed nobody. Forewarned, the authorities had evacuated all three communities and saved 7,000 families.

So the climate risk index and other sources of information served not just as a league table of human suffering, but also as an indicator of levels of future risk  and a reminder that meteorological hazard now bears the fingerprint of climate change.

With good information, Mr Liboro said, countries could begin to cope, mitigate, adapt and survive. “Behind those numbers are actual lives,” he said. “We consider ourselves already survivors of climate change, and survivors have stories to tell.” – Climate News Network