India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

There is no sign from President Obama’s visit that India will be pressured into making any immediate plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

NEW DELHI, 27 January, 2015 − Hopes that India and the US might announce ambitious plans to co-operate in tackling climate change have proved wide of the mark.

A meeting here between the visiting US president, Barack Obama, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, showed India determined to follow an independent line − although Modi said it does intend to increase its use of renewable energy.

Mod did not offer any hint of a reduction in coal use. And on possible targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, he said nothing beyond agreeing to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, while insisting that India demands equal treatment in cutting GHGs.

India is the third largest GHG emitter, after China and the US, but generates only two tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita, compared with 20 tonnes in the US and eight in China.

Limited liability

The two leaders smoothed the way for further Indian use of nuclear power, outlining a deal to limit the legal liability of US suppliers in the event of a nuclear power plant catastrophe.

Referring to the recent agreement between the US and China to work together on CO2 cuts, Modi said: “The agreement that has been concluded between the US and China does not impose pressure on us; India is an independent country. But climate change and global warning itself is huge pressure.”

Analysts here point out that there has been little time yet for Modi and Obama to develop a strong working relationship, and that it could be premature to dismiss the outcome of this meeting as disappointing.

“The agreement . . . between the US and China
does not impose pressure on us;
India is an independent country.”

Before last month’s UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, India said it had put in place several action plans for achieving Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are key elements of the bold climate agreement that many governments hope will be signed at the next round of talks in Paris in December.

India continues to maintain that its INDCs will be announced “at an appropriate time with specific contributions”.

Last week, Modi called for a paradigm shift in global attitudes towards climate change – from “carbon credits” towards “green credits”. He urged nations with the greatest solar energy potential to join India in innovation and research to reduce the cost of the technology and make it more accessible.

“Instead of focusing on emissions and cuts alone, the focus should shift to what we have done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency, and what more can be done in these areas,” he said.

Modi and Obama announced action to advance India’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and India reiterated its goal of increasing its solar target to 100 gigawatts by 2022, which the US said it would support.

Ambitious agreement

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said they had “stressed the importance of working together and with other countries to conclude an ambitious climate agreement in Paris in 2015”.

Anu Jogesh, a senior research associate with the Centre for Policy Research’s Climate Initiative, said: “There was a lot of buzz in policy circles and the media that there might be some kind of announcement, not on emission cuts per se but on renewable energy. However, apart from the nuclear agreement, little else has emerged.”

Answering fears that India might become a ready market for US companies, Dr Pradipto Ghosh, Distinguished Fellow at the Energy and Resource Institute, said: “The large scale will inevitably bring down costs and companies will offer competitive prices, and also bring in more reliability, efficiency and product quality.” − Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

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Warming warning as temperatures hit record high

Warming warning as temperatures hit record high

As statistics confirm that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded, leading scientists say climate change trends are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 21 January, 2014 − Last year was the warmest year on record, according to two separate analyses by two giant US government organisations.

The findings, which confirm a conclusion that meteorologists confidently predicted last November, mean that 14 of the warmest years on record have happened this century, and nine of the 10 warmest years have been since 2000.

Scientists from the space agency NASA and from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both examined surface temperature measurements around the planet and decided that 2014 was on average the hottest since 1880 − the earliest year for global records.

Climate cycle

The post-millennial pattern was broken only in 1998 − the year of a super El Niño, when global warming coincided with the peak of a natural climate cycle in the Pacific.

Not surprisingly, 2014 was also recently confirmed as the hottest year ever for the UK, where there have been sustained temperature measurements since 1659.

And World Meteorological Organisation scientists warned last month that 2014 could be a record-breaking year for the continent of Europe as well.

Since 1880, the Earth’s average surface temperature has crept up by 0.8 degrees Celsius, and most of that warming has occurred in the last three decades.

“This is yet another flag to the politicians,
and to all of us”

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The results are an average: some parts of the US − including the Midwest and the East Coast − were unusually cool, while Alaska, California and Nevada all experienced their highest ever temperatures.

The Goddard Institute analyses were based on measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship and buoy-based sea surface temperature measurements, and data from Antarctic research stations.

Rowan Sutton, who directs climate research at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, UK, said: “By itself, a single year doesn’t tell us too much, but the fact that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century shows just how clear global warming has become. This is yet another flag to the politicians, and to all of us.”

Likely to accelerate

And Bob Ward, policy director at the UK’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said the figures exposed the myth that global warming had stopped. The rate of increase in global average surface temperatures had slowed over the last 15 years to about 0.05°C a decade, but was likely to accelerate again.

“Measured over a period since 1951, global mean surface temperature has been rising about 0.12°C per decade,” Ward said. “There is mounting evidence all round the world that the Earth is warming and the climate is changing in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Carbon dioxide levels are close to 400 parts per million − 40% higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, and probably higher than they have been for millions of years.”

No politician, he said, could afford to ignore this overwhelming scientific evidence, or claim that global warming was a hoax. – Climate News Network

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Coal casts a cloud over Germany’s energy revolution

Coal casts cloud over Germany’s energy revolution

Germany cut emissions and boosted renewables last year, but critics say CO2 reduction targets can’t be met unless it closes coal-burning power stations.

BERLIN, 20 January 2015 − The energy market in Germany saw a spectacular change last year as renewable energy became the major source of its electricity supply − leaving lignite, coal and nuclear behind.

But researchers calculate that, allowing for the mild winter of 2014, the cut in fossil fuel use in energy production meant CO2 emissions fell by only 1%.

Wind, solar, hydropower and biomass reached a new record, producing 27.3% (157bn kilowatt hours) of Germany’s total electricity and overtaking lignite (156bn kWh), according to AGEB, a joint association of energy companies and research institutes.

This was an achievement that many energy experts could not have imagined just a few years ago.

Lowest level

Beyond that, Germany’s primary energy consumption – which includes the energy used in power generation, heating and transport − fell to its lowest level since reunification with East Germany in 1990, AGEB report. It shrank by 4.8% compared with 2013.

Estimates by AGEB indicate that Germany’s CO2 emissions will have fallen in 2014 by around 5% compared with 2013, as consumption of all fossil fuels fell and the contribution from renewables rose. Half the CO2 savings came from power generation.

Germany’s use of hard coal − sometimes called black coal, which emits much less CO2 than brown coal, as lignite is known − in electricity generation was 7.9% lower than in 2013, and lignite 2.3%. The share of fossil fuels in the overall energy mix fell from 81.9% in 2013 to 80.8%.

“My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal”

At first sight, that looks like a big success story. But it comes after several years of rising emissions that have cast doubt on the “Energiewende” − the ambitious German energy transition plan for a simultaneous phase-out of nuclear power and a move to a carbon-free economy.

While all of Germany’s remaining nine nuclear power plants must by law be shut down no later than the end of 2022, there is no such legally-binding phase-out for the coal industry. So no one can tell how long Germany will go on burning the worst climate change contributors, lignite and hard coal.

Dirty 30

In July 2014, a group of NGOs published a study on the EU’s 30 worst CO2-emitting thermal power plants. German power stations featured six times among the 10 dirtiest.

CROP-WWF-dirty-30-2014

Never heard of Neurath, Niederausssem, Jänschwalde, Boxberg, Weisweiler and Lippendorf? These are the sites of Germany’s lignite-powered stations, which together emit more than 140 megatonnes of CO2 annually − making Germany Europe’s worst coal polluter, followed by Poland and the UK.

And international banks, including Germany’s biggest investment bank, keep on financing coal. A study by BankTrack shows that 92 commercial banks financed the coal industry in 2013 to the tune of at least €66bn – a new record. The top investor was the US bank JP Morgan Chase. Deutsche Bank was tenth.

That level of investment puts into perspective the US $10bn that is now in the UN’s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations fight climate change.

Germany has one of the most ambitious climate targets worldwide: by 2020, its CO2 emissions are due to be 40% below their 1990 level. But how can it achieve this?

Climate goals

The latest Climate Protection Action Plan, adopted by the German Cabinet on 3 December last year, says that 22 million tonnes of CO2 will be saved “by further measures, especially in the power sector”.

Does that mean less power from coal? In any case, it will not put Germany back on track, as nearly 80 million tonnes of CO2 must be saved to reach the country’s 2020 climate goals. The Greens pointed out that a coal-fired power plant such as Jänschwalde alone produces more than 22 million tonnes of CO2 − and Jänschwalde is not even the biggest German polluter.

So, right now, the Energiewende seems a story both of success and of failure.

Mojib Latif, the German meteorologist and oceanographer who co-authored the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, says: “The only way of countering the rise in CO2 is to expand renewables. The technology is there − it just has to be used.

“My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal. Otherwise we have no chance of achieving our climate targets.” − Climate News Network

  • Henner Weithöner is a Berlin-based freelance journalist specialising in renewable energy and climate change. He is also a tutor for advanced journalism training, focusing on environmental reporting and online journalism, especially in developing countries.
    LinkedIn: de.linkedin.com/pub/henner-weithöner/48/5/151/; Twitter: @weithoener

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Higher social costs bolster case for emissions curbs

Higher social costs bolster case for emissions curbs

Scientists in the US estimate that economic damage caused by CO2 could be six times higher than the value used to guide current energy regulations.

LONDON, 15 January, 2014 − Concerted action on climate change is looking like a bargain after research findings that the notional cost to society of global warming damage caused by carbon dioxide emissions has been seriously underestimated.

The US Environmental Protection Agency calculates the “social cost of carbon” at $37 per tonne – a figure used to guide current energy regulations and possible future mitigation policies. But two US researchers now put the cost for CO2 emitted in 2015 about six times higher − at $220 a tonne.

They report in Nature Climate Change that damage from climate change could directly affect economic growth rates, and will go on doing so, because each “temperature shock” could have a persistent effect that would permanently lower gross domestic product – the wealth indicator used by all economists – from what it would be if the world wasn’t warming.

In which case, nations have a greater incentive to step up efforts to curb carbon emissions.

Mitigation measures

“If the social cost of carbon is higher, many more mitigation measures will pass a cost-benefit analysis,” says one of the report’s authors, Delavane Diaz, of the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, California. “Because carbon emissions are so harmful to society, even costly means of reducing emissions would be worthwhile.”

Her co-author, Frances Moore, of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences, says: “For 20 years now, the models have assumed that climate change can’t affect the basic growth rate of the economy. But a number of new studies suggest this may not be true.

“If climate change affects not only a country’s economic output but also its growth, then that has a permanent effect that accumulates over time, leading to a much higher social cost of carbon.”

“Because carbon emissions are so harmful to society, even costly means of reducing emissions would be worthwhile”

All such studies are based on assumptions and necessary simplifications. They have to take in not just the link between rising temperature and direct impacts on health, agriculture and coastal protection, but also population growth, changes in social patterns and national economic development.

They also make assumptions that the richer countries will better be able to absorb the shock of climate change, which in turn then becomes an argument for delaying action while the poorer countries advance their development.

Economic assessment

But the two Stanford researchers re-examined the climate impact and economic assessment models widely used by North American and European nations to put a measure to the cost of carbon emissions, and made a set of changes.

They allowed climate change to affect economic growth rates, they accounted for adaptation to climate change, and they divided their model to represent both low-income and high-income countries.

The conclusion is that the damage to growth rates is severe enough to justify very rapid and very early steps to limit the rise of average global temperatures to the 2°C above pre-industrial levels that most nations have agreed is necessary to avert the worst effects.

Moore says: “Until now, it’s been very difficult to justify aggressive and potentially expensive mitigation measures because the damages just aren’t large enough.” – Climate News Network

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Underworld holds vital clues to carbon cycle puzzle

Underworld holds vital clues to carbon cycle puzzle

New research confirms that what goes on out of sight in the earth beneath our feet determines whether carbon is stored or released into the atmosphere.

LONDON, 7 January, 2015 − More trees and more vigorous vegetation growth may not soak up atmospheric carbon, according to new research.

Instead, more lusty tree roots could goad the soil microbe population into releasing as carbon dioxide so much more old carbon stored in the soil. And since the planet’s store of soil carbon is at least twice the quantity locked in the vegetation and the atmosphere, this could in turn accelerate global warming.

This is yet another example of what engineers call positive feedback, but the important word here is “could”. The question remains open.

Benjamin Sulman − a biologist at Indiana University, but then of the Princeton University Environmental Institute in the US − and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they have developed a new computer model to examine what really happens, on a global scale, when plants colonise the soil and start taking in moisture and carbon from the atmosphere.

Unexplored economy

The topsoil – the fertile mix of loam, rock dust, minerals, partly decomposed wood, straw and leaf litter, fungi, bacteria, invertebrates and moisture from which all of terrestrial life derives its nourishment – remains one of the great unexplored economies of the planet.

The puzzle is this: plants draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to build up their tissues, but some of this tissue decomposes and returns to the air, while some stays in the soil, locked away from the atmosphere.

Deforestation is well established as a major factor in the greenhouse gas budget, so more forests would be a good thing. More carbon dioxide should mean more vigorous growth, so more tree growth should start to reduce the atmospheric carbon levels.

“You should not count on getting more carbon storage in the soil just because tree growth is increasing”

But as the Princeton team have confirmed once again, it’s not so simple. “You should not count on getting more carbon storage in the soil just because tree growth is increasing,” said Dr Sulman.

“The goal was to take a very simple model and add some of the important missing processes. The main interactions between roots and soil are important and shouldn’t be ignored.

“Root growth and activity are such important drivers of what goes on in the soil, and knowing what the roots are doing could be an important part of understanding what the soil will be doing.”

Mechanics of life

Like all such research, the study offers a measure of how little we know of the mechanics of life, atmosphere, ocean and rock − and, in particular, the carbon cycle. Clearly, some of the most important things happen underfoot, literally buried from sight.

One study, published recently in Nature journal, tried to make an audit of the richness of life in the soil: there could be up to 9,000 different species of bacteria in a cubic centimetre, more than 200 different kinds of fungi in a gram of soil, and the total numbers of these microbes would add up to billions.

Add to this a dizzying variety of tiny invertebrates and other life forms, all playing a part in making growth happen and in disposing of the detritus, and the puzzle becomes even more perplexing.

Another study, also published in Nature, tried to work out how these rich and extraordinary microbial communities would respond to warmer temperatures.

The conclusion was that the soil would “breathe” faster, which means a greater traffic in carbon, especially in those high latitude places where there was a lot of stored carbon − in particular, the Arctic permafrost.

Disconcerting effect

Since the soil microbes normally release at least 60 billion metric tonnes of carbon back to the atmosphere each year as carbon dioxide, any increase could have disconcerting consequences.

So researchers have repeatedly tried to make sense of the subterranean carbon cycle. They have established that fungi, in particular, play a role in the continuous traffic of energy and carbon that drives the plant world.

They have evidence that the soils may not store carbon as efficiently as they had once assumed, and that, to slow global warming, it may not be enough to just save the trees. Scientists must also consider the roles of such areas as grasslands, savannah and wetlands.

The message from all this research, and from the latest Princeton study, is that we may have mapped the planet Earth with exquisite precision, but we still don’t know much about the earth beneath our feet. There’s a whole new world down there. – Climate News Network

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Tropical forests may be giving climate extra help

Tropical forests may be giving climate extra help

New research indicates that the role of the world’s tropical forests in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may have been underestimated.

LONDON, 4 January, 2015 − Scientists in the US say the world’s tropical forests may be making a much larger contribution to slowing climate change than many of their colleagues have previously recognised.

A new study − led by the space agency NASA and the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences − suggests that the forests are absorbing far more carbon dioxide from human sources than they are given credit for.

It estimates that the forests are absorbing 1.4 billion tonnes of human-derived CO2 − a sizeable slice of the total global absorption of 2.5 billion tonnes.

If the tropical forests are left undisturbed, the trees should be able to go on reducing the rate of global warming by removing COfrom the atmosphere.

Damaging effect

Conversely, continuing destruction of the forests may prove to have an even more damaging effect on countering the rising rate of CO2 emissions, because if the rate of absorption slows down, the rate of global warming will accelerate.

Lead author David Schimel, a research scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says: “This is good news, because uptake in northern forests may already be slowing, while tropical forests may continue to take up carbon for many years.”

The question of which type of forest absorbs more carbon “is not just an accounting curiosity”, says one of the paper’s co-authors, Britton Stephens, a scientist at the  National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Earth Observing Laboratory in Boulder, Colarado.

“It has big implications for our understanding of whether global terrestrial ecosystems might continue to offset our carbon dioxide emissions or might begin to exacerbate climate change.”

“It is incredible that all these . . . independent data sources start to converge on an answer”

Forests and other land vegetation currently remove up to 30% of human CO2 emissions from the atmosphere by absorbing the gas during photosynthesis.

The new study is the first to devise a way to make direct comparisons of CO2 uptake estimates from many sources at different scales, including computer models of ecosystem processes, atmospheric models used to deduce the sources of today’s concentrations (called atmospheric inverse models), satellite images, and data from routine and experimental forest plots.

Ecosystem model

The researchers reconciled these analyses and assessed the accuracy of the inverse models based on how well they reproduced independent, airborne and ground-based measurements. They obtained their new estimate of the tropical carbon absorption from the weighted average of atmospheric, ecosystem model and ground-based data.

“Until our analysis, no one had successfully completed a global reconciliation of information about carbon dioxide effects from the atmospheric, forestry, and modeling communities,” says the report’s co-author, Joshua Fisher, a researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is incredible that all these different types of independent data sources start to converge on an answer.”

As human-caused emissions add more CO2 to the atmosphere, forests worldwide are using it to grow faster, reducing the amount that stays airborne. This effect is called carbon dioxide fertilisation.

But climate change also decreases the amount of water available in some regions and warms the Earth, causing more frequent droughts and larger wildfires.

For about 25 years, most atmospheric inverse models have been showing that mid-latitude forests in the northern hemisphere absorb more CO2 than tropical forests. This result was based on the prevailing understanding of global air flows and limited data suggesting that deforestation was causing tropical forests to release more CO2 than they were absorbing.

Measurements of CO2

In the mid-2000s, Britton Stephens used measurements of CO2 made from aircraft to show that many atmospheric inverse models were not correctly representing flows of the gas in the air above ground level. Models that matched the aircraft measurements better showed more carbon absorption in the tropical forests.

Dr Schimel says the new paper reconciles results at every scale − from the pores of a single leaf, where photosynthesis takes place, to the whole Earth, as air moves carbon dioxide around the globe.

There is still considerable uncertainty about the part played by the tropical forests in moderating the climate. One study, for example, found that trees in the forests of Borneo absorbed much more CO2 than those in Amazonia. Another found that the southern Amazon forest was drying out far faster than had been projected.

Meanwhile, the rate of deforestation continues to increase in many vulnerable areas.

In June 2014, it was reported that Indonesia’s clearance of its forests was, for the first time, happening faster than in Brazil. Three months later, the Brazilian NGO Imazon said the rate of forest loss in the country’s Amazon region had risen by 290% in the past 12 months. − Climate News Network

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Beavers damned for increasing threat from methane

Beavers damned for increasing threat from methane

The growth of the world’s beaver population to more than 10 million has led to a big increase in one of the main greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

LONDON, 21 December, 2014 − For a picture of industrious innocence, beavers are hard to beat. Yet they now find themselves facing a grave charge: they are, it seems, responsible for increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem, Canadian scientists say, lies in the shallow ponds that form behind the dams the beavers build. The ponds are essential to the animals’ way of life. Unfortunately, they’re also good places for generating methane.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and in the short term it does much more damage than the far more abundant carbon dioxide. There is now international agreement that methane is 34 times more potent than CO2 over a century, but 84 times more over a much shorter timespan – just 20 years. And two decades can be crucial in trying to slow the rate of climate change.

Trapping limited

Colin J. Whitfield, of the University of Saskatchewan, led a study − published in the journal AMBIO − from which he estimated that beaver numbers in Eurasia and the Americas have grown so much that the methane emissions the ponds produce are now 200 times higher than in 1900.

Between the 16th and the 19th centuries, the fur trade nearly led to the beavers’ extinction worldwide. After trapping was limited and they were re-introduced to their natural ranges, the number of North American (Castor canadensis) and Eurasian (Castor fiber) beavers began to grow. The North American beaver has also been introduced to parts of Eurasia and South America.

“This suggests that the contribution of beaver activity to global methane emissions may continue to grow”

Beavers build dams in rivers to create standing open-water ponds and wetlands. The ponds are usually shallow, with dams seldom more than 1.5 metres high. The study found that carbon builds up in the oxygen-poor pond bottoms, and methane is then generated. Unable to dissolve adequately in the shallow water, it is released into the atmosphere.

The team estimated the size of the current global beaver population and determined the area covered by beaver ponds. They found that global beaver numbers have grown to over 10 million, damming more than 42,000 sq kms of aquatic pond areas, bordered by over 200,000 kms of shoreline habitat.

At the end of the 20th century, they say, beavers contributed up to 0.80 teragrams (or 800 million kilograms) of methane to the atmosphere annually. This is about 15% of the input from wild cud-chewing animals such as deer or antelopes.

“Continued range expansion, coupled with changes in population and pond densities, may dramatically increase the amount of water impounded by the beaver,” Whitfield says.

“This, in combination with anticipated increases in surface water temperatures, and likely effects on rates of methanogenesis, suggests that the contribution of beaver activity to global methane emissions may continue to grow.”

Copious amounts

Beavers are not alone in unwittingly worsening climate change. Ruminants − animals that chew the cud − emit copious amounts of methane, prompting concerns about the impacts on the atmosphere of an increasingly meat-based human diet.

Now comes news that another species may have to step up and accept some of the blame for a warming world.

Scientists from Woods Hole Research Center, in the US, told the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco that Arctic ground squirrels may be playing a greater role in climate change than previously thought.

They say the animals are hastening the release of greenhouse gases from the permafrost, accelerating an existing positive feedback that means the warming temperatures help the frozen soil to thaw and emit still more greenhouse gas. − Climate News Network

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Not long to wait till released CO2 turns up temperature

Not long to wait till released CO2 turns up temperature

Scientists have determined the precise time lag before warming from newly-released greenhouse gases starts to show up on the planet’s thermometer – and it’s much shorter than previously suspected.

LONDON, 7 December, 2014 − Start the car, turn on the gas under the kettle, shovel some coal on the fire. Each time that happens, another pulse of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere − and in just 10 years, that newly-released gasp of greenhouse gas turns into global warming.

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US have calculated for the first time a precision figure for the average lag between a carbon emission and its effect on the planetary thermometer.

That there is a lag, no one ever doubted: thermal inertia is something everybody observes every time they put the kettle on. The heat goes up, but the water stays cold, for a while.

But the presumption has always been that – given that the world is a huge cauldron and every unit of fossil fuel burned represents a tiny increment – the time lag between cause and effect might be decades.That is, the warming experienced now was triggered by fossil fuel burning in the 1980s or 1990s.

But the two Carnegie scientists, Katharine Ricke and Ken Caldeira, report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they have done the sums and arrived at a conclusion. People who light a gas cooker today are quite likely to feel the atmospheric heat from that blue flame in a decade.

Benefits here and now

Figures such as these come with a wide range of uncertainty. The calculations of the Carnegie team find a 90% probability that the effect is felt between 6.6 years and 30.7 years, with a median time of 10.1 years. The effects of that one pulse might arrive in a decade, but would last for more than a century.

“Amazingly, despite many decades of climate science, there has never been a study focused on how long it takes to feel the warming from a particular emission of carbon dioxide, taking carbon-climate uncertainties into account,” Dr Ricke said.

“A lot of climate scientists may have an intuition about how long it takes to feel the warming from a particular emission of CO2, but that intuition might be a little out of sync with our best estimates from today’s climate and carbon cycle models.” The effect measured by the two scientists is limited strictly to temperature, rather than longer-term consequences such as sea level rise or melting glaciers.

Research of this kind – as usual, based on climate models – has two ends: one is to arrive at a more precise understanding of the climate machinery. The other is to remind people that the consequences of any human action may be more immediate than anyone expected, which would be an encouragement to personal restraint and political concern.

“Our results show that people who are alive today are very likely to benefit from emissions avoided today and that these will not accrue solely to impact future generations,” Dr Ricke said.

“Our analysis highlights the nearly irreversible nature of carbon
emissions for global warming”

Co-incidentally a team from three British universities report in Nature Geoscience that they have confirmed another basic link between carbon emissions and warning: the levels of greenhouse gases emitted are proportional to the levels of subsequent warming.

Given that the whole debate about climate change and fossil fuel emissions is predicated on such an outcome, this seems a bit tardy. But what Philip Goodwin, researcher at the University of Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre, and colleagues have done is based on computer simulations: they have derived a theoretical equation that makes a precision link between emissions and subsequent temperature, and then put a value on it.

Every trillion tonnes of carbon emitted will raise the planetary temperature by one degree Celsius. The same calculations confirm that, even if fossil fuel emissions are phased out altogether, the build-up of carbon over the last 200 years will keep the planet warmer for many centuries, or even millennia.

Research like this isn’t simple: it effectively explores the complex relationship between carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and the behaviour of the oceans. Like the Carnegie finding, it enriches scientific understanding of the climate machine. And it, too, makes a political point.

“Our analysis highlights the nearly irreversible nature of carbon emissions for global warming,” Dr Goodwin said. “Once carbon has been emitted into the atmosphere, the warming effect will last many centuries, even after much of the carbon has been absorbed by the oceans.” – Climate News Network

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Tribal lands are vital for Amazon forest carbon sink

Tribal lands are vital for Amazon forest carbon sink

As land rights of indigenous peoples are increasingly being violated, new research shows that destruction of Amazon rainforest is a major threat not only to cultural identity but also to the global climate. 

LONDON, 5 December, 2014 − Scientists in the US and Latin America have once again confirmed the importance of the Amazon rainforest as a planetary resource and as a carbon sink to store carbon drawn down from the atmosphere. Sadly, they have also confirmed, once again, that it is at risk.

New research, released in time for the UN climate change conference being held in Lima, Peru, shows that 55% of the Amazon’s carbon is in the indigenous territories that are home to the regions’s 385 tribal peoples, or in formally-designated protected natural areas.

The forests are critical to the stability of the global climate, but also to the cultural identity of the forest dwellers of the region and the extraordinarily diverse ecosystems they inhabit.

Carbon-rich forests

“The territories of the Amazonian indigenous peoples store almost a third of the region’s above-ground carbon on just under a third of the land area,” said Wayne Walker, an ecologist and remote sensing specialist at the Woods Hole Research Centre, US, and lead author of a paper published in the journal Carbon Management.

“This is more forest carbon than is contained in some of the most carbon-rich tropical forests, including Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The authors also found that nearly 20% of tropical forests across the Amazon are threatened by legal and illegal logging, new roads, dams and the growth of agriculture, mining and the petroleum industries, at least in part because governments had failed to either recognise or enforce the land rights of indigenous peoples.

“Indigenous territories and protected areas are increasingly at risk, with potentially disastrous consequences”

The Amazon forest under study is a mosaic of 2,344 indigenous territories and 610 protected areas spread across nine nations. In terms of biological, cultural and linguistic diversity, these areas are exceptional.

They are also the cornerstone of conservation efforts. In this century alone, 253,000 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest – an area bigger than the UK − has been lost for a mix of reasons. And land rights of the indigenous peoples are also under attack, with more than half by area at risk.

But a loss to the Amazon peoples would also be a loss to the planet. The Amazon rainforest is a unique resource in biodiversity and is also a carbon sink of global importance. Every tree is a reservoir of atmospheric carbon. Every felled tree or patch of burned forest is so much carbon dioxide back in the atmosphere, to fuel global warming.

Secure landscapes

The scientists warn that the carbon stored in these supposedly secure landscapes is enough to destabilise the planet’s atmosphere – or contribute to its stability.

“If all the current plans for economic development in the Amazon are actually implemented, the region would become a giant savanna, with islands of forest,” said one of the authors, Beto Ricardo, of Brazil’s SocioEnvironmental Institute (Instituto Socioambiental).

“A vast proportion of indigenous territories and protected areas are increasingly at risk, with potentially disastrous consequences, including 40% of indigenous territories, 30% of protected areas, and 24% of the area that pertains to both.” – Climate News Network

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Green Revolution trebles human burden on planet

Green Revolution trebles human burden on planet

American researchers say seasonal swings in temperatures and CO2 levels are evidence of how agricultural advances and the population explosion have tilted nature’s balance.

LONDON, 22 November, 2014 – Humans are changing not just climate overall, but also the difference between seasons in any given year.

Researchers in the US believe they now know why global warming has begun to announce itself both in annual rises in temperature and in the seasonal records of carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere − the same seasonal variation in atmospheric chemistry that also contains within it the signature of the Green Revolution and the 20th-century population explosion.

And it’s all because the natural swing from high carbon dioxide levels to low each year has become more dramatic in the last 50 years.

Each year, in the northern hemisphere growing season, the CO2 levels drop as plants grow and soak up the atmospheric carbon.

Inexorable pattern

Later in the year, as leaves fall, crops are harvested and consumed, and soil is freshly tilled, most of that CO2 gets back into the atmosphere. It’s an inexorable pattern that follows the seasons.

Systematic measurements of CO2 levels began in 1958, and they show that swings within each year from high to low, and back again, have increased in amplitude by 50%, and go on increasing by 0.3% every year.

Two groups of researchers report that they concentrated on the northern hemisphere because that’s the part of the globe where most of the continental landmass, most of the vegetation and the greatest part of the human population is concentrated.

And both groups identified the cause of the widening CO2 swing as being as mix of steadily higher temperatures and the Green Revolution – the dramatic advance in agricultural productivity that fuelled the trebling of the human burden of the planet in less than a human lifetime.

“Changes in the way we manage the land can literally alter the breathing of the biosphere”

Josh Gray, research assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, US, reports with colleagues in Nature journal that they have gone one better by identifying the crop that makes the biggest difference: maize, or corn.

Together, the world harvest of maize, wheat, rice and soybean grew by 240% between 1961 and 2008, increasing the uptake of carbon during that time by 330 million tonnes.

Maize, grown ever-more intensively in the mid-western US and in China, is responsible for two-thirds of this change, the researchers calculate. Dr Gray calls the super-productive croplands “ecosystems on steroids”.

Carbon cycle

Ning Zeng, professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science at the University of Maryland, US, and lead author of the other Nature paper, reports that he and colleagues devised a new model of the terrestrial carbon cycle to explore the increase in seasonal CO2 swings, and the role of the Green Revolution in these swings.

There are several reasons for the increasing swings: average temperatures have started to rise; there is the natural “fertilization” effect of carbon dioxide, as some plants respond well to higher levels; and as the Arctic regions have thawed, more growing land is available − and vegetation has been marching north.

But a fourth reason is that farmers are now producing more yield from the same land, and the same crops. Between 1961 and 2010, the area of land planted with the world’s great crops grew by 20%, but – with improved strains, better fertilizers, and more irrigation − yield grew threefold. So more CO2 was taken up each year, and more released.

“What we are seeing is the effect of the Green Revolution on Earth’s metabolism,” said Professor Zeng. “Changes in the way we manage the land can literally alter the breathing of the biosphere.” – Climate News Network

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