Risk of new Katrinas rises as climate warms

Risk of new Katrinas rises as climate warms

Climate change may drastically increase the risk of simultaneous cyclones and storm surges striking populous coastlines around the world.

LONDON, 1 September, 2015 – Perfect storms are by definition improbable. But climate scientists now think that the devastating combination of extreme tropical cyclone and unprecedented storm surge is going to get a whole lot less improbable by the end of the century.

The chances that the city of Tampa, in Florida, will be hit by a devastating hurricane and an 11-metre wall of ocean water by 2100 could have increased by up to fourteen-fold, they report in Nature Climate Change.

All climate modelling involves a calculation of probabilities. Ning Lin, a civil engineer at Princeton University in New Jersey in the US, and Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, started exploring the idea of events that are highly improbable, but worth trying to predict anyway because their consequences could be so calamitous.

If storms that could not be expected are “black swan” events, then they have identified a second category: “grey swan” events that are worse than any in recorded history, but are nevertheless foreseeable, using knowledge of atmospheric physics, topography and the climate record.

So – on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s assault on New Orleans, the most costly disaster in American history – they decided to see how bad things could really get.

Advance warnings

The horror of Katrina was that although it was a storm surge without precedent, engineers and meteorologists had repeatedly warned that New Orleans could be vulnerable. And when it arrived, New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the Washington Administration were all taken by surprise.

For their study, the two scientists selected three vulnerable bits of coastline and set about modelling the worst that could happen, and the probabilities that it might happen. They chose Dubai in the Persian Gulf – an area never before hit by a tropical cyclone – Cairns on the coast of Australia, and Tampa in Florida.

They found that a “grey swan” cyclone right now could cause a storm surge of six metres in Tampa, Cairns 5.7 metres and Dubai four metres. The chances of such a thing happening in any one year, however, were as low as one in 10,000. That is, not very likely.

And then they factored in continuing climate change, driven by global warming as a consequence of prodigal fossil fuel combustion by humankind, and started to consider the long-term consequences.

By the end of the century, the hazard to Dubai had increased to seven metres, and to Tampa to 11 metres. And the probabilities had increased too: the likelihood of a devastating storm and an overwhelming wall of water in the Persian Gulf had become “non-negligible”: the extreme in Tampa’s case was one in 700.

“The ocean conditions that led to a severe hurricane season in 2005 also reduced atmospheric moisture flow to South America, contributing to a once-in-a-century dry spell in the Amazon”

But such research is based only on known hazards now and projections for the future. In fact, hurricane conditions in one region can be matched by awful hazards in places far away according to a team from the University of California, Irvine, and the US space agency Nasa.

They report in Geophysical Research Letters that they have identified a link between catastrophic wildfires in the Amazon and hurricanes such as Katrina that devastate the northern hemisphere coasts.

Yang Chen, an earth system scientist from UC Irvine, and colleagues looked at years of sea surface temperature and other climate data to find the connection. In years of high numbers of hurricanes and high fire risk, warm waters in the North Atlantic help hurricanes develop and gather strength and speed on their way to North American shores.

These same warm waters drag rainfall away from the southern Amazon, leaving the rainforests increasingly vulnerable to fire. Since the Amazon forests are a vital repository of stored carbon, any fires there can only fuel global warming still further, increasing sea surface temperatures and stepping up yet more the probability of tropical cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes.

“Hurricane Katrina is, indeed, part of this story”, said UCI earth system scientist James Randerson, senior author of the paper. “The ocean conditions that led to a severe hurricane season in 2005 also reduced atmospheric moisture flow to South America, contributing to a once-in-a-century dry spell in the Amazon. The timing of these events is perfectly consistent with our research findings.” – Climate News Network

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Northern forests face onslaught from heat and drought

Northern forests face onslaught from heat and drought

Many northern hemisphere forests face destruction as climate change brings both fiercer droughts and higher temperatures. 

LONDON, 31 August, 2015 – In the long term, many of the great oak forests of Europe or the giant redwoods and pines of America may not survive. US researchers foresee potential widespread loss of the great temperate forests of both continents.

Under the combined assault of increasing global temperatures and unprecedented drought, some forests could inexorably slide into savannah or scrubland.

Constance Millar is an ecologist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Pacific Southwest Station. She and a colleague, Nathan Stephenson of the US Geological Survey, report in the journal Science that the boreal forests of the fast-warming sub-Arctic zones are not the only imperilled woodlands.

They see climate change – driven by rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in turn fuelled by ever-greater fossil fuel combustion – as an emerging “mega-disturbance”: the bringer of not just longer and hotter droughts but of a new class of affliction, the unprecedented “global-change-type drought”.

This cumbersome terminology masks a spell of longer, more severe and hotter droughts that will set the circumstances for new insect pests, fresh plant diseases, invasive competitor species and more extensive and more severe wildfires.

Change imminent

Old forests matter: Dr Stephenson led a huge research team that in 2014 established – against intuition – that the oldest forest giants absorbed more carbon dioxide than young, fast-growing members of the same species.

But unless the professional and government foresters understand what is coming, stands of woodland that have for thousands of years survived periodic assault and then recovered could within decades convert to grassland, or low-growing shrub.

The scientists say that climate change and rising average global temperatures mean not just drought, but drought matched with increasing spells of prolonged heat, far more severe than anything experienced in the 20th century.

Air temperatures will mean that foliage in the canopy becomes too hot, drawing moisture from the leaf tissue at ever-faster rates. In the last century, heat would melt mountain snow in summer to supply more water to the forests in the dry seasons: in this century, most of the winter precipitation will be rain that will run off immediately. Forests will have fewer or no reserves.

Since forests are – in general – agencies that absorb atmospheric carbon, and help cool the planet, any loss can only accelerate global warming and create even more difficult conditions for the surviving woodlands.

“The emergence of mega-disturbances, forest diebacks beyond the range of what we’ve normally seen over the last century, could be a game-changer”

“Some temperate forests already appear to be showing chronic effects of warming temperatures, such as slow increases in tree deaths”, said Dr Stephenson. “But the emergence of mega-disturbances, forest diebacks beyond the range of what we’ve normally seen over the last century, could be a game-changer for how we plan for the future.”

Nor is there any guarantee that the end of a drought will permit young trees to recolonise the burnt, parched and blighted landscape: fast-growing grass and shrub species will get there first and block any regrowth.

Since forests support not just ecosystems and species that are beautiful for their own sakes and valuable both as resources and as tourist attractions, but also deliver “services” in the form of water management and global air-conditioning, human settlements will soon feel their loss.

Such research evokes the big picture. It embodies not just prediction but warning: if governments, state authorities and communities know what could happen, they can take steps to identify and manage the most vulnerable forests in ways that might increase resilience.

But the message is that unprecedented threat will require unprecedented action. “While we have been trying to manage for resilience to 20th century conditions, we realise now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease these conversions,” said Dr Millar. – Climate News Network

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Hi-tech analysis pinpoints Antarctic ice sheet dangers

Hi-tech analysis pinpoints Antarctic ice sheet dangers

Precision mapping of West Antarctica’s melting glaciers could help climate scientists to predict potentially calamitous effects on sea levels.

LONDON, 25 August, 2015 – Scientists have used high-resolution computing techniques to calculate the future of the West Antarctic ice sheet over the next two or three centuries.

The West Antarctic peninsula right now is about the fastest-warming place on Earth. And, in the worst case scenario, glaciers will retreat by hundreds of kilometres, and seas will rise everywhere.

An estimated 80,000 cubic kilometres of ice could flow into the sea by 2100, and by 2200 this could rise to 200,000 cubic kilometres. By the end of this century, sea levels could have risen by 20cms, and 50cms by 2200.

This is an extreme case, but the forecasts for West Antarctica’s glaciers have been consistently alarming. In the last two years, scientists have confirmed that the rates of melt and retreat have accelerated, and that, under the combined effects of warmer air and sea, this melting may be irreversible.

Vulnerable mass

Stephen Cornford, a researcher at the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol in the UK, and colleagues report in the European Geosciences Union journal The Cryosphere that their chief concern was to help climate science by fixing with greater precision the things that might happen to the most vulnerable mass of ice on the frozen continent.

The new study tests a range of climate predictions in greater detail than before, over a greater area, and a longer period of time. But the uncertainties remain. Will human-induced greenhouse gas levels continue to rise? How will the oceans respond? What will be the consequences for snowfall south of the Antarctic Circle?

“Other regions of West Antarctica could thin to a similar extent if the ocean warms sufficiently”

So the study looks at all the possibilities in more detail, and the pay-off could be more confident predictions of climate change as the circumstances begin to change.

Dr Cornford says: “We expect future change in the West Antarctic ice sheet to be dominated by thinning in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, just as it is today, until at least the 22nd century. But other regions of West Antarctica could thin to a similar extent if the ocean warms sufficiently.”

A computer-generated map of the projected glacial retreat in the Amundsen Sea Embayment by 2154. Image: S.Cornford et al/The Cryosphere

A computer-generated map of the projected glacial retreat in the Amundsen Sea Embayment by 2154.
Image: S.Cornford et al/The Cryosphere

Serious consequences

The worst-case predictions are disconcerting, and could have serious consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who live in cities and on productive land at or near sea level – for instance on the Nile Delta or in Bangladesh – or even below sea level, protected by sea walls, such as in the Netherlands.

But they remain just that: worst case predictions. The scientists were not concerned with establishing probabilities for any scenario, just with employing complex mathematical techniques to extend climate models.

The chief aim of the study has been to find ways of making sense of all possibilities − from no change to calamitous change − in the factors that govern glacier loss.

Co-author Dan Martin, a computational scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, says: “Much like a higher-resolution digital camera transforms a blur into a flock of birds, higher resolution in a computer model often helps to capture details of the physics involved, which may be crucial to the broad picture.” – Climate News Network

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Prehistoric dogs learned new tricks as climate changed

Prehistoric dogs learned new tricks as climate changed

Scientists have found evidence that profound changes in climate caused ancient predators to evolve into the ancestors of today’s dogs.

LONDON, 24 August, 2015 – Man-made climate change is expected to have a “significant effect” on the wildlife of the planet. And, if fossil evidence is anything to go by, it could seriously alter the course of evolution.

The hunting habits of the wolf – ancestor of man’s best friend, the dog – evolved over millions of years to cope with profound climate change, according to new research.

Borja Figueirido, of the Department of Ecology and Geology at the University of Malaga in Spain, and colleagues report in Nature Communications that they examined the elbows and teeth of 32 native North American species of the dog family from between 39 million and 2 million years ago.

Ambush and pursuit

What they found was clear evidence that, in response to changing climate and foliage cover, dogs evolved from ambush predators that survived by surprising their prey, to pursuit predators that wore them down.

The story begins with a warm, wooded North America in which a canine creature with flexible forelimbs, and not much bigger than a mongoose, used stealth to surprise and pounce cat-like on its dinner. Ultimately, it gave way to animals like wolves, which could chase a deer all day.

“It’s reinforcing the idea that predators
may be as directly sensitive to climate
and habitat as herbivores”

In the course of those 37 million years, the climate cooled, the forests gave way to savannah and prairie, and the dog family began to evolve new strategies − including the short pursuit-and-pounce technique of the coyote or the fox, and the long-distance stamina hunting of the wolf.

“It’s reinforcing the idea that predators may be as directly sensitive to climate and habitat as herbivores,” says Christine Janis, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University in the US, and a co-author of the report. “Although this seems logical, it hadn’t been demonstrated before.”

The scientists backed up their conclusions by studying the teeth and forelimb structures of a wide range of hunting animals, including cheetah, hyena and wild dog in Africa, the tiger and snow leopard in Asia, and the jaguar, puma and wolverine in the Americas.

Conservation worries

Their formal conclusion is that when things changed for the herbivores that shaped the landscape, the predators also responded.

Such research confirms the worries of wildlife conservationists that man-made climate change in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere − as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels − could seriously alter the evolutionary conditions and the ecosystems from which civilised humankind and its domestic animals emerged.

The scientists say their studies demonstrate that “long periods of profound climatic change are critical for the emergence of ecological innovations, and could alter the direction of lineage evolution”. – Climate News Network

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Central Asia’s glaciers may lose half their ice by mid-century

Central Asia’s glaciers may lose half their ice by mid-century

The speed at which the warming climate is melting glaciers in Central Asia may ruin the water supply of millions of people within 50 years.

LONDON, 22 August, 2015 – Glaciers in the largest mountain range in Central Asia, the Tien Shan, have lost over a quarter of their mass in the last 50 years, and nearly a fifth of their area.

An international team of researchers estimates that since the 1960s the glaciers have shrunk by almost 3,000 square kilometres, losing an average of 60 sq km of ice annually.

The Tien Shan reach almost 7,500 metres (24,500 feet) in height, and are a vital reservoir for the countries through which they pass – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The team, from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), report in the current online issue of Nature Geoscience that about half of the mountains’ glacier volume could be depleted by the 2050s.

The researchers say the Tien Shan (which in Chinese means “the celestial mountains”) have lost 27% of their mass and 18% of their area since 1960.

Glaciers worldwide are melting at unprecedented rates, which is serious because they are often irreplaceable sources of drinking water, hydropower and irrigation. The Tien Shan are no different.

Long-term storage

The mountains form a vital part of Central Asia’s water cycle. Snow and glacier melt from the Tien Shan is essential for the water supply of the four countries they traverse.

“Despite this importance, only a little was known about how glaciers in this region changed over the last century,” says the principal investigator, Daniel Farinotti. Most of the direct monitoring programmes, which were closed with the end of the Soviet Union, have been resumed only recently.

Farinotti, from GFZ, and his colleagues have completed a reconstruction of the glaciers’ evolution in the Tien Shan. “We combined various methods based on satellite gravimetry, laser altimetry and glaciological modelling”, he says.

This let them plot the evolution of every single glacier. They came up with some surprising findings: currently, the range is losing ice at a pace that equals roughly double the annual water consumption of the whole of Germany.

Glaciers can store water as ice for decades, transferring winter snow and rainfall to the summer months by releasing it as meltwater. This is particularly important in seasonally arid regions which have months with virtually no precipitation. Their local water supply depends on meltwater availability, as Central Asia knows from experience.

Increased temperature contributes to both increased melt and reduced glacier nourishment”

Many people in Central Asia depend on water seasonally impounded by the glaciers of the Tien Shan, not only for water itself but for hydro-electricity and for food.

The pace of glacier retreat in the Tien Shan accelerated noticeably in the decade from the 1970s. Daniel Farinotti says: “The long-term signal is clearly related to the overall rise in temperature”. The study shows that the rise in temperature, and summer temperature in particular, is a primary influence on the region’s glaciers.

“Since the winter months in Central Asia are very dry and the mountains are that high, glaciers receive most of their snowfall during the summer”, Farinotti explains. “This means that an increased temperature contributes to both increased melt and reduced glacier nourishment – and obviously, both contribute to glacier wastage.”

Using the latest climate projections, which expect an additional 2°C of warming in summer temperatures between 2021 and 2050, the authors suggest what the mountains’ future evolution may look like. Half of the total glacier ice volume of the Tien Shan today could be lost by the 2050s, they believe. – Climate News Network

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Warming sends wild boar numbers soaring

Warming sends wild boar numbers soaring

Increasingly mild winters and an abundance of acorns and nuts have caused a population explosion among wild boar in Europe.

LONDON, 20 August, 2015 – Wild boar populations in Europe are getting out of control – and scientists are blaming climate change.

There are now millions of wild boar spreading out from their preferred woodland habitat, moving into city suburbs, and even crossing national boundaries to countries that had thought they were extinct.

In some countries, notably France and Germany, which have always had wild boar populations in their forests, they are a major cause of road accidents.

France has an estimated two million boar, and the German state of Hesse alone has 180,000. Berlin, the German capital, is erecting boar fencing around its borders in an attempt to keep the animals out of the city.

Extra production

The scientists believe that the increasingly frequent mild winters in Europe and the extra production of acorns and beechnuts by trees are aiding boar survival rates. Both factors are the result of climate change, they say.

Scientists from the Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, report in the journal PLOS ONE that they chose the animal to study because “the wild boar has an enormous reproductive capacity, and thus the potential for remarkable population growth when environmental conditions become more favourable”.

Wild boar can have five or more young in a litter, and females can reach sexual maturity within their first year if there is enough food available.

The number of animals has been increasing since the 1980s. Because boars are secretive, nocturnal animals, the scientists had to use hunting records and road accidents to help count the animals in 12 European countries.

The wild boar has the potential for remarkable population growth when environmental conditions become more favourable”

“Doing this, we were able to depict the growth of the wild boar population,” says the report’s lead author, Sebastian Vetter, an evolutionary biologist.  “As mild winters are becoming more frequent, boar populations are also growing exponentially.”

Wild boar can have five or more young in a litter. Image: Sebastian Vetter/Vetmeduni Vienna

Wild boar can have five or more young in a litter. Image: Sebastian Vetter/Vetmeduni Vienna

Climate change is also having a direct effect on food supply, the authors say, with the “mast years” – years when trees produce huge quantities of acorns and nuts – also aiding the animals’ survival.

In severe winters, a large number of young from the previous summer used to die of cold and hunger, but the extra food supply available, even in cold spells, is enabling more to survive.

Survival rate

Wild boars are one of the most widely distributed of animals, with their numbers varying between northern and southern latitudes. However, the survival rate of boar populations in Europe seems to be increasing across all countries.

One of the reasons for the wider spread of boar populations has been the fashion for their meat. Wild boar farms have been established in countries where the species had long ago been hunted to extinction. But farmers, unfamiliar with the animals, were not prepared for their ability to break down or jump fences as high as two metres, and many boars escaped into the wild.

Sweden, for example, had no wild boar 10 years ago, but now has an estimated 150,000 in its forests. The UK also has a boar population for the first time in 500 years.

Italy, well to the south, has always had wild boar, but has also seen a huge growth in their numbers. There are now estimated to be between 600,000 and one million animals. Some are seen on the outskirts of Rome, Genoa and Naples, where they eat from dustbins. – Climate News Network

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Islamic climate experts urge 1.5°C limit on warming

Islamic climate experts urge 1.5°C limit on warming

A far-reaching call to avoid runaway climate change and to build a more just and sustainable global society has been launched by Islamic leaders.

LONDON, 19 August, 2015 – An influential group of Islamic leaders has urged world governments to prevent human-caused climate change forcing global average temperatures more than 2°C above the pre-industrial level.

In a radical advance on the position of most developed countries, the group says it would be better to aim for 1.5°C  ̶  the lower limit that many climate scientists say would offer a stronger chance of preventing climate change reaching dangerous levels, but to which few governments have so far agreed.

The group’s call, a long time in preparation, was issued at the end of the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium, held in the Turkish city of Istanbul, and is published as the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.

It is addressed primarily to the negotiators who will meet in Paris in December at the UN Climate Change Conference, the main aim of which will be to get agreement on a robust and enforceable global treaty to cut emissions of greenhouse gases in time to stay within the 2°C safety limit.

Rapid phase-out

The authors also address people of all nations and their leaders, urging them to commit themselves to 100% renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible as part of a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.

But they go much further than that. They write: “We particularly call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to . . . stay within the 2°C limit, or, preferably, within the 1.5°C limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground”.

This is a clear reference to the warnings that a large part of those reserves cannot safely be exploited, and will prove to be stranded assets.

There is growing pressure for corporate and individual investors to withdraw their support from fossil fuel exploiters, and the declaration’s signatories specifically recognise this.

“To chase after unlimited economic growth
in a planet that is finite
and already overloaded is not viable”

They write: “We call upon corporations, finance, and the business sector to . . . assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel-driven economy and the scaling-up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives.”

The declaration is blunt about what the signatories see as the urgent need for drastically far-reaching change. Wealthy nations and oil-producing states are urged to “lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible, and no later than the middle of the century”.

They are urged to provide generous financial and technical support to the less well-off to achieve that early phase-out of greenhouse gases, and should “recognise the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources . . .”

Carrying capacity

Elsewhere, the signatories say that “to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable”. This is a rare reference to population and the planet’s “carrying capacity”  ̶  the maximum population size that the environment can sustain indefinitely.

They even go so far as to call for “a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model, which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality”.

These are demands for changes so radical that they are seldom heard. But they are addressed to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, to people of other faiths, and to “all groups” to join in “co-operation and friendly competition . . . as we can all be winners in this race”.

The declaration sets the bar high for the Islamic world, for people of all religions and of none, to treat climate change as a serious and present problem that demands fundamental change across global society. – Climate News Network

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Wind and solar surge sends EU emissions tumbling

Wind and solar surge sends EU emissions tumbling

Many countries that promised to cut GHG emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are now exceeding their targets, bringing new hope for success at the Paris climate talks.

LONDON, 12 August, 2015 – Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions are falling fast, mainly because of the rapid spread of the wind turbines and solar panels that are replacing fossil fuels for electricity generation.

European Union data shows that once countries adopt measures to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs), they often exceed their targets − and this finding is backed up by figures released this week in a statement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Convention’s statistics show that the 37 industrialised countries (plus the EU) that signed up in 1997 to the Kyoto Protocol − the original international treaty on combating global warming – have frequently exceeded their promised GHG cuts by a large margin.

Beacon for governments

The UNFCCC statement says: “This is a powerful demonstration that climate change agreements not only work, but can drive even higher ambition over time.

“The successful completion of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period can serve as a beacon for governments as they work towards a new, universal climate change agreement in Paris, in December this year.”

In the EU, the leading countries for making savings are Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain, which account for two-thirds of the total savings on the continent. But most of the 28 countries in the bloc are also making progress towards the EU’s own target of producing 20% of all its energy needs from renewables by 2020. It has already reached 15%.

Part of the EU plan to prevent any of the 28 member states backsliding on agreed targets to reduce GHGs is to measure every two years the effect of various policies to achieve the reductions.

“This is a powerful demonstration that
climate change agreements not only work,
but can drive even higher ambition over time”

All states have to submit details of savings achieved through the introduction of renewables in electricity production, heating and cooling systems, and transport.

Because of the time taken to compile the figures, the latest report from the EC Joint Research Centre goes up only to 2012. However, it shows that each year in the three years up to the end of 2012 GHGs emitted by the EU fell by 8.8% as a result of replacing fossil fuels with renewables.

Two-thirds of the savings came from the widespread introduction of wind and solar power. Renewables used for heating and cooling achieved 31% of the savings, and transport 5%. Most transport renewables came from the use of bio-fuels instead of petrol and diesel.

Measuring the progress towards targets is vital for mutual trust between nations in the run-up to the Paris climate talks.  It also gives politicians confidence that they can make pledges they can keep.

Ambitious goal

The knowledge that the EU is likely to exceed its target of a 20% reduction of all emissions on 1990 levels by 2020 has led ministers to a more ambitious goal – total reductions of 40% by 2030. A large part of this will come from the installation of more renewables and energy-efficiency measures.

Across Europe, emissions vary widely from country to country, with Germany having the highest and Malta the lowest. Germany also had the greatest absolute reduction of emissions – a total drop of 23% on 1990 levels by 2012.

The highest emissions per capita were in Luxembourg (20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person), followed by Estonia (12.7), the Czech Republic (10.2), Germany (9.8), and the Netherlands (9.7).

Just five member states – Germany, Poland, the UK, Italy and Romania − together produced two-thirds of the EU’s emissions in 1990. The only change by 2012 was that Romania had been overtaken by Spain. – Climate News Network

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Astronomers take the heat out of sunspots theory

Astronomers take the heat out of sunspots theory

New analysis of records stretching back 400 years to the observations of Renaissance scientist Galileo shows that global warming is not the result of solar activity.

LONDON, 11 August, 2015 − Forget the sunspot connection. Scientists say that rising global average temperatures cannot be attributed to them as there has been no long-term upward trend in solar activity since 1700.

An international team of astronomers looked at the historical records again, and have concluded that the collected data had been telling a confusing story. And while conclusions in science tend to be provisional, and repeatedly challenged, this latest pronouncement comes from heavyweights.

Astronomers have been counting and recording sunspots – transient dark patches on the face of the sun – since Galileo turned his homemade telescope on the heavens 400 years ago. But, historically, there have been two ways of counting and recording sunspots − and the two sets of records have differed.

Now Frédéric Clette, director of the World Data Centre of the Sunspot Index and Long-Term Solar Observations at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, Leif Svalgaard, a solar physicist at Stanford University, California, and Ed Cliver, of the US National Solar Observatory in California, have presented their findings at the 29th general assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Data discrepancies

They recalibrated some discrepancies that existed in the two sets of historical records, and now both sets of data tell the same story: the sun hasn’t been getting busier in the last two centuries or so.

The sunspot cycle has gone on showing a pattern of change every 11 years or so, but the long-term trend is unchanged. The contribution of recent solar activity to recent global warming has remained unchanged.

That is unlikely to be the end of any argument. Only a month has passed since British and Russian physicists predicted at a meeting of British astronomers that the recent prolonged solar maximum was at an end.

The world, they said, could be experiencing a low sunspot tally by 2030, and perhaps lower temperatures of the kind historically linked to the Little Ice Age in the 17th century, characterised by frost fairs on the dense ice of the River Thames in London. That, too, coincided with a “Maunder minimum”of sunspot activity.

Statisticians do not like discrepancies in what should be two complementary ways of presenting the same evidence from one heavenly body

But the latest finding is unlikely to over-excite most climate scientists, who decided long ago that any change in the solar cycle could not be a significant factor in the long-term, upward trend in global average temperatures.

That remained predictably in step with the steady rise in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which in turn reflected the rise in fossil fuel combustion in the service of the world’s economies. But, in the way of science, they continued to check, and had already once again arrived at the same conclusion.

So the new sunspot data set remains what it has always been: humanity’s longest continuous scientific experiment, historically conducted in two ways.

The Wolf sunspot number − established in 1866 by the Swiss astronomer and mathematician, Rudolf Wolf, and still used today − is based both on the number of groups of spots, and the number of spots within each group.

First observers

The Group Sunspot Number − established as an index in 1998, but no longer maintained − was linked to methodology used by the very first sunspot observers 400 years ago, and is based solely on the numbers of groups. This was the one that showed an upward trend.

Astronomers have no stake in the climate debate. But statisticians do not like discrepancies in what should be two complementary ways of presenting the same evidence from one heavenly body.

The guardians of the data took another look at what might have gone wrong. It was this trend that has now been identified as the consequence of an error in calibrating the two sets of data.

So now climate science historians, who rely on solar data to help make sense of evidence from tree rings and ice cores, may have to think again. But the picture of global warming remains unchanged. – Climate News Network

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Arctic’s melting ice shrinks shipping routes

Arctic’s melting ice shrinks shipping routes

The opening up of waters north of Siberia as Arctic ice melts will change world trade patterns by cutting a third off distances between north-west Europe and the Far East.

LONDON, 4 August, 2015 – The disappearing Arctic ice cap will boost trade between north-west Europe and countries such as China, Japan and South Korea by making the sea routes far shorter, according to economic analysts.

The new sea route will alter world trade, making northern countries richer, but causing serious problems for Egypt, which will lose a large chunk of revenue currently gained from ships coming through the Suez Canal.

One advantage to the environment − according to a discussion paper from the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis − is that ships will burn far less fossil fuel to reach their destination.

However, this gain will be offset when the volume of trade increases because of the shorter sea route, making climate change slightly worse.

Open all year

The northern sea route is already open in the summer months, but the paper predicts that it will be available all year round by 2030, or possibly sooner. It says that Arctic ice is melting faster than predicted by scientists.

To police the new route, the Russian government has already formed a federal state institution and is building 10 “relief ports” along the Siberian coastline for ships that might need repairs or supplies. China has signed a free trade agreement with Iceland in anticipation of regularly using the route.

The paper estimates that trade between north-west Europe and China, Japan and Korea will increase by 10% as a result of the opening of the route, but that this will happen gradually.

The northern route will become one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, increasing the economic and political importance of the Arctic

Since 90% of world trade by volume is carried by ship, the distance between ports is a vital consideration. The northern route reduces the distance from Japan to north European countries by 37%, from South Korea by 31%, China 23%, and Taiwan 17%.

The advantage of shorter distances applies only to countries in northern East Asia. For countries south of the equator, such as Singapore and Indonesia, the southern route via Suez is still shorter.

Similarly, southern European countries do not gain because they remain roughly the same distance away from their trading partners whichever route they use.

The countries in Europe that will gain most from the new sea route are those with access to ports on the North Sea and the Baltic. These include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, the UK and Norway.

Drop in trade

Some countries in eastern and southern Europe would experience a drop in trade because of the comparatively longer distances their exports and imports would need to travel, according to the report. These include Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovenia.

The report says that roughly 8% of world trade goes through the Suez Canal, and that two-thirds of this volume will go via the shorter Arctic route. The northern route will become one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, increasing the economic and political importance of the Arctic.

At the same time, it will put huge economic pressure on Egypt and Singapore, who rely heavily on shipping using the southern route.

Over time, the opening of the Arctic route will have knock-on effects on jobs and prosperity in all the countries concerned, but it is predicted that this will be a gradual rather than sudden process. – Climate News Network

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