Extremes concern as planet gets hotter and colder

Extremes concern as planet gets hotter and colder

Scientists predict that lethal heat waves in Europe, and ice storms and big freezes across the globe, could become regular events if greenhouse gas emissions are not controlled.

LONDON,  December 18, 2014 − Global average temperatures continue to rise, but new research shows that the extremes of heat and cold are rising even faster.

Scientists report that heat waves have got hotter and cold snaps have got colder at a more extreme rate – and that continuing greenhouse gas emissions will mean that, in another two decades, Europe could experience once every two years the sort of lethal heat waves that occurred once in a thousand years.

Scott Robeson, professor of geography at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that they analysed a set of temperature records from 1881 to 2011 and graded them according to how near or far they were from the normal averages of any particular region of the globe.

Temperature anomalies

They found that the temperature anomalies – extremes of heat and cold – increased more than the overall average temperature of the whole planet. They  also found that cold anomalies – unexpected ice storms, blizzards and big freezes − increased more than the warm anomalies until about 30 years ago. Since then, the heat waves have started to outpace the cold snaps.

The study offers a new way to consider the much-debated “pause” in global warming since 1998. It could be that warming continued over most of the planet, but was offset by strong cooling in the winter months in the northern hemisphere.

Professor Robeson says: “There really hasn’t been a pause in global warming. There has been a pause in northern hemisphere winter warming.

“Arguably, these cold extremes and warm extremes are the most important factors for human society”

“Average temperatures don’t tell us everything we need to know about climate change. Arguably, these cold extremes and warm extremes are the most important factors for human society.”

Robeson and his colleagues are not the first to identify the importance of extremes of temperature in the pattern of global averages. Nor is this the first time that UK Met Office scientists – this time led by Nikos Christidis – have forecast more, and more severe, heat waves, not just in Europe but in many regions.

In 2004, Met Office researchers looked at statistics since 1990 and decided that the 2003 European heat wave − estimated to have claimed at least 20,000 lives, and possibly many more − had been made more than twice as likely because of human influence on the climate.

Pattern of warming

In a paper in Nature Climate Change, they look at the pattern of warming between 2003 and 2012. In that period, summers on average warmed by 0.81°C.

This warming means, they say, that heat waves − and extreme heat waves such as the lethal event in 2003 − have become 10 times more likely.

“Extremely warm summers that would occur twice in a century in the early 2000s are now expected to happen twice a decade,” Dr Christidis says.

“Moreover, the chances of heat waves as extreme as seen in 2003 have increased from about one in a thousand to about one in a hundred years, and are projected to occur once every other year by the 2030-40s under continuing greenhouse gas emissions.” – Climate News Network

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Climate talks take a rocky road to Paris

Climate talks take a rocky road to Paris

The UN climate talks in Lima have ended with the setting of deadlines for the world to come up with plans to curb emissions and adapt to climate change.

LONDON, 14 December, 2014 − A deal struck in Lima between 196 nations today leaves open the possibility of saving the planet from dangerous overheating. But its critics say the prospects of success are now slim.

The talks − which ran two days longer than scheduled − set a series of deadlines which mean that every nation is charged with producing its plans to cap and reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

These commitments will then be assessed to see if they are enough to prevent the world heating up more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold political leaders say must not be crossed in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Lima agreement invites all countries to set out their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 March. The next step will be to draft a legally binding international agreement on how to get below the 2°C threshold. This text is to be made available to all countries for comment by May 2015.

All eyes on Paris

By 1 November the secretariat of the UN Climate Change Convention is supposed to have assessed whether the commitment of these 196 nations is enough to stop the world overheating – and, if it is not, to point out by how far they will miss the target.

All this is to set the stage for a dramatic final negotiation in Paris in a year’s time, when a blueprint for a legally enforceable deal is supposed to be on the table. This is a tall order, however, because each time the parties meet the rich and poor countries wage the same arguments over again.

The developing countries say the rich developed countries that caused the problem in the first place must make deep cuts in their emissions and pay huge sums for the poorer countries to adapt to climate change.

The rich countries say that the fast industrialisation of many developing countries means that these countries must cut emissions too, otherwise the world will overheat anyway.

The poorest countries of all, and the small island states, who everyone agrees have no responsibility for the problem, want much more dramatic curbs on emissions, and more money for adaptation to sea level rise and climate extremes than is likely to be forthcoming.

New reality

The talks take place amid their own jargon, with phrases like the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances” seen as essential to point up the difference between rich and poor nations and what they are expected to do.

The talks have dragged on for 15 years since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, in which the rich nations agreed to the first cuts in emissions while allowing the poorer nations to continue developing.

Now that China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest polluter, and countries like Brazil and India are fast catching up, the scientific case is that every country has to curb its emissions, or else everyone faces disaster.

But whether the talks have gone far enough to allow a deal to be reached in Paris next year is a matter of many opinions.

“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks and must have been relieved he got a text on which every country was prepared to agree.

Caustic reaction

Environmental groups were scathing about the outcome. Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.

“Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020…The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near-impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency.”

“It’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But those not keen on limiting their own development were happy. “We got what we wanted,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said.

Despite the different views the talks did not break down, and so there is still hope. This assessment from Mohammed Adow, Christian Aid’s senior climate change adviser, probably accurately sums up the Lima result: “The countdown clock to Paris is now ticking. Countries had the chance to give themselves a head start on the road to Paris but instead have missed the gun and now need to play catch-up.” − Climate News Network

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Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Brazilian climate expert proposes five-point “battle plan” in a war against the Amazon deforestation that is having increasingly dire impacts on the regional and global climate.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2014 − The relentless destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest will endanger the global climate unless it can be stopped and restored, says a new report by a leading climate scientist.

In an eloquent, hard-hitting scientific assessment report entitled The Future Climate of Amazonia, Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, a researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), traces the climatic potential of the world’s greatest remaining rainforest.

He looks at its critical functions for human society, its destruction through deforestation and fire, and he discusses what needs to be done “to stop the runaway train that the climate has become since human occupation in forest areas”.

The report talks of the Achilles’ heel of Amazonia − the danger that the invincible hero will fall – and warns that its future climate has already arrived. Approximately 20% of Brazil’s Amazon forest has been clear cut, while forest degradation has disturbed the remaining forest to varying degrees − directly affecting an additional 20% or so of the original area.

Forest degradation

Dr Nobre says there are clear indications that a reduction of approximately 40% of the rainforest may trigger a large-scale transition to a savanna landscape over time. “There is no doubt,” he says, “that deforestation, forest degradation and associated impacts have already affected the climate both near and far from the Amazon.”

He spells out the sheer scale of the devastation: the total deforested area is greater than the size of two Germanys or two Japans. It is equal to 184 million football fields – which means that, over the last 40 years, the equivalent of 12,635 football fields have been deforested per day.

Dr Nobre is critical of the Brazilian government’s recent claims that deforestation is falling. He says: “There is no reason whatsoever to celebrate the relatively lower rates of clear-cutting in recent years, especially since − after the adoption of the new Forest Code (2011), with its wide amnesty for those who deforested − a distinct tendency towards further increases in the annual rates has already been observed.”

“We must regenerate, as widely as possible,
all that has been changed and destroyed”

So concerned is Dr Nobre about what is happening that he believes only a virtual war effort can save the rainforest. His battle plan – with ignorance the first enemy to overcome − has five steps:

1.Popularising forest science: On the basis that knowledge is power, scientific facts about the role of the forest in creating a friendly climate, and the effect of deforestation in leading to an inhospitable climate, must become common knowledge.

2. Zero deforestation: The harm deforestation does to human beings and the economic losses it causes should be compared with that of tobacco, Dr Nobre argues. When Brazil introduced a new Forest code that scaled back protection, the consequences of changed land use on the climate were never discussed by the politicians. While economic growth and market demand create pressures that leads to deforestation, planning weaknesses foster the invasion and occupation of forested areas − and all these loopholes must be sealed urgently.

3. An end to fires, smoke and soot: Using fire as a tool for clearing land is a deeply ingrained habit that must be stopped. The fewer sources there are of smoke and soot, the less damage will be done to the formation of clouds and rain, resulting in less damage to the green-ocean rainforest.

4. Recover and regenerate forest: Stopping deforestation is not enough to reverse threatening climate trends. “We must regenerate, as widely as possible, all that has been changed and destroyed,” Dr Nobre says. Reforestation on such a scale implies a reversal of land use in vast areas that are now occupied − difficult in the current scenario − and land zoning technologies will be needed.

5. Governments and society need to wake up: In 2008, when the global financial bubble burst, governments around the world took just 15 days to decide to use trillions of dollars of public funds to save private banks and avoid what threatened to become a collapse of the financial system. The climate crisis has the potential to be immeasurably worse than any financial crash, yet still there is procrastination − despite the abundance of scientific evidence and of viable, creative and appealing solutions.

Unavoidable reality

In a final warning, Dr Nobre’s report predicts that climate chaos “has the potential to be immeasurably more damaging than World War II. What is unthinkable today may become an unavoidable reality sooner than expected.

“China, with all its serious environmental problems, has already understood this and has become the country with the most ongoing reforestation activities.

“Restoring native forests is the best bet we can make against climate chaos, and is the only true insurance policy we can buy.” – Climate News Network

* The Future Climate of Amazonia: Scientific Assessment Report by Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, CCST Earth System Science Centre, Ministry of Science and Technology/National Institute for Space Research.

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New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

Climate change analysts say latest commitments by China, the US and Europe on emissions cuts could mean significant progress towards ensuring that global average temperatures this century will rise less than predicted.

LIMA, 11 December 2014 − This really does appear to be a good news story about climate change − and even the not-so-good qualification that accompanies it still leaves something to celebrate.

Researchers say the post-2020 plans announced recently by China and the US and the European Union mean projected warming during this century is likely to be less than expected. The downside is that, even then, the world will still not be doing enough to limit the increase in average temperatures to below 2˚C.

The research, released at the UN climate change conference currently being held in Lima, comes from the Climate Action Tracker, an independent science-based assessment that tracks countries’ emission commitments and actions. It comes in the form of an assessment by four organisations: Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

International goal

Together, the four groups measured government pledges and actions against what will be needed to limit warming below the agreed international goal of a maximum 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperature levels, and against the goal of bringing warming below 1.5°C by 2100.

China − which recently announced a cap on coal consumption from 2020 − and the US and EU together contribute around 53% of global emissions. If they fully implement their new, post-2020 plans, they would limit global temperature rise to around 3˚C by 2100, which is between 0.2˚C and 0.4˚C lower than it would have been.

Their plans are more ambitious than earlier commitments, and represent what the researchers call “significant progress“. But they won’t limit warming to below 2˚C.

“In the context of increasing momentum towards a global agreement to be adopted in Paris in 2015, this represents a very important first step towards what is needed,” said Bill Hare, executive director of Climate Analytics.

“Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century”

“Tempering this optimism is the large gap that remains between the policies that governments have put in place that will lead to warming of 3.9°C by 2100, compared to the improvements they’ve made in their promises. These new developments indicate an increasing political will to meet the long-term goals.”

Niklas Höhne, founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, said: “We estimate that China will likely achieve its 2020 pledge and the objectives stated for 2030, reaching 20% share of non-fossil fuels in a manner that is consistent with peaking COemissions by 2030. Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century.

“China’s post-2020 emissions levels remain unclear and difficult to quantify. Its peak by 2030 falls somewhat short of a 2°C pathway. However, if emissions peak just five years earlier, this could make a very big difference and move them very close to a 2°C pathway.”

Höhne said that the US, with full implementation of its proposed policies, appears likely to meet its 2020 goal of 17%. But further measures would be needed to meet its newly-proposed 2025 goals.

Ambitious target

The researchers say the EU’s current policies put it on a good trajectory towards meeting its 2020 target. But, with current policies, it is not on track to meet its more ambitious conditional target of a 30% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, and the 40% reduction target by 2030.

They say that governments in countries such as India could do more. Recent discussions indicate that India could be considering putting forward next month a peak year for emissions between 2035 and 2050, which − depending on the level at which this peak occurred − could be consistent with a 2°C pathway.

“We only have a very limited amount of carbon that can be burned by 2050, and we calculate that current policies would exceed this budget by over 60% by that time,” Hare said. “We clearly have a lot of work to do.” − Climate News Network

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India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

While the political spotlight focused on the  world’s two biggest polluters − China and the US − in the run-up to the Lima climate talks, pressure is mounting on India to set emissions targets to help prevent the planet overheating.

NEW DELHI, 10 December, 2014 − India’s contribution to global carbon emissions was only 7% last year, yet there are fears being expressed in the western world that rapid population growth and development will mean this vast country will soon be a major polluter − like its neighbour, China.

For the world, it is a continued worry that if the country soon to have the largest population in the world develops − as China has − by burning coal, climate change will surely get out of control.

No commitments on climate change have so far been made by India, as it waits to see what the developed countries offer to prove they are serious about aid, technology transfer, and targets to reduce their own emissions.

Carbon tax

But while priority in India has been given to development − particularly providing electricity for the millions who live without it − and tackling poverty, the newly-elected government has made a promising start on recognising the importance of climate change.

It has a new energy policy centred on an ambitious increase in solar power capacity − from the current 20,000 megawatts to 100,000 MW in five years. There is a Rupees 5 billion ($80 million) budget this year alone for “ultra mega” solar projects. And a carbon tax on coal has also been doubled for the purpose of subsidising solar and other renewables.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Environment, Forests and Climate Change minister, said before heading for the UN climate change conference being held in Lima, Peru: “This game-changer energy mix will give us enhanced energy efficiency and save 50 million tonnes of coal. That’s a huge contribution to the world, and will affect our emissions. We will walk the clean water, clean air, clean power path.”

“Both solar and coal power will increase,
but that is our energy mix”

There have been reports about a possible announcement next month – when US president Barack Obama visits New Delhi − of the year in which India intends its greenhouse gas emissions to peak.

However, Javadekar refused to set a timeline, despite the apparent pressure after the US-China joint declaration that the US will reduce emissions by 2025 and China’s will peak by 2030. All countries are supposed to inform the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by March 2015 of their action plans for emission reductions.

Javadekar said India is putting in place several action plans for achieving the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions as part of the 2015 agreement. But he made clear that the “peaking year” will not be the benchmark set at Lima; it will be “India’s contribution” − and will be much more than expected.

India, which is expected to surpass China’s current 1.3 billion population by 2030, has always defended its position, as its emissions are less than 2 tonnes per capita, compared with about 7.2 tonnes in China and 16.4 tonnes in the US.

“Our growth cannot be compromised,” Javadekar said. “We have the right to develop, and our priority is to eliminate poverty and meet the aspirations.”

Objections raised

Asked how India will address objections raised by developed countries to it digging more dirty coal, despite its ambitious solar programme, Javadekar insisted: “We are not going on the ‘business as usual’ path − although we are entitled to it. Both solar and coal power will increase, but that is our energy mix. We are doing our own actions under domestic legislations.”

There is a rift at the Lima talks between the developed and the developing countries on the issue of capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund under the 2015 Paris agreement, and this has already seen the G77 group of nations banding together.

Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment thinktank, referred to this in talking about the “politics of climate change”, and how the global south is being short-changed by the global north.

She said climate change talks are about achieving clean economic growth, but, 25 years after talks began, the world is “still procrastinating and finding excuses not to act”. – 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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Debate heats up on risk of frozen fossil fuel assets

Debate heats up on risk of frozen fossil fuel assets

Investors are wondering whether putting money into fossil fuels makes sense – and the same question is now being asked by heavy hitters in the banking industry.

LONDON, 9 December, 2014 − In a move that’s likely to cause consternation in some of the world’s most powerful corporate boardrooms, the Bank of England has disclosed that it is launching an inquiry into the risks fossil fuel companies pose to overall financial stability.

Mark Carney, governor of the UK’s central bank, has written to British Members of Parliament telling them that his officials have been discussing whether or not coal, oil and gas reserves held by the fossil fuel industry are, in fact, unburnable.

“In light of these discussions, we will be deepening and widening our inquiry into the topic,” Carney says.

The burning of fossil fuels releases hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Catastrophic change

The idea is that if global warming is to be tackled and catastrophic climate change averted, such energy resources will have to be left where they are − under the ground. They will, in effect, become frozen or stranded financial assets.

Carney’s letter, written at the end of the October this year but only recently made public, is addressed to the British parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.

Carney tells the Committee – which has been carrying out its own investigation into the frozen assets question – that a special unit within the Bank of England responsible for identifying and reducing risks in the financial system, will also be considering the issue “as part of its regular horizon-scanning work on financial stability risks”.

Joan Walley, the head of the Audit Committee, told London’s Financial Times that investors should consider what effect regulatory action on climate change would have on their fossil fuel investments.

“Reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly”

“Policy makers and now central banks are waking up to the fact that much of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly,” Walley said.

A growing number of senior figures in the financial community – some of them controlling many millions of dollars worth of investment funds – have been pressing fossil fuel companies to disclose how investments would be affected if energy reserves became frozen or stranded by regulatory moves associated with tackling climate change.

Carbon Tracker, a not-for-profit thinktank based in London, has been warning of what it sees as the dangers to investors and to the entire financial system of continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.

Vulnerability of assets

“The Bank of England has set a new standard for all central banks and financial regulators on climate risks by agreeing to examine, for the first time, the vulnerability that fossil fuel assets could pose to the stability of the financial system in a carbon constrained world,” Carbon Tracker says.

The question of stranded or frozen assets has been raised at the latest round of global negotiations on climate change taking place in Lima, Peru.

Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN’s Climate Change Secretariat, told the Reuters news agency that the long-term goal of negotiations must be the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2100 – a goal that could not be achieved unless most fossil fuels were left in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them,” Figueres said. –Climate News Network

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Plea for South Asia to unite in fight against climate risks

Plea for South Asia to unite in fight against climate risks

Saleem Shaikh

South Asia, one of the world’s most populous and disaster-prone regions, faces dire impacts from climate change. So why are its nations not working together to tackle the many shared threats they face?

LIMA, 8 December, 2014 − The countries of South Asia need to stand together in their efforts to push for more finance from the developed world to help them adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change,  a prominent regional expert says.

Saleemul Huq, from Bangladesh, a lead negotiator for the group of Least Developed Countries told a fringe meeting at the UN climate change conference in Lima, Peru, that South Asia countries face a range of climate-related events.

“Countries in the region must co-ordinate climate action to cope with adverse climate impacts, such as flash floods, forest fires, cyclones, migration and sea-level rise.” said Huq, senior fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The South Asia region is home to more than one-fifth of the globe’s population, but is also regarded as one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, Huq told delegates.

Substantial rise

Temperature projections for the region for the 21st century indicate a substantial rise in warming, with recent modelling showing that the warming would be particularly significant in the high Himalayas, on the Tibetan Plateau, and across arid regions of Asia.

“Extreme weather events are also forecast across the region” said Huq. “This is likely to include an increase in the interannual variability of precipitation during the Asian summer monsoon period.”

In turn, Huq said, this will negatively impact on crop yields throughout the region, as already crops in many areas are already being grown at close to their temperature tolerance threshold.

In its latest assessment, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified the South Asia region as one of the areas most vulnerable to warming.

“Developing states have to have technical support in order to hammer out their climate adaptation plans”

In the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau, rates of glacial melting are increasing. The incidence of flooding is likely to grow, although there is the possibility, over the long term, of drought affecting billions of people in one of the most densely-populated areas on Earth.

Co-operation between the region’s countries on climate change is minimal. Pakistan and India, for example, remain deeply suspicious of each other, and data on such key issues as river flows and erosion rates are classified as state secrets.

China and India are competing for water resources, and large-scale dam building programmes in both countries are creating environmental tensions in the region.

Competing interests

Less powerful countries in the area – such as Bangladesh and Nepal – are squeezed between the competing interests of their powerful neighbours.

Harjeet Singh, a New Delhi-based representative of the Action Aid  charity, told delegates that South Asian countries must use their combined influence to pressure world leaders to reach a legally-binding climate agreement in 2015.

Singh told the Climate News Network that a new agreement was a matter of urgency, and  that developed countries must also fulfill their commitments to help developing countries with adaptation measures.

Manjeet Dhakal, a director of the Clean Energy Nepal research organisation, said a new agreement must address the needs of the vulnerable. “The regional countries and other developing states,” he said, “have to have technical support in order to hammer out their climate adaptation plans. They also need the financial support to put those plans into action.” – Climate News Network

  • Saleem Shaikh is a freelance climate change and science journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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Scientists hammer out warning on climate change risks

Scientists hammer out warning on climate change risks

A group of international experts says time is rapidly running out to take serious steps to avert the impacts of global warming by prioritising a switch to clean energy systems.

LONDON, 4 December, 2014 − The all-too-familiar story of ice loss in the world’s polar regions, repeated over and over by researchers in the last two years, is being told yet again – this time for the benefit of delegates at the UN climate change conference currently being held in Lima, Peru.

A report in Earth’s Future journal by distinguished scientists from an international group called Earth League aims to remind the delegates that time is running out to avert the serious impacts of climate change.

Each summer, most of the surface of Greenland now starts to melt – and to darken, which means it absorbs more light, and becomes increasingly more likely to go on melting.

The same thing is happening in the Arctic Ocean, where open sea is now absorbing radiation that would once have been reflected by sea ice.

Irreversible melting

In West Antarctica, a warming ocean has begun to advance, and the glacial ice to retreat, which means more loss of ice, and more warming, and more retreat. With this retreat comes the first sign of irreversible melting in some parts of the ice sheet.

The snows of the Greenland ice sheet alone hold enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres or more. But the retreat of the ice in the Arctic quite literally opens up new territory for another feedback: as permafrost thaws it will release tens of thousands of years of stored carbon, to stoke up greenhouse gas levels and trigger yet more warming.

There is still a chance that humanity can take steps and limit global average temperature rise to 2°C, but the current rates of greenhouse gas emissions could push temperatures to an average of 4°C or more above the averages at the start of the Industrial Revolution by the end of the century.

“Our climate would be as different from pre-industrial conditions as it was when the Earth began to emerge from the last ice age”

“If this occurs,” the Earth League scientists warn, “our climate would be as different from pre-industrial conditions as it was when the Earth began to emerge from the last ice age some 18,000 to 20,000 years ago.”

They add:  “Considerable risks, with potentially serious impacts, are already expected at 1°C to 2°C warming, which will require large investments in adaptation.”

If the temperatures rise beyond the 2°C target, societies will experience increasing risks from extreme events, along with other changes that could make several parts of the world “susceptible to extremely high social and economic costs.

This includes risks to global food production, freshwater supply and quality, significant sea level rise, changes in disease patterns and possibly higher risk of pandemics.”

All this, too, has been said before. But the fact that a group of scholars, economists, geographers and meteorologists from distinguished universities, institutes, academies and laboratories in Europe, the US, Mexico, Brazil and India felt the need to say it once more, with feeling, is an indicator of the urgency of the problem.

Greater risk

As things stand, they say, there is a 30% probability that global average temperatures will exceed 2°C by the end of the century. This is a risk “much greater than we normally accept for other potentially dangerous societal risks, such as nuclear power generation, terrorism, and human health epidemics”.

The report’s authors point out that change is possible, and that a global energy revolution has already begun. Energy demand is many developed countries is falling, and renewable energy use increasing.

“The world may be approaching a point,” they say, “where the technological feasibility and economic benefits clearly tip in favour of a large-scale transition to an economy powered by clean and efficient energy.”

However, they warn that these changes can only happen “by prioritising access to cheap modern energy systems and higher mitigation requirements on richer nations who have caused the bulk of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels so far”. – Climate News Network

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Ocean heat drives surge to global warming record

Ocean heat drives surge to global warming record

Climate scientists say this year looks likely to enter the record books as the world’s hottest, with the warming of the oceans causing striking changes.

LONDON, 3 December 2014 − It’s official, even though it won’t be conclusive for a few months yet: if present trends continue, 2014 will be one of the hottest years on record − and quite possibly the hottest of them all.

Preliminary estimates by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) − published to provide information to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change annual round of negotiations, currently being held in Lima, Peru − show this year is set to be a record breaker largely because of record high global sea surface temperatures.

These, combined with other factors, helped to cause exceptionally heavy rainfall and floods in many countries and extreme drought in others.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the Convention, said: “Our climate is changing, and every year the risks of extreme weather events and impacts on humanity rise.”

Above normal

It is the warming of the oceans − which the WMO says “will very likely remain above normal until the end of the year” − that is chiefly perplexing the scientists.

The WMO’s provisional statement − to be finalised in March next year − on the Status of the Global Climate in 2014 shows that the global average air temperature over the land and sea surface from January to October was about 0.57°C above the average of 14°C for the 1961-1990 reference period, and 0.09°C above the average for 2004 to 2013.

If November and December follow the same trend, the WMO says, then 2014 will probably be the hottest on record, ahead of 2010, 2005 and 1998. This confirms the underlying long-term warming trend.

“The provisional information for 2014 means that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century,” said the WMO secretary-general, Michel Jarraud. “There is no standstill in global warming.

“Record-breaking heat, combined with torrential rainfall and floods, destroyed livelihoods
and ruined lives”

“What we saw in 2014 is consistent with what we expect from a changing climate. Record-breaking heat, combined with torrential rainfall and floods, destroyed livelihoods and ruined lives. What is particularly unusual and alarming this year are the high temperatures of vast areas of the ocean surface, including in the northern hemisphere.

“Record-high greenhouse gas emissions and associated atmospheric concentrations are committing the planet to a much more uncertain and inhospitable future.”

Weather patterns

The high January to October temperatures occurred in the absence of a full El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). An ENSO occurs when warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific combine, in a self-reinforcing loop, with atmospheric pressure systems, affecting weather patterns globally.

Among the remarkable features of 2014’s first 10 months are land surface temperatures. The WMO says they averaged about 0.86°C above the 1961-1990 average, the fourth or fifth warmest for the same period on record.

Global sea-surface temperatures were unequivocally the highest on record, at about 0.45°C above the 1961-1990 average. Temperatures were particularly high in the northern hemisphere from June to October for reasons, the WMO notes, that “are subject to intense scientific investigation”.

The ocean heat content for January to June was estimated to depths of 700m and 2000m, and both were the highest recorded. Around 93% of the excess energy trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and other human activities ends up in the oceans, so the heat they contain is essential to understanding the climate system.

The early part of 2014 saw global-average measured sea level reach a record high for the time of year. Arctic sea-ice extent was the sixth lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, in the US, but Antarctic daily sea ice reached a new record for the third consecutive year.

Some impressively anomalous rainfall and floods made 2014 a year to forget as fast as possible. The UK winter was the wettest on record, with 177% of the long-term average precipitation. In May, devastating floods in south-east Europe affected more than two million people, and in Russia, in late May and early June, more than twice the monthly average precipitation fell in parts of southern Siberia.

In September, southern parts of the Balkan peninsula received over 250% of the monthly average rainfall, while parts of Turkey had more than 500%. Heavy rains caused severe flooding in northern Bangladesh, northern Pakistan and India, affecting millions of people.

Searing drought

In contrast, parts of north-east China, large areas of the western US, Australia, and Brazil experienced searing drought.

But the incidence of tropical storms and cyclones recorded was lower than the 1981-2010 average in much of the world.

The WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme shows that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) reached new highs in 2013  − the most recent data processed to date.

Globally-averaged atmospheric levels of CO2 reached 396.0 parts per million (ppm), approximately 142% of the pre-industrial average. The increase from 2012 to 2013 was 2.9 ppm, the largest year to year increase.

Atmospheric CH4 concentrations reached a new high of 1,824 parts per billion (ppb) in 2013, about 253% of the pre-industrial level, and concentrations of N2O reached 325.9 ± 0.1 ppb, a rise of 121%. − Climate News Network

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Hi-tech mirror is cool new answer to air con problem

Hi-tech mirror is cool new answer to air con problem

As extremes of heat increasingly threaten to become the norm, scientists have invented a new way to reflect sunlight and beam heat away from buildings straight back into space.

LONDON, 1 December, 2014 − A new material – and a new science called nanophotonics – could offer a revolutionary way to cool down the baking cities of tomorrow.

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that greater extremes of heat will become the norm, and also that as temperatures rise to potentially dangerous levels, the energy costs of new air conditioning investment will significantly feed back into yet more global warming.

But Aaswath Raman, research associate in the Ginzton Laboratory at Stanford University, California, reports with colleagues in Nature journal that seven layers of hafnium oxide and silicon dioxide on a roof could do something very surprising.

Release warmth

They could directly reflect 97% of the sunlight away from the building, and at the same time release warmth in exactly the right infrared frequency to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere as if it wasn’t there.

In outdoor daytime tests that lasted for five hours, the temperatures in the structure below the new material fell to 4.9°C below the temperatures outside. And this effect was achieved without any use of electricity.

This new technique, which the scientists call photonic radiative cooling, could offer new ways of preserving food, chilling vaccines and saving lives in impoverished tropical regions far from any electrical supply.

“What we’ve done is create a way that should allow us to use the coldness of the universe as a heat sink during the day”

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases absorb infrared light, and thus store heat from fossil fuels − but not at the wavelengths of between 8 and 13 micrometres.

Since this “transparency window” in the atmosphere can be exploited to radiate the heat directly into space, the authors say: “The cold darkness of the universe can be used as a renewable thermodynamic resource, even during the hottest hours of the day.”

The relatively new science of new materials – and the unexpected properties of old materials when made in layers only a few atoms thick – continues to surprise.

The science has already delivered photovoltaic cells that turn light directly into current, smart metals that can detect their own fractures, and also water-repelling fabrics that stay permanently clean.

The Stanford researchers started with layers of hafnium oxide – an inert material already used in semiconductors and optical coatings – and silicon dioxide, a compound also known as silica or quartz, and widely used both in microelectronics and as a food additive.

Unexpected properties

From these, they were able to fashion, on a thin silver base, an ultrathin film that carried with it two unexpected properties: it was a near-perfect reflector of visible light, and an efficient emitter for infrared light. The fabric is just 1.8 microns thick – a micron is a millionth of a metre – and could be sprayed onto structures.

There are problems yet to be solved. The first practical one is how to get the heat from inside the building into its new, super-efficient exterior coating. The second is to find ways to make the stuff in industrial quantities, and then work out how to use it most effectively. But it offers a new way of thinking about energy efficiency.

“Every object that produces heat has to dump that heat into a heat sink,” said Professor Shanhui Fan, Stanford scientist and one of the report’s authors. “What we’ve done is create a way that should allow us to use the coldness of the universe as a heat sink during the day.” – Climate News Network

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