Cutting warming to 1.5°C could put food supply at risk

Cutting warming to 1.5°C could put food supply at risk

Scientists say meeting the tougher demands of many countries on limiting global temperature rise may be technically feasible, but would risk worsening world hunger.

LONDON, 21 May, 2015 – As world leaders try to agree how to prevent global warming from heating the planet by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, scientists have tackled an altogether thornier question: can we keep the rise below 1.5°C?

The lower target − demanded by more than 100 countries as a safer goal − is attainable, they say. But there will be little room for error, and getting there will mean not only cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

That is not possible with the technology now available. And even if it could one day be done, it would probably have forbiddingly harmful consequences for world food supplies.

However, limiting temperature rise by 2100 to less than 1.5°C is still feasible, say the researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany, and colleagues. They report their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Similar actions

Not surprisingly, the answer includes doing more, and doing it faster. “Actions for returning global warming to below 1.5°C by 2100 are in many ways similar to those for limiting warming to below 2°C,” says IIASA climate researcher Joeri Rogelj, one of the lead authors of the report.

The authors accept that the economic, political, and technological conditions for achieving even 2°C are “substantial”. The negotiations to be held in Paris in December by member states of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) may show what chance there is of meeting them.

The new study identifies key ways of reaching the 1.5°C target by 2100. One is a tight limit on future carbon emissions.

Gunnar Luderer, PIK senior researcher in sustainable solutions, who co-led the study, says: “In 1.5°C scenarios, the remaining carbon budget for the 21st century is reduced to almost half, compared to 2°C scenarios.

“As a consequence, deeper emissions cuts are required from all sectors, and global carbon neutrality would need to be reached 10-20 years earlier than projected for 2°C scenarios.”

Energy efficiency will also need to improve faster, he says.

“The scenarios we assess keep warming
to the lowest levels currently considered
technologically feasible”

But the study finds that staying below 1.5°C would require a radical step change: some time this century, carbon emissions would have to become negative at a global scale.

That is the scientists’ way of saying that significant amounts of CO2 will have to be actively removed from the atmosphere. And there is at present no known way of doing that.

In theory, it is possible − for example, through bio-energy use, combined with carbon capture and storage. But that is a technology that so far remains untested on a large scale.

It would also increase hunger, as the crops needed to produce enough biofuel would compete for land with food plants.

Another idea is to grow more forests, which would sequester carbon in their trees, but this would be open to the same objection − that it would reduce cropland. The higher temperatures in prospect will themselves affect forest growth and health.

Lowest levels

Rogelj told the Climate News Network: “Increased temperatures can make afforestation efforts harder. However, the scenarios we assess here keep warming to the lowest levels currently considered technologically feasible, and this issue will thus have a relatively smaller impact.”

Whatever happens, the authors expect things to get hotter before they have any chance of cooling down.

Rogelj says: “Basically, all our 1.5°C scenarios first exceed the 1.5°C temperature threshold somewhere in mid-century, before declining to 2100 and beyond as more and more carbon dioxide is actively removed from the atmosphere by specialised technologies.”

Over 100 countries worldwide more than half the members of the UNFCCC, including the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have declared their support for a 1.5°C target. – Climate News Network

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Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Economic links with China help Pakistan tap into enormous solar energy potential that can provide clean power to boost production and reduce poverty.

ISLAMABAD, 19 May, 2015 – One of the world’s largest solar plants has been opened in Pakistan with the aim of supplying clean, reliable energy and helping alleviate the country’s chronic power shortages.

The plant, spread over more than 200 hectares of desert land in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province, will generate 100 megawatts (MW) in its initial phase and more than 300MW by the end of the year, according to government officials.

More than a third of Pakistan’s population do not have access to electricity, and power shortages are a serious impediment to economic growth.

Inaugurating the plant, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, said: “Since I became prime minister, my one goal has been to eliminate darkness in Pakistan and bring lights back to the country.”

Mushahidullah Khan, the Federal Minister for Climate Change, told the Climate News Network that the government is determined to make use of what it sees as the country’s enormous solar energy potential.

Energy crisis

He said: “Tackling our energy crisis is the top priority of the present government as we believe it is vital in order to achieve economic growth, alleviate poverty, boost agricultural and industrial production and – through the provision of clean, solar power – reduce the country’s carbon footprint.”

The plant – called the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park – was constructed in less than a year by China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Company, at a cost of US$131 million.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult”

China has been forging ever closer economic links with Pakistan as part of a plan to link China’s western Xinjiang region to the Pakistan port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. The government in Islamabad says China is likely to invest more than $30 billion in solar and other power projects in Pakistan in the coming years.

At present, more than 60% of Pakistan’s power is generated from oil and gas, and about 30% from hydro power.

Pakistan is considered to be one of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Erratic flow

In particular, the flow of water in the Indus river – upon which millions depend for hydro power and for irrigating crops – has become increasingly erratic due to changing rainfall patterns, glacial melt in the western Himalayas region, and the impact of widespread deforestation.

Government officials say they are determined to push ahead with more solar and wind projects throughout the country.

Asjad Imtiaz Ali, chairman of Pakistan’s Alternative Energy Development Board, said the development of solar and other renewable energies was hampered in the past by inconsistencies in government policy, and by a lack of understanding of clean energies.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult, such as Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh provinces,” he said.

As part of the push for more solar projects, the government recently announced the abolition of duty on the import of solar panels. − Climate News Network

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Earth wins time as land and seas absorb more carbon

Earth wins time as land and seas absorb more carbon

Climate change has intensified more slowly than scientists had expected because the continents and oceans are absorbing more atmospheric carbon dioxide.

LONDON, 17 May, 2015 − Half of all the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels remain in the atmosphere. The good news is that only half remain in the atmosphere, while the rest have been taken up by the living world and then absorbed into the land, and the ocean. That is, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen, so also has the planet’s capacity to soak up atmospheric carbon.

The implication is that what engineers call “positive feedback” – in which global warming triggers the release of yet more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to accelerate yet further warming – doesn’t seem to be at work yet.

The implication, too, is that the world’s governments still have time to launch determined programmes to sharply reduce fossil fuel use, and switch to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources before climate change disrupts the planet’s food security and exacts what could be a devastating toll on the biosphere.

But most climate scientists know all this anyway: the real significance of a new study in the journal Biogeosciences is that US and British scientists have narrowed some of the uncertainties in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget: how much gets into the atmosphere, where it goes, and how long it stays.

That is because although the big picture – that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are beginning to rise steeply – has been confirmed repeatedly by systematic measurements since 1956, the potential margin of error has been considerable.

“This increased uptake by land and ocean is not only surprising; it’s good news”

“There is no question that land and oceans have, for at least the last five and half decades, been taking up about half of the carbon emitted each year. The outstanding question is, Why?” said Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, one of the authors.

“Most of the processes responsible for that uptake would be expected to slow down as the Earth warms, but we haven’t seen it yet. Since the emissions today are three times higher than they were in the 1960s, this increased uptake by land and ocean is not only surprising; it’s good news.

“Without it, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would be twice what it is, and climate change would be much farther along. But there’s no guarantee that it will continue.”

The carbon budget is an integral part of the climate puzzle: all simulations of how climate will change with increasing emissions from fossil fuels depend on an understanding of how much carbon dioxide concentrates in the atmosphere and what happens to it after that.

In the last few months researchers have reported a dramatic uptake of atmospheric carbon by new forests and the growth of woodland on the world’s savannahs and pinpointed the fjords – those steep, still stretches of sea in mountainous coastlines in the high latitudes – as prime “sinks” for atmospheric carbon.

Uncertainties narrowed

At the same time others have once again confirmed fears that thawing permafrost could release vast quantities of carbon stored for millennia is semi-decayed and now frozen vegetation.

But these have been studies of small pieces of the big puzzle. What the Biogeosciences authors did was to refine two global uncertainties. One is how much fossil fuel is burned each year and the other is how much is stacking up in the atmosphere.

Both sound simple, but the first question is complicated by differences in the ways nations maintain their own energy inventories, and the way they report the details, and the second depends on how the use of land has changed, how the oceans are responding to higher levels of acidification and how carbon dioxide levels vary according to region, and to season.

With greater certainty in the answers to the second question – which began with one single set of measurements at the top of a mountain in Hawaii now replicated worldwide – researchers found they could make more sense of the first question, and narrow the uncertainties to a point where they could write that they were “93% confident that terrestrial C uptake has increased and 97% confident that ocean C uptake has increased in the last five decades.

“Thus it is clear that arguably one of the most vital ecosystem services currently provided by the biosphere is the continued removal of approximately half of atmospheric CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

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Deniers’ voices try to drown out climate scientists

Deniers’ voices try to drown out climate scientists

New study indicates that loud dissent from contrarians may prompt some researchers to soften their language about the threats of climate change.

LONDON, 16 May, 2015 − Climate change denial by contrarians claiming that global warming has stopped, is a natural cycle rather than a consequence of human action, or is simply a hoax or conspiracy can take its toll of climate scientists too.

A new study in Global Environmental Change suggests that the loudest voices of dissent can affect the way researchers who have separately and repeatedly confirmed the reality of global climate change then talk about their own research.

Scoffing by contrarian voices can lead researchers to over-emphasise the inevitable scientific uncertainties, or over-react to claims of alarmism, or even adopt some of the contrarian language – chief of which has been talk of a “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming in the 21st century.

Psychological mechanisms

Stephan Lewandowsky, professor at the University of Bristol School of Experimental Psychology in the UK, and colleagues from the US and Australia call the problem “seepage”. That is, the language of the contrarians has seeped into scientific discourse.

The researchers identify three psychological mechanisms, which they call “stereotype threat”, “pluralistic ignorance” and “third-person effect”.

The first acts as a behaviour response: stereotype climate scientists as alarmist and this triggers a natural reaction to avoid the stereotype and downplay the climate threat, or at least not highlight the risks.

“The public has a right to be informed of risks,
even if they are alarming”

Pluralistic ignorance follows when a noisy minority opinion gets disproportionate play in public debate − that is, when people who thought they were in a majority begin to feel inhibited.

The third-person effect is the assumption that persuasive communications might persuade other people, but not the experts. In fact, there is evidence that even experts can be subtly affected by such talk.

Professor Lewandowsky says: “It seems reasonable to conclude that the pressure of climate contrarians has contributed, at least to some degree, to scientists examining their own theory, data and models, even though all of them permit – indeed expect – changes in the rate of warming over any arbitrarily chosen period.

“We scientists have a unique and crucial role in public policy to communicate clearly and accurately the entire range of risks that we know about. The public has a right to be informed of risks, even if they are alarming.

“Climate scientists have done a great job in pursuing their science under great political pressure, and they have tirelessly rebutted pseudoscientific arguments against their work.

“However, sometimes scientists have inadvertently allowed contrarian claims to frame the language of their scientific thinking, leading us to overstate scientific uncertainty and under-communicate knowledge.”

A second study by US scientists recently confirmed that, in fact, scientists have communicated the knowledge. They have certainly done so to a US legislature rich in Republican representatives who make a point of challenging or dismissing the climate science consensus.

Contrarian voices occasionally claim that the scientific community is “divided” − but such division was not on show in evidence presented to the US Congress.

Expert witnesses

Xinsheng Liu, associate research scientist at Texas A&M University, and colleagues report in the journal Climatic Change that they analysed 1,350 testimonies delivered to 253 congressional hearings from 1969 to 2007.

Of the expert witnesses who expressed a view, 86% said that climate change was happening, and 78% said it was a consequence of human activity. Most significantly, 95% of those scientists who gave testimony supported action to combat climate change.

So a “supermajority” of scientific opinion had presented the facts to Congress, and the near-complete agreement in the science community had been consistently presented.

“Possible explanations for policymakers’ contention must be based on something other than a lack of knowledge or divided scientific information,” the report’s authors conclude. – Climate News Network

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Weather events taken to extremes by climate change

Weather events taken to extremes by climate change

Scientists warn that global warming could greatly increase the likelihood of droughts, floods and heatwaves reaching record levels of frequency and intensity.

LONDON, 15 May, 2015 − As temperatures soar to record heights, blame it on global warming − but only about three-quarters of the time. And when the rain comes down by the bucketful, you can attribute one downpour in five to climate change.

Yet another team of research scientists has looked at the probabilities, and has linked extremes of weather with global warming.

Extremes have always happened and are, by definition, rare events. So, for the last 30 years, climate scientists have carefully explained that no particular climate event could be identified as the consequence of a rise in global average temperatures driven by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.

But some events that were once improbable have now become statistically more probable because of global warming, according to Erich Fischer and Reno Knutti, climate scientists at ETH Zurich − the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at simulations of probabilities and climate records for the period 1901 to 2005, and projections for the period 2006 to 2100.

Rise in temperatures

Then they settled down to calculate the likelihood that a proportion of past heatwaves or floods could be linked to a measured average rise in planetary temperatures so far of 0.85°C.

They worked out how these proportions would change if the average planetary temperatures reach 2°C above the “normal” of the pre-industrial world, and they found that human-induced global warming could already be responsible for 18% of extremes of rain or snow, and 75% of heatwaves worldwide.

If the temperatures go up to the 2°C that nations have agreed should be the limit, then the probability of precipitation extremes that could be blamed on global warming rises to 40%. They are less precise about heatwaves, but any rise could be sharp.

“If temperatures rise globally by 2°C, we would expect twice as many extreme heat events worldwide than we would with a 1.5% increase,” Dr Fischer says.

“These global warming targets, which are discussed in climate negotiations and which differ little at first glance, therefore have a great influence on the frequency of extremes.”

The researchers are talking about probabilities: it will still be difficult ever to say that one event was a random happening, and another a result of climate change. In such research, there are definition problems. What counts as extreme heat in northern England would not be extreme in India or Saudi Arabia.

But such distinctions could become increasingly academic for people who live in the path of unusual heat and extended drought, or flash floods and catastrophic hailstorms.

A scientist recently told the European Geosciences Union that some regions of the planet will see unprecedented drought, driven once again by climate change, before 2050.

Ignored warnings

Yusuke Satoh, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, warned that under the notorious business-as-usual scenario −where nations ignore such warnings and just go on burning fossil fuels − 13 of 26 global regions would see “unprecedented hydrological drought levels” by 2050. Some would see this parching much earlier − the Mediterranean by 2027, and the western US as early as 2017.

Such studies are calculated to help provoke governments, states and water authorities into preparing for climate change, but it just may be that the western US is already feeling the heat. California, in particular, has been in the grip of unprecedented drought, and researchers have already linked this to climate change.

Reservoirs and irrigation systems are built on historical data. “But in the next few decades, these historical data may no longer give us accurate information about current conditions,” Dr Satoh says. “The earlier we take this seriously, the better we will be able to adapt.” – Climate News Network

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Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Canada has been dubbed an international disgrace for its climate change policies, but now one of its major cities is aiming to be the greenest in the world by 2020.

LONDON, 13 May, 2015 − In a country reckoned to have the worst climate policies in the industrialised world, one big city is setting out to defy central government and become 100% carbon neutral.

Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, wants to establish itself as “the greenest city in the world by 2020” by demonstrating that economic growth and the welfare of its citizens depends on developing renewables, rapid transit systems, and promoting cycling and walking to curb car use.

It is one of dozens of cities worldwide working towards improving the life of their citizens while reducing fossil fuel use, but it claims to have the most ambitious targets.

Many city administrations in Europe have the support of their governments, but in other countries − particularly Australia and Canada, where governments are actively promoting fossil fuels − cities are having to act alone.

A conference in Vancouver, attended by leaders from 45 countries, opens today to help the local government reach its goals.

Doubling green jobs

Among the “Green Vancouver” targets are doubling the number of green jobs in the city by 2020, from a 2010 baseline of 16,700, and making all new building in the city carbon neutral from 2020, while dramatically cutting emissions from existing buildings.

Progress towards meeting the city’s impressive list of targets includes reductions in air pollution, waste, water use and car journeys. Other aims are to provide a green space within five minutes walk for every citizen, planting thousands of trees, and growing food locally.

The city’s environment credentials go back to the 1970s, when there was a long battle to stop a freeway being built through the city. As a result, it is not possible to drive easily into the centre.

“The people who run Vancouver . . . are
business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people”

Between 1996 and 2011, while the population in the city centre increased by 40%, there was a 25% decrease in the number of vehicle journeys, and a rise in the use of public transport, dedicated cycle routes and walkways.

Many other cities in the world that believe the way forward is to rid themselves of fossil fuels are attending to share experience – both of successes and failures.

That Vancouver is to become a centre of excellence is ironic, considering the fact that the federal government is seen as an international disgrace to the environment movement.

In 2011, it repudiated the Kyoto Protocol on emissions reduction targets, and has vigorously promoted the exploitation of oil from tar sands − the most polluting form of oil extraction, with high carbon dioxide emissions.

Power from renewables

In contrast, Vancouver, which has a population of 600,000, believes that all its power can come from renewables – although getting all heating and cooling and transport without using fossil fuels may take until 2040, depending on whether there is any help from central government.

One of the organisers of the conference, Shauna Sylvester, said: “When I first heard that Vancouver wanted to go 100% renewable, I thought it was a dream, but having looked at the possibilities I am a total convert.

“The people who run Vancouver do not have normal political affiliations. They are a bunch of business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people. They are neither Labour nor Conservatives, but new progressives.”

Sylvester works at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue’s Renewable Cities Initiative, one of a number of organisations that aim to bring cities together to tackle climate change, because many local leaders believe that governments do not have the political will to do so.

Among those supporting the conference is the United Nations Environment Programme, which has its own campaign to green cities. − Climate News Network

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Seas generate rising tide of renewables ideas

Seas generate rising tide of renewables ideas

The EU says it is time for tides to provide energy for Europe from the Atlantic and end reliance on the burning of polluting fossil fuels.

LONDON, 11 May, 2015 − A race is on worldwide to harness the tides and waves for electrical power, with more than 100 different devices being tested by companies hoping to make a commercial breakthrough.

And a new report from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre expresses confidence that the Atlantic Ocean will soon be an important contributor to the continent’s energy mix.

It adds that many other countries with big tidal ranges and long coasts are also banking on this form of renewable energy to help reduce fossil fuel use.

For years, it has been predicted that the vast quantities of energy available in the oceans would be harnessed by human ingenuity to provide without the need for burning fossil fuels, but progress has been slower than expected.

Different techniques

While it has proved possible to generate  electricity with many different techniques, scaling these up into large-scale power stations to supply the electricity grid has not so far been economic.

The two most promising basic ideas are to use the currents and the build-up of water at each tide to drive turbines to make electricity, or to convert the power in wave motions to energy.

In Europe, the countries with Atlantic Ocean coastlines – such as the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway – are all developing technologies. And in 2014, the EU launched what it called its Blue Energy Action plan to finance and encourage development. The latest report details progress so far.

Most of the technologies are not new ideas, but the trick is turning a demonstration model into a viable power station.

The one exception is tidal energy in the form of a barrage across a river, which has been in use for years.

The best known is the 240 megawatt (MW) La Rance tidal barrage in France, operating successfully since 1966. Another 254 MW tidal plant has opened in Sihwa in South Korea, and other barrages producing at total 2,680 MW are planned worldwide − although  many  have proved controversial because of their  effects on fish and birds.

Tidal lagoons − reservoirs that stand in an estuary or close to the shore, and which fill and then empty with each tidal cycle − have  now won much more favour, and one is  being developed in Swansea Bay in south Wales.

The worldwide potential of this technology is estimated at 80 gigawatts (GW), or the equivalent of 80 large coal-fired power stations.

Already in successful operation at some sites, but yet to be scaled up to full commercial development, are underwater turbines − similar to wind turbines − that use the energy in tidal streams to make electricity.

In Europe, these devices will be viable in countries with high tides and strong tidal streams − particularly France, Ireland, Norway and the UK, but also  in some parts of Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. These are believed to offer  the highest net potential contribution  to the European energy system, according to the report.

The first large-scale tidal array is being built in the Pentland Firth, off northern Scotland. It will provide power to 175,000 homes.

New connections

Like the deployment of wind farms, potential tidal power arrays are often in remote locations far from cities. The report points out that these technologies will require new grid connections and integration into the European grid to get most value from them.

A new generation of devices not placed on the sea bed, but either floating like kites on a string or operating from platforms, is under development. Their advantage is that they avoid the cost of being built on the sea bed, and can also  exploit the greater strength of the tides nearer the surface of the sea.

Some of the materials being used to build devices to withstand the power of the sea, and the methods that are being used, are being kept secret for commercial reasons, but they have some of the biggest companies in Europe as their backers.

The commercial advantage of tidal devices is that the tides are predictable years in advance

Another new generation of micro-turbines, owned by coastal communities and anchored offshore to take advantage of tidal flows, is under development. These could give communities isolated from the grid their own power source, like solar panels do in remote parts of Africa and Asia.

There are an estimated 100 companies developing tidal energy devices worldwide, half of them  in the EU, where many are supported by development grants. Four tidal energy stations are already in operation in Europe, and another 31 are expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Many more are in the planning stage.

The commercial advantage of tidal devices is that, unlike some other forms of renewable energy, the tides are predictable years in advance. Wave power, on the other hand, suffers because of its unpredictability and the need to make devices robust enough to stand up to the battering  they receive.

Potential supply

That has not stopped a large number of development projects being built, principally because the potential energy supply is vast –  30 times higher than tidal energy.

Some devices have already been operating successfully for 10 years, producing regular quantities of electricity, but they were built as demonstration models and not on a commercial scale.

Building structures large enough to produce a regular power supply at a cost that could be commercial has proved elusive, but the report describes a number of devices that are close to achieving commercial viability.

There are at least nine different technologies using wave power, and 170 wave energy developers worldwide.

The report also discusses technologies that use the different gradients of salinity in the sea to produce power, and the different water temperatures to generate energy.

However, it argues that both these ideas, while viable in theory, are further away from commercial operation in Europe than tidal stream or wave power. – Climate News Network

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Scientists weigh up new evidence on Antarctic ice melt

Scientists weigh up new evidence on Antarctic ice melt

Southern continent’s mysteries start to unfold as satellite data is used to measure the extent and pattern of increased ice loss that threatens to be a “runaway problem”.

LONDON, 7 May, 2015 − Antarctica has been losing its ice cover at an average rate of 92 billion tons a year since at least 2003, according to new research.

And while the scientists can’t yet say for certain that human-made climate change is the main cause, they warn that the ice loss has the potential to have serious impacts on sea level rise.

The southern continent is the Earth’s largest store of fresh water, but is also its least studied area, having had no known human visitors until the late 18th century. So while scientists have a clear idea of processes at work in the Arctic, the big picture at the other end of the planet has been uncertain.

Heavier snowfalls

West Antarctica has been losing vast chunks of ice, but greater average warmth has meant there have been heavier snowfalls, and the icepack in east Antarctica has been on the increase.

Now Christopher Harig and Frederik Simons, geoscientists at Princeton University in the US, report in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters that gravitational satellite data has delivered a method of “weighing” the ice sheet, and identifying a pattern of change.

Most of the loss has been from the West Antarctic region, where the glaciers are increasingly unstable. In 2008, the region was shedding ice at the rate of 121 billion tons a year. By 2014, this rate of loss had doubled.

At the same time, the ice sheet in East Antarctica had thickened – but  the gain made up for only about half the ice lost from the west.

Most scientists would be hard-pressed to find mechanisms that do not include human-made climate change”

In the period since 2003, ice loss over the whole continent increased at the rate of six billion tons a year. West Antarctica’s melting rate, however, accelerated by 18 billion tons a year during the same timespan.

So the researchers did the sums and arrived at an annual average loss of 92 billion tons a year. This could be envisaged as an iceberg the size of Manhattan Island in New York, and more than 1,600 metres high.

What the researchers cannot be sure of is the cause: is a natural cycle of climate at play, or is it a consequence of global warming because  of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels?

“We have a solution that is very solid, very detailed and unambiguous,” Dr Simons says. “A decade of gravity analysis alone cannot force you to take a position on this ice loss being due to anthropogenic global warming. All we have done is take the balance of the ice on Antarctica and found that it is melting – there is no doubt.

Rapidly accelerating

“But with the rapidly accelerating rates at which the ice is melting, and in the light of other, well-publicised lines of evidence, most scientists would be hard-pressed to find mechanisms that do not include human-made climate change.”

The two scientists used data from a US-German research satellite called GRACE − short for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment.

The agency linked to the ice loss is a measured warming of the southern ocean that is reducing the sea ice, which in turn holds back the flow of ice on land. So glaciers are melting, and flowing towards the sea at a faster rate.

“The fact that West Antarctic ice melt is still accelerating is a big deal because it’s increasing its contribution to sea level rise,” Dr Harig says. “It really has the potential to be a runaway problem.

“It has come to the point that if we continue losing mass in those areas, the loss can generate a self-reinforcing feedback, whereby we will be losing more and more ice, ultimately raising sea levels.” – Climate News Network

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Pope aims to win hearts and minds on climate change

Pope aims to win hearts and minds on climate change

The leader of more than one billion Catholics around the world is calling on religions to take a moral stance on the threat posed by global warming.

LONDON, 6 May, 2015 − A declaration at the end of a meeting in Rome hosted by the Vatican made a plea to the world’s religions to engage and mobilise on the issue of climate change.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” the declaration said. “In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role.”

Vatican watchers and climate experts say the meeting, “The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development”, shows that Pope Francis is − in marked contrast to his predecessors − keen for the Catholic church to be more involved in the climate change issue, and is also urging other religions to become more actively engaged.

The meeting was organised by various religious and non-religious organisations, including the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the UN-affiliated body, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, also spoke at the one-day conference.

Fundamental principles

In a few weeks’ time, the Pope is due to release an encyclical on climate change – within the Catholic church, a statement of fundamental principles. He has also made several impassioned speeches on the issue.

“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us,” the Pope told a gathering of thousands in St Peter’s Square, Rome, last month. “Never forget this.”

Groups that insist that climate change is not a threat, and that seek to oppose the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific bodies, have been quick to criticise the Pope’s stand.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity”

Members of the Heartland Institute, a US-based organisation funded by billionaire industrialists and others who deny climate change is caused by human activity, travelled to Rome to speak against the meeting.

“The Pope has great moral authority, but he’s not an authority on climate science,” a Heartland employee told the UK newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.

“The Pope would make a grave mistake if he put his moral authority behind scientists saying that climate change is a threat to the world.”

Selling investments

Separately, the Church of England announced that it is selling various investments in fossil fuel industries. The Church said £12 million worth of investments in companies making 10% or more of their revenues from the production of coal or oil from tar sands would be sold.

The Church of England is not selling all its investments in fossil fuel operations, but says it wants to influence companies that contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. The Church recently called on two major oil companies, BP and Shell, to be more transparent about their policies on climate change.

“The Church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor, who are most vulnerable to climate change” says Professor Richard Burridge, of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group. Climate News Network

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No green light for whitening Arctic’s melting ice

No green light for whitening Arctic’s melting ice

Scientists pour cold water on the idea of preventing ice melt by using geo-technology to keep it white so that it reflects sunlight and stays frozen.

LONDON, 4 May, 2015 – Yet another geo-engineering solution to climate change has been proven potentially useless: even if you could paint the Arctic white, the world would still get warmer.

For the second time in months, scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US have shown that some technological solutions won’t work even in principle, let alone in practice.

Geo-engineering is, for some, the simple technological answer to climate change: if humans have inadvertently warmed the planet’s climate through technological change, then surely they can cool it again intentionally through technological ingenuity.

But Carnegie global ecologist Ken Caldeira and research colleagues − having already demonstrated that piping cold deep waters to the ocean surface would accelerate global warming, rather than reduce it − now report in Environmental Research Letters that changing the reflectivity of the northern hemisphere won’t have the intended consequences either.

Climate machinery

Caldeira, Ivana Cvijanovic, now at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Douglas MacMartin, of the California Institute of Technology, decided to consider an aspect of the climate machinery known as albedo. This is a measure of the planet’s reflectivity.

It works like this: dark colours, such as blue oceans and green rainforests, absorb more sunlight, while white and pale surfaces – snow caps and ice sheets, for instance  – reflect most sunlight.

So the Arctic and Antarctic keep cold simply by staying frozen. But any consistent thawing pattern will make an icy region warmer, at an increasing rate.

This is happening at measurable speed, in the northern hemisphere. “By the middle of the century, the Arctic Ocean is predicted to be ice-free during part of the year,” Dr Cvijanovic says. “This could create substantial ecological problems in the Arctic, including habitat range and loss of biodiversity.

“However, the problem is not only local. A number of studies have indicated that Arctic sea ice loss can affect weather patterns across the northern mid-latitudes, including Europe, most of North America and much of Asia.”

“Even if you could do it, the direct negative consequences of reducing the amount of sunlight available to marine ecosystems could be huge”

So it would make sense to keep the Arctic cold and white − perhaps by filling the ocean with floating reflective grains, or the air above it with tiny bubbles to bounce back the incoming sunlight.

But the Carnegie team decided to work out, with help from computer models, what a whiter Arctic would achieve in a world in which humans went on burning fossil fuels in ever-increasing quantities, in which the atmosphere eventually held four times the carbon dioxide levels recorded at the start of the Industrial Revolution, and in which average planetary temperatures went up by a devastating 10°C.

Cooling effect

The whitening of the Arctic would restore a percentage of the ice – about three-quarters of a square kilometre for every whitened square kilometre. But the cooling effect would be much more modest.

And the return of the ice would not preserve the permafrost – home to colossal quantities of organic carbon that could, if released, become carbon dioxide – or prevent escapes of another potent greenhouse gas, methane.

While it might work to keep a bay or inlet frozen, it would not, in principle, save a frozen ocean, or save the world from catastrophic climate change.

“Simply put, our results indicate that whitening the surface of the Arctic Ocean would not be an effective tool for offsetting the effects of climate change caused by atmospheric greenhouse gases,” Professor Caldeira says.

“Furthermore, it is not clear to me that there is a technologically feasible way of actually doing this. And even if you could do it, the direct negative consequences of reducing the amount of sunlight available to marine ecosystems could be huge.” – Climate News Network

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