Seeing is believing as scientists trace greenhouse effect

Seeing is believing as scientists trace greenhouse effect

High-precision field instruments in the US have provided the first real-time “action shots” of the increasing impact of CO2 on global warming.

LONDON, 28 February, 2015 − Government scientists in the US say they have directly observed for the first time the greenhouse effect in action, while monitoring the way carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere absorbed increasing amounts of thermal radiation from the surface.

Their measurements, taken over a period of 11 years in Alaska and Oklahoma, confirm predictions made more than 100 years ago, and repeatedly examined: there is a greenhouse effect, and the greenhouse gas that most helps the world warm is carbon dioxide.

The phenomenon is known in climate science shorthand as radiative forcing, which happens when the Earth absorbs more energy from solar radiation than it emits as thermal radiation back into space.

The sun shines through the greenhouse gases as if they were glass, and warms the rocks. The rocks emit infra-red waves, but the transparent gases now keep the heat in, as if they formed the glass roof of a greenhouse.

Radiative forcing

Although this radiative forcing has been assessed, quantified, modelled, predicted and worried about, the scientists say this is the first time it has been formally tested outside, in the open air.

Daniel Feldman, geological project scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, and colleagues report in Nature that the increase in temperatures over the period adds up to two-tenths of one Watt per square metre per decade.

And this small notch in the thermometer record is linked to an increase of 22 parts per million in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere in the decade. Much of this extra CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels.

The finding is no surprise. For 30 years, climate scientists have recorded a steady average annual rise in planetary temperatures.

“We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere . . .”

They expected it, and they predict that unless the world makes a switch from coal, oil and natural gas to solar, wind, water and wave energy, or biofuels, or nuclear or geothermal power sources, global average temperatures will go on rising inexorably. The glaciers and icecaps will melt, sea levels will rise, and climate extremes – especially heat waves, and probably floods – will also increase.

So the Nature study is just a piece of tidying up. But it is an illustration that the calculations can be confirmed by direct measurement − by catching carbon dioxide in the act, so to speak. Laboratory measurements said it would happen, computer simulations said it would happen, and now direct measurement completes the picture.

Solar radiation

“We see, for the first time in the field, the amplification of the greenhouse effect because there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb what the earth emits in response to incoming solar radiation,” Dr Feldman says.

“Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect.”

The study is built on 3,300 measurements in Alaska and 8,300 in Oklahoma, under clear skies and using high-precision instruments.

Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas: water vapour also plays a role, along with oxides of nitrogen and methane or natural gas.

But the study was powerful enough to isolate carbon dioxide’s contribution, and even register a dip in this radiative forcing early every year as the green shoots of spring begin to take up the greenhouse gas to build the new leaves and stems that nourish a hemisphere.

The authors conclude that the results confirm theoretical predictions, and provide empirical evidence of just what rising CO2 levels can do. – Climate News Network

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Acid attack on algae damages ocean ecosystem

Acid attack on algae damages ocean ecosystem

Increasing acidity in the Southern Ocean is having a serious effect on the growth of a small but hugely important food source for marine life.

LONDON, 27 February, 2015 − As the planet’s oceans become more acidic, the diatoms − a major group of alga − in the Southern Ocean could grow more slowly.

Nobody expected this. And since tiny, single-celled algae are a primary food source for an entire ocean ecosystem, the discovery seems ominous.

Bioscientist Clara Hoppe and colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute [http://www.awi.de/en/home/]at the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, report in the journal New Phytologist that they tested the growth of the Antarctic diatom Chaetoceros debilis under laboratory conditions.

They used two levels of pH – which is an indicator of acidity – and they exposed their tiny volunteers to constant light and to changing light, providing both standard laboratory conditions and lighting levels that approximated to the real world.

Plant growth

In the unblinking glare of light, the diatoms responded well. Their growth levels were consistent with an assumption that more dissolved carbon dioxide – which makes the waters more acidic – would in effect fertilise plant growth.

Under conditions of changing light, however, it was a different story. The algae grew more slowly, which suggests that the oceans could become less efficient at removing carbon from the atmosphere, and perhaps less valuable as a primary food source for the creatures that teem in the Antarctic waters.

“Diatoms fulfil an important role in the Earth’s climate system,” Dr Hoppe says. “They can absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide, which they bind before ultimately transporting part of it to the depths of the ocean.

“Once there, the greenhouse gas remains naturally sequestered for centuries.”

Previous research into the steady acidification of the oceans has tended to concentrate on the consequences for coral reefs,  fisheries, and tourism, but not on the impact on plant life in the seas.

Since carbon dioxide acts as a fertiliser, higher levels dissolved in the water might stimulate more growth.

“We now know that when the light intensity constantly changes, the effect of ocean acidification reverses”

But growth depends not just on more carbon dioxide, but also on reliable sunlight. In the stormy southern seas, this is not steadily supplied.

Dr Hoppe says: “Several times a day, winds and currents transport diatoms in the Southern Ocean from the uppermost water layer to the layers below, and then back to the surface – which means that, in the course of a day, the diatoms experience alternating phases with more and with less light.”

Her co-author, marine biogeochemist Björn Rost, from the Alfred Wegener Institute, says: “Our findings show for the first time that our old assumptions most likely fall short of the mark. We now know that when the light intensity constantly changes, the effect of ocean acidification reverses.

“All of a sudden, lower pH values don’t increase growth, like studies using constant light show. Instead, they have the opposite effect.”

The implication is that, at certain intensities, the photosynthesis chain breaks down. The point at which light becomes too much light is more quickly reached in waters that are more acidic.

Like all such research, the finding has limitations. It applies to one species of single-celled creature in the waters of one ocean, and the tests were in a laboratory on a small scale, and not in a turbulent ocean rich in life. The Alfred Wegener team will continue their studies.

But in the real world, coastal communities in 15 US states could be at long-term economic risk, as ocean acidification starts to take its toll on the commercial oyster fisheries.

Julia Ekstrom, then of the Natural Resources Defense Council and now director of the Climate Adaptation Programme at the University of California, Davis, and George Waldbusser, assistant professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry at Oregon State University report with colleagues, in Nature Climate Change, on an unholy mix in the oceans.

Fisheries at risk

They say that a combination of rising greenhouse gas levels, more acid waters, polluted rivers, and upwelling currents put at risk mollusc fisheries from the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and the Gulf of Mexico – affecting the shellfish industry that is worth at least $1bn to the US.

Oyster larvae are sensitive to changes in ocean water, and more likely to die as pH levels shift towards the acidic.

But acidification is not the only source of stress, as nitrogen-rich nutrients and chemical pollutants cascade from the land into the rivers, and wash through estuaries and fish hatcheries on the coast.

Things can be done. Scientists have been looking at ways in which the industry might be able to adapt to change. But how well the oyster stock can adapt in the long term remains problematic.

“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and has jeopardised about 3,200 jobs,” Dr Ekstrom says.

And Dr Waldbusser adds: “Without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short term, and we will be stuck with a much longer-term problem.” – Climate News Network

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Satellite link puts sharper focus on ocean acidity rise

Satellite link puts sharper focus on ocean acidity rise

Global data network could provide scientists with an easy and cheaper way of finding answers to crucial questions on the oceans’ changing chemistry.

LONDON, 25 February, 2015 − Climate scientists are looking for a new perspective on the increasingly acidic oceans through a suite of satellites 700 km out in space, watching over parts of the seas that research ships cannot reach.

They report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that thermal cameras could measure ocean temperatures, while microwave sensors could measure ocean salinity. Together, the two sets of data could help answer, cheaply and easily, questions about the chemistry of the oceans – and in particular changes in pH, the index of acidity.

Until now, researchers have depended on specialist instruments or shipboard samples to provide answers to huge questions about the oceans’ increasing uptake of carbon dioxide. Such research is costly and limited.

But ocean science has become ever more important. Each year, 36 billion tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, and about a quarter of this gets into the oceans.

Greenhouse gas

That’s a good thing: if it did not, global warming would accelerate at an even greater rate. But the same global transfer of greenhouse gas also delivers a stronger solution of carbonic acid to the oceans, and ocean acidity levels have risen by 26% over the last 200 years.

The consequences for all those sea creatures that evolved to exploit ocean chemistry to build shells or skeletons are uncertain, but the evidence so far is that changes can affect fish behaviour, shellfish reproduction, and coral growth.

The changes could almost certainly affect fisheries in the short term, and in the long term could possibly alter the continuous and vital exchanges between atmosphere and ocean that controls the climates of continents.

So marine scientists launched a Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network to assemble worldwide expertise and find new ways to monitor change.

“We are pioneering these techniques so that we can monitor large areas of the Earth’s oceans”

“Satellites are likely to become increasingly important for the monitoring of ocean acidification especially in remote and dangerous waters like the Arctic,” says one of the report’s authors, Jamie Shutler, an oceanographer at the University of Exeter. UK.

“It can be difficult and expensive to take year-round direct measurements in such inaccessible locations. We are pioneering these techniques so that we can monitor large areas of the Earth’s oceans, allowing us to quickly and easily identify those areas most at risk from the increasing acidification.”

The European Space Agency’s SMOS satellite in orbit. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency’s SMOS satellite in orbit.
Image: ESA

The new approach will exploit a number of existing satellites, along with the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity sensor (SMOS), launched in 2009, and the US space agency NASA’s Aquarius satellite, launched in 2011.

The satellites cannot, of course, directly measure ocean pH values, but the capacity of CO2 to dissolve in water is controlled by ocean temperatures.

Salinity levels

On the other hand, salinity levels play into the capacity to form carbonates. Chlorophyll levels in the oceans also indicate the rates at which biology can exploit any of the dissolved carbon dioxide.

If the scientists have temperature and air pressure data as well, they have enough to begin to calculate the rates at which any stretch of sea might be acidifying.

Although such measurements are indirect, and involve complex mathematical calculation, the results can be checked in some places against real-time data from a network of autonomous instruments called Argo, and by shipboard laboratory studies.

But satellites are about the only way of making consistent measurements of the desolate and hostile Arctic and Indian Oceans. They could also help researchers understand the changes taking place in complex stretches of sea such as the Bay of Bengal and the Greater Caribbean.

The research is in its infancy. But the authors say that satellite studies − supported by good measurements taken directly at sea − could become a key element in understanding and assessing the acidification of the oceans. – Climate News Network

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Energy giant’s bleak outlook is 25% rise in CO2

Energy giant’s bleak outlook is 25% rise in CO2

The British-based oil and gas supermajor BP says it expects global emissions of carbon dioxide to rise by a quarter in the next 20 years.

LONDON, 24 February, 2015 − It may come as a shock, as governments ponder how to tackle climate change, to learn that the world is moving rapidly in the wrong direction.

But BP, one of the world’s six biggest oil and gas companies, says it thinks that, on present trends, emissions of CO2 will be 25% greater within two decades than they are today.

The prediction is published in BP’s Energy Outlook 2035, which it says is its best effort “to describe a ‘most likely’ trajectory of the global energy system”.

Global consumption

Some of the company’s other projections are hardly less startling. It thinks, for instance, that global energy consumption will be 37% greater by 2035 than it is today, with more than half the growth coming from India and China, and virtually all of it from countries that are not members of the OECD − the 34-member group of highly developed countries.

Global energy intensity − which measures the energy efficiency of a country’s economy − in 2035 is expected to be only half of what it was in 1995, and 36% lower than in 2013.

The lower the energy intensity is, the less it costs to convert energy into wealth. Even so, global energy use per person is projected to increase by 12%, as growing numbers of people demand higher living standards.

Renewables are expected to grow faster than any other energy source, by 6.3% annually. Nuclear power, at 1.8% a year, and hydro-electric power (1.7%) will grow faster than total energy use.

Among fossil fuels, natural gas is expected to grow fastest, with oil marginally ahead of coal. By 2035, China and India will together account for 60% of global demand for coal.

The most likely path for carbon emissions, despite current government policies and intentions, does not appear sustainable

In a guide to its Energy Outlook, BP (formerly British Petroleum) says it thinks fossil fuels will provide most of the world’s energy needs by 2035, meeting two-thirds of the expected increase in demand by then.

But it is renewables − “unconventional fossil fuels”, and gas, which is the least polluting fossil fuel − that will provide the largest share, while coal grows more slowly than any other fuel.

This, the Outlook says, will be the consequence of slowing industrialisation in emerging Asian economies and of more stringent global environmental policies.

To that it might have added the growing pressure for investors to steer clear of putting their money into fossil fuels, for fear that they could be at risk from a robust and rigorously-enforced global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, writes: “The most likely path for carbon emissions, despite current government policies and intentions, does not appear sustainable.

Scale of challenge

“The projections highlight the scale of the challenge facing policy-makers at this year’s UN-led discussions in Paris. No single change or policy is likely to be sufficient on its own.

“And identifying in advance which changes are likely to be most effective is fraught with difficulty. This underpins the importance of policy-makers taking steps that lead to a global price for carbon, which provides the right incentives for everyone to play their part.”

There are already signs that senior officials involved in the UN negotiations recognise the need to dampen expectations surrounding December’s talks in Paris.

The executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said on 3 February that changing the world’s model of economic development would “not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change. . . It just does not occur like that. It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.”

If BP’s Outlook proves correct, that process may be even longer and tougher than many expect. − Climate News Network

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Stalagmite links rain reduction to industrial revolution

Stalagmite links rain reduction to industrial revolution

Research shows the explosion of fossil fuel use to power the 19th-century industrial boom began the pattern of lower rainfall affecting the northern tropics. 

LONDON, 17 February, 2015 − Scientists have identified a human-induced cause of climate change. But this time it’s not carbon dioxide that’s the problem − it’s the factory and power station chimney pollutants that began to darken the skies during the industrial revolution.

Analysis of stalagmite samples taken from a cave in Belize, Central America, has revealed that aerosol emissions have led to a reduction of rainfall in the northern tropics during the 20th century.

In effect, the report in Nature Geoscience by lead author Harriet Ridley, of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Durham, UK, and international research colleagues invokes the first atmospheric crisis.

Acid rain

Before global warming because of greenhouse gases, and before ozone destruction caused by uncontrolled releases of chlorofluorocarbons, governments and environmentalists alike were concerned about a phenomenon known as acid rain.

So much sulphur and other industrial pollutants entered the atmosphere that raindrops became deliveries of very dilute sulphuric and nitric acid.

The damage to limestone buildings was visible everywhere, and there were concerns – much more difficult to establish – that acid rain was harming the northern European forests.

But even if the massive sulphate discharges of an industrialising world did not seriously damage vegetation, they certainly took a toll on urban human life in terms of respiratory diseases.

Clean-air legislation has reduced the hazard in Europe and North America, but it seems that sulphate aerosols have left their mark.

Researchers in a cave in Belize. Credit: Dr James Baldini/Durham University

Researchers in a cave in Belize.
Image: Dr James Baldini/Durham University

The Durham scientists reconstructed tropic rainfall patterns for the last 450 years from the analysis of stalagmite samples taken from a cave in Belize.

The pattern of precipitation revealed a substantial drying trend from 1850 onwards, and this coincided with a steady rise in sulphate aerosol pollution following the explosion of fossil fuel use that powered the Industrial Revolution.

They also identified nine short-lived drying spells in the northern tropics that followed a series of violent volcanic eruptions in the northern hemisphere. Volcanoes are a natural source of atmospheric sulphur.

Atmospheric pollution

The research confirms earlier suggestions that human atmospheric pollution sufficient to mask the sunlight and cool the upper atmosphere had begun to affect the summer monsoons of Asia, and at the same time stepped up river flow in northern Europe.

The change in radiation strength shifted the tropical rainfall belt, known as the intertropical convergence zone, towards the warmer southern hemisphere, which meant lower levels of precipitation in the northern tropics.

“The research presents strong evidence that industrial sulphate emissions have shifted this important rainfall belt, particularly over the last 100 years,” Dr Ridley says.

“Although warming due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions has been of global importance, the shifting of rain belts due to aerosol emissions is locally critical, as many regions of the world depend on this seasonal rainfall for agriculture.” – Climate News Network

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Climate and health suffer as gas still goes up in smoke

Climate and health suffer as gas still goes up in smoke

Vast quantities of gas are wasted each day through flaring at oil production sites – but it will be hard to meet a 2030 target to end the practice.

LONDON, 16 February, 2015 − It’s like burning banknotes. Latest statistics from the World Bank (WB) indicate that the amount of gas flared each year is enough energy to supply electricity to several small countries or many millions of households.

The flaring of 140 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year releases large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and that is not only bad news for the climate, but also for human health.

The WB estimates that flaring results in total annual global carbon dioxide emissions of 350 million tones. Eliminating the burning of gas at hundreds of oil production sites round the world would be the equivalent, in terms of emissions savings, of taking 70 million cars off the road.

Flared gas is often contaminated with toxic compounds and cancer causing carcinogens such as benzene. And in Nigeria’s Niger Delta − the country’s main oil production area and a region where flaring has been going on for several decades − villagers complain of skin diseases and breathing problems.

Toxic chemicals

Flaring has other impacts. Those living near flaring sites in Nigeria say agricultural yields have dropped due to contamination of the land by acid rain. The toxic chemicals in the flared gases are also blamed for corroding the metal roofs of houses in the area.

The process of flaring takes place when there are no facilities to harness the gas that is produced along with oil − or when companies decide it is uneconomical to process and pipe the gas.

The WB’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), launched in 2002, is a public-private initiative aimed at halting routine gas flaring by 2030. The idea is to persuade the oil companies and state-run petroleum organisations to work together to reduce flaring at oil drilling sites.

Anita Marangoly George, senior director of the WB’s energy and extractive global practice group, told a recent conference on flaring in Moscow that it was time the practice was stopped.

“We simply cannot afford to waste it [the flared gas] anymore,” she said. “Reducing flaring is one very tangible way the oil and gas industry can show leadership on mitigating the effects of climate change and ensuring proper use of natural resources. But it is also about access to energy.”

The WB says its initiative is showing results. Satellite data indicates that flaring dropped worldwide by 20% between 2005 and 2012.

But much still needs to be done. According to the WB, the Russian Federation is at present by far the world’s largest flarer, annually burning off an estimated 35bcm of gas – or 25% of the global total. Other big flaring nations are Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Algeria and Venezuela.

The recent rapid expansion of shale oil and gas exploration in the US has resulted in the country joining the league of big gas burners, and the flares from hundreds of shale oil and gas sites in the state of North Dakota can be seen from space.

“Reducing flaring is one very tangible way the oil and gas industry can show leadership on mitigating the effects of climate change”

Although Russia claims to be rapidly reducing its flaring and harnessing more of its gas for energy, the situation in Nigeria continues to be problematic.

Oil corporations such as Shell, Chevron and the Italian Eni group have been given repeated deadlines by the Nigerian government to end flaring at their operations in the Niger Delta, but the flaring continues.

Shell in particular has been criticised for its activities. Last month, the Anglo-Dutch giant announced it would be paying out £55 million to farmers and fishermen in the Delta area in compensation for two large oil spills.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Company, which partners foreign oil corporations, is blamed for refusing to take action to end flaring.

Inadequate fines

In the past, fines that have been imposed on flaring by the Nigerian government are said to have been inadequate or often not collected. Questions are now being asked as to why the government has abruptly cancelled levying flaring fines.

Shell and other international companies say they are taking action to end flaring in Nigeria and elsewhere.

In 2012, Shell and its Nigerian government partner announced a $4billion spending programme on oil and gas projects, including a facility to capture gas and reduce flaring.

But industry analysts point out that with the halving of oil prices in the last six months, oil companies are increasingly wary about embarking on big new investment projects.

So flaring, in Nigeria and elsewhere, is likely to continue for some considerable time yet. – Climate News Network

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Arctic melting opens sea route to more pollution

Arctic melting opens sea route to more pollution

Increasing loss of Arctic sea ice is likely soon to mean more ships being able to use the polar passage affecting climate, health and air quality.

LONDON, 14 February, 2015 − As Arctic sea ice continues to melt at an alarming rate, maritime traffic is set to increase − and with it the pollution emitted by ships’ engines.

A paper published by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) says emissions of pollutants from vessels in the US area of the high Arctic could increase by between 150% and 600% by 2025.

Ships typically burn bunker fuel with a high sulphur content. As well as various greenhouse gases (GHGs), the engines also emit soot, or black carbon. And when this covers snow and ice, it reduces their ability to reflect sunlight away from the Earth, and so raises temperatures.

Human health

The ICCT paper says ship-borne pollutants − which include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide (NOX), oxides of sulphur, particulate matter (PM) and soot − affect local air quality and human health, as well as the global climate.

Without new pollution controls, it is estimated that global soot emissions from shipping may more than quintuple from 2004 to 2050, to a total of more than 744,000 tonnes, because of increased shipping demand.

A growing share of those emissions will occur in the Arctic, because of vessels being diverted to the much shorter Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage to cut the length of voyages.

Earlier studies of increased shipping in the Arctic concentrated on infrastructure needs and estimates of shipping growth, based on potential oil and gas exploration and other development, but did not address air pollution or its effects.

The paper says: “The potential increases in vessel activity associated with oil and gas exploration . . . would increase emissions from vessels beyond those estimated in this paper.”

It also says that a change to higher quality low-sulphur fuel would cut pollution significantly.

“The lack of regional restrictions in the Arctic leaves the area vulnerable to increasing emissions from international traffic . . .”

Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, US, advised as long ago as 2011 that controlling soot could reduce warming in the Arctic by about 2°C within 15 years.

“That would virtually erase all of the warming that has occurred in the Arctic during the last 100 years,” he said. “No other measure could have such an immediate effect.”

He said soot emissions were second only to carbon dioxide in promoting global warming, accounting for about 17% of the extra heat. But its contribution could be cut by 90% in five to 10 years with aggressive national and international policies.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO], a UN body, said in the final report of its GHG Study 2014 that, by 2050, emissions of NOX could increase globally by as much as 300%, and PM by 280%.

The IMO has two sets of emission and fuel quality requirements, one for global shipping and the other a more stringent set of rules for ships in Emission Control Areas.

The global requirements include a limit on marine bunker fuel sulphur content, which is currently 3.5%, compared with an actual global average of 2.7%. This limit is due to be cut to 0.5% in 2020, although parts of the shipping industry are urging the IMO to delay the reduction until at least 2025.

International regulations do not directly restrict the emission of soot from vessels, although it is generally understood that improving fuel quality also controls soot.

Increasing impact

The ICCT paper says that, combined with the potential increases in marine emissions, “the current lack of regional environmental requirements for vessels transiting and operating in the US Arctic may lead to an increasing impact on human health for Arctic communities and for the global climate.

“Additional emissions of climate-forcing pollutants such as black carbon and carbon dioxide, combined with emissions of PM and NOX, which can be linked with respiratory health issues, may place additional stress on the Arctic environment and Arctic communities.

“The lack of regional restrictions in the Arctic leaves the area vulnerable to increasing emissions from international traffic that is less tightly regulated than under US law.”

There have also been calls to find alternatives to the many diesel generators currently in use throughout Arctic communities, and which are known to produce large amounts of greenhouse gases and soot. − Climate News Network

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Climate cranks up extinction threat to Borneo mammals

Climate cranks up extinction threat to Borneo mammals

Endangered species in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots face even greater danger as climate change adds to loss of habitat caused by deforestation.

LONDON, 3 February, 2015 − One in three of the mammal species of Borneo could see their habitat reduced by a third by 2080 − just because of climate change alone.

Given that the rainforests of Borneo are right now also being felled, burned and converted to commercial plantation, nearly half of all mammal species will lose more than a third of their remaining home range within the next 65 years.

Among the first to feel the heat will be those species that are already endangered – creatures such as the greater nectar bat, the otter civet, and the flat-headed cat.

Conservation challenge

Matthew Struebig, a tropical ecologist at the University of Kent, in the UK, and colleagues report in the journal Current Biology that they considered the challenge of conservation in one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots − but which is also under pressure from population growth, economic expansion and continued pressure on the last stands of one of the world’s great forests.

The researchers assembled a comprehensive map and inventory of data for 13 species of primate, 23 carnivores and 45 kinds of bat. Altogether, they examined 6,921 records and observations.

“Only a modest amount of additional land . . . would be needed outside of existing reserves to safeguard many mammal species”

They developed a framework to model the amount of suitable habitat that each of their 81 species needed, and tried to identify the forest land that – if saved from the woodsman’s axe – would be best suited as a natural reserve for that species.

Then they set about incorporating future conditions, dependent on different climate data. They ended up with eight versions for each species: a total of 4,698 maps describing the habitats of the large and small animals that swing through the tree canopy, nest in tree trunks, or hunt among the roots and underbrush.

It was calculated that somewhere between 11% and 36% of the island’s mammal species would lose 30% of their habitat by 2080, and the ecological conditions that suited them best would move uphill by between 23% and 46%, as global climate warmed because of greenhouse gas emissions.

Commercial pressures

Deforestation – which happens because of economic and commercial pressures, and is independent of climate change – would make things worse, so that 30% to 49% would lose a significant slice of living space.

Warnings like these are intended to prevent extinction − to preserve some of the remarkable fruits of millions of years of evolution − and the researchers will be presenting their findings to the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

“Only a modest amount of additional land on Borneo – about 28,000 square kilometres, or 4% of the island – would be needed outside of existing reserves to safeguard many mammal species against threats from deforestation and climate change,” Dr Struebig says. – Climate News Network

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Asia powers into the forefront of solar revolution

Asia powers into the forefront of solar revolution

China has now overtaken the European Union as the largest new market for solar power as the industry becomes one of the fastest growing in the world.

LONDON, 2 February, 2015 − Solar power is on course to overtake nuclear as a primary source of electricity production as the price of photovoltaic (PV) panels continues to fall.

Mass production in China and Taiwan has helped to increase the extraordinary growth of the solar power across the world and has led to an 80% reduction in the cost of panels since 2008.

Europe, and particularly Germany and Italy, led the way in solar installation, but Asia and the US are now catching up fast.

The African continent, which has the most potential to benefit from solar power, has been slow to adopt the technology, but is now embracing its possibilities. While investment in small domestic installation continues, there has been a big increase in utilities creating large solar farms.

World market

These are the main trends outlined in a detailed PV Status Report for 2014, released by the European Union. The report, which assesses the state of the world market and its growth in individual countries, says that despite the fact that subsidies for fossil fuels still massively exceed those for renewable, it is wind and solar power industries that will continue to grow and the price will come down.

Developments in renewables continue to be encouraging, particularly electricity storage from solar. Using ion-lithium batteries, new technologies are being deployed to store surplus electricity generated during daylight hours, for use during evening peak periods.

On a domestic level, this makes economic sense because the cost of generating electricity at home with solar panels is now cheaper than buying it from the grid in many countries. Being able to store your own power for use at night will save money, as well as reducing peaks in national demand.

Battery storage

On a larger scale, the report gives examples of wind and solar generation power stations combined with battery storage, which are being tried successfully in China.

Solar is now the renewable of choice, overtaking wind. In 2013, solar energy attracted 53.3 % of all new renewable energy investments, a staggering $111.4 billion (€82.5 billion).

While the report gives detailed figures for individual countries only for 2013, it says that the growth of the industry continued in 2014, although it varied depending on the policies of individual governments.

Solar PV electricity is now the cheapest electricity option for more than one-third of the African population

In 2013, the leading country in renewable energy investment was China at $54.2bn (€40.2bn), followed by the US at $36.7bn (€27.2bn) and Japan at $28.6bn (€21.2bn).

The growth in Japan and other parts of Asia is partly spurred by the nuclear accident at Fukushima in March 2011, which made the safe and reliable option of solar more attractive.

In Europe, the pace of investment fell, with the UK being the only EU country where it increased.

Investments in 2013 were used for installing 87 gigawatts (GW) of new clean energy generation capacity, bringing the total to 735 GW, and thus capable of producing more than 1700 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity − or 70 % of the electricity generated by nuclear power plants worldwide.

Vast resources

The report says: “Despite Africa’s vast solar resources and the fact that in large areas the same photovoltaic panel can produce on average twice as much electricity in Africa than in Central Europe, there has been only limited use of solar photovoltaic electricity generation up until now.”

But according to the latest study, solar PV electricity is now the cheapest electricity option for more than one-third of the African population.

Until recently, the main application of PV systems in Africa was in small solar home systems. Since 2012, however, major policy changes have occurred, and a large number of utility-scale PV projects are now in the planning stage.

Overall, the (documented) capacity of installed PV systems in Africa had risen to more than 600 MW by the end of 2013 − a tenfold increase compared with 2008. In 2014, the installed capacity is expected to more than double.

Currently, the two biggest markets are South Africa and Algeria, but all African countries are either potential or emerging markets. – Climate News Network

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India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

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

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

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

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

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

Limited liability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambitious agreement

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

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

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

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

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