India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

India gives nothing away in climate talks with US

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

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

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

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

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

Limited liability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambitious agreement

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

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

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

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

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Warming warning as temperatures hit record high

Warming warning as temperatures hit record high

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

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

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

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

Climate cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely to accelerate

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

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

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

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

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Trapped methane escapes as Pacific depths warm up

Trapped methane escapes as Pacific depths warm up

Oceanographers in the US warn that volumes of methane equivalent to a major oil spill are rising to the surface each year as warmer waters heat the frozen ocean bed.

LONDON, 11 January, 2015 – Researchers studying methane trapped in frozen layers below the Pacific Ocean seafloor predict that more and more of the potent greenhouse gas could bubble towards the surface as the deep water begins to warm.

“We calculate that methane equivalent in volume to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [in 2010] is released every year off the Washington coast,” says Evan Solomon, assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Oceanography in the US.

Methane hydrates are the natural gas methane in solid form. Volume for volume, methane is at least 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although it is released in smaller quantities and has a much shorter lifespan in the atmosphere.

Vast quantities of the stuff are known to be trapped in sedimentary rocks and in the sea bed, in “frozen” form − held by a combination of temperature and pressure.

Fastest warming

Until now, most of the focus has been on the methane hydrates in the Arctic, the fastest warming region on the planet.

But Dr Solomon, oceanographer and lead author Susan Hautala and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters their calculations that between 1970 and 2013, some 4 million tonnes of methane have been released from the sea floor off the coast of Washington state.

This is about the equivalent of the natural gas released in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew out off the coast of Louisiana, and 500 times the rate of natural release from the sea floor.

Coring machine used to gather sediment samples from the Pacific. Image: Robert Cannata/University of Washington

Coring machine used to gather sediment samples from deep in the Pacific Ocean.
Image: Robert Cannata/University of Washington

The Pacific Northwest has high rates of biological activity, and methane is a natural biological product. At high ocean pressures and low sea temperatures, it “freezes” or crystallises in a solid state. And because the waters of the Pacific Northwest have been so rich in life, the seabed below is rich in methane hydrates.

But ocean waters have started to warm, at depth, and currents have carried the warming water across the ocean to the North American shelf.

Atmospheric warming

As water warms, the submarine methane “ice line” retreats further offshore − rather in the way that a snowline moves up hill, or a glacier retreats, in response to atmospheric warming.

The Washington scientists calculate that, since 1970, the boundary at which methane stays frozen has retreated by about a kilometre. By 2100, it will have moved perhaps another three kilometres off shore.

Their calculations suggest that, by the century’s end, 400,000 metric tonnes a year will escape. And the puzzle now is where the released methane will end up.

Some could be consumed by methane-eating bacteria in the seafloor ooze. But fishermen have also observed the stuff bubbling to the surface, to add to the burden of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The finding, the researchers say, has “worldwide implications” for other oceanic reservoirs of the stuff, close to continental shelves and therefore vulnerable to large-scale melting. – Climate News Network

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Vast reserves of fossil fuels should be left untapped

Vast reserves of fossil fuels should be left untapped

Researchers have identified the major producers of coal, gas and oil that stand to lose most financially if agreement is reached on radical cuts needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

LONDON, 8 January, 2015 − The sheer scale of the fossil fuel reserves that will need to be left unexploited for decades if world leaders sign up to a radical climate agreement is revealed in a study by a team of British scientists.

It shows that almost all the huge coal reserves in China, Russia and the US should remain unused, along with over 260 billion barrels of oil reserves in the Middle East − the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s total oil reserves. The Middle East would also need to leave over 60% of its gas reserves in the ground.

The team from University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources (ISR) says that, in total, a third of global oil reserves, half of the world’s gas and over 80% of its coal reserves should be left untouched for the next 35 years.

Realistic programme

This is the amount of fossil fuel, they estimate, that the world must forego until 2050 if governments agree on a realistic programme to ensure that global warming does not exceed the 2°C increase over pre-industrial levels agreed by policy makers.

The authors of the report, which is published in the journal Nature, say some reserves could be used after 2050, so long as this kept emissions within the CO2 budget, which would be only about half the amount the world can afford to use between now and 2050.

They say a factor that might help in the use of fossil fuels is that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is expected to be much more widely deployable by mid-century, assuming it to be a mature technology by then.

The study, funded by the UK Energy Research Centre, concluded that the development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil – oil of a poor quality that is hard to extract − are also “inconsistent with efforts to limit climate change”.

For the study, the scientists first developed an innovative method for estimating the quantities, locations and nature of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves and resources. They then used an integrated assessment model to explore which of these, along with low-carbon energy sources, should be used up to 2050 to meet the world’s energy needs.

“We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused”

The model, which uses an internationally-recognised modelling framework, provides what the authors describe as “a world-leading representation of the long-term production dynamics and resource potential of fossil fuels”.

The lead author, Dr Christophe McGlade, research associate at the ISR, said: “We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.

“Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2°C goal. If they go ahead with developing their own resources, they must be asked which reserves elsewhere should remain unburnt in order for the carbon budget not to be exceeded.”

The prospects for an amicable discussion between China, Russia, the US and the Middle East on how to share the pain of leaving these reserves unexploited will demand exceptional diplomacy from all parties.

The report’s co-author, Paul Ekins, the ISR’s director and professor of resources and environmental policy,  said: “Companies spent over $670 billion (£430 billion) last year searching for and developing new fossil fuel resources.

Aggregate production

“They will need to rethink such substantial budgets if policies are implemented to support the 2°C limit, especially as new discoveries cannot lead to increased aggregate production.

“Investors in these companies should also question spending such budgets. The greater global attention to climate policy means that fossil fuel companies are becoming increasingly risky for investors in terms of the delivery of long-term returns. I would expect prudent investors in energy to shift increasingly towards low-carbon energy sources.”

After years of halting progress towards an effective international agreement to limit fossil fuel emissions so as to stay within the 2°C temperature threshold, hopes are cautiously rising that the UN climate talks to be held in Paris at the end of 2015 may finally succeed where so many have failed.

But reaching agreement will be only the first step: effective enforcement may prove an even bigger problem. − Climate News Network

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Aviation industry faces pressure to stop GHG threat

Aviation industry faces pressure to stop GHG threat

Emissions from planes are a major clause of climate change, yet they remain unregulated. Can they be curbed in time to protect the planet?

OREGON, 1 January, 2015 − If commercial aviation were a country, it would rank seventh in global greenhouse gas emissions according to a recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The aviation industry is growing so quickly that its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are expected on present trends to triple globally by 2050. The industry itself is committed to reducing its emissions, but technological and political constraints are hindering rapid progress.

Technologically, the fate of aviation GHGs depends on how much more fuel-efficient airplanes can become, and how soon lower-carbon fuels can be made available at a palatable cost.

Politically, it depends on whether the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) can establish agreement among member states on a regulatory mechanism, which in turn may depend largely on whether – and when – the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chooses to regulate aviation emissions.

A final unknown is whether the sector’s efforts can produce results in time to  avoid climate catastrophe.

By 2050, the aviation industry aims to halve its CO2 emissions compared with 2005 levels, says Steve Csonka, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, a US public-private partnership.

Falling behind

The group is exploring “biomass-derived synthetic jet fuel”, which includes oils from plants and algae, crop and forest product residues, fermented sugars and municipal solid waste.

While this type of fuel can, in principle, be used in jet engines today, Csonka says the most important goal in the near term is to develop alternatives to petroleum-based fuel “at a reasonable price point”. A few airlines are buying alternative fuels at a higher price to encourage the market, Csonka adds, but widespread adoption awaits competitive pricing.

Aviation fuel efficiency has been increasing, but it is not keeping pace with the sector’s growth. The ICCT report finds there was no improvement between 2012 and 2013, and that the gap between the most and least efficient airlines widened − with American Airlines burning 27% more fuel than Alaska Airlines for the same level of service.

This gap suggests the industry could reduce GHG emissions significantly if the least efficient airlines would emulate the most efficient, says Daniel Rutherford, the ICCT’s programme director for aviation and a co-author of its report. Most of the reductions so far have come from carrying more passengers per flight, replacing old engines and buying new, more efficient planes.

Like most businesses, airlines don’t want to replace equipment until it makes economic sense. Nor does the industry want to be pinned to standards like those in the US auto industry, which would force “airplanes to improve to a certain degree every year or x number of years”, Csonka says.

Limited reductions

Such standards “completely overlook the capital ramifications” for the airlines, he adds, and companies’ profitability is a major factor in the pace at which they can replace old equipment. But the ICCT report suggests that airlines that have spent the most on new, efficient planes are also the most profitable.

Airplanes are at a disadvantage compared with vehicles and power stations. At present there are no low-carbon or no-carbon technologies − such as solar, fuel cells, nuclear reactors, electricity, or hydrogen combustion − that will work for aviation. Nor are there market-ready radically different airframe or engine designs.

Fuels derived from plants such as switchgrass, corn and algae can be used in existing engines, but to provide the same energy they need to be “essentially identical” to petroleum-derived kerosene, Csonka says. And if their hydrocarbon structure is the same, burning them will emit the same GHGs.

The advantage of synthetics, Csonka adds, is that “we are pulling recycled carbon out of the biosphere and not out of the ground”, which reduces the net carbon footprint − provided the fuels’ production does not generate too many GHGs itself.

“…the fuel burn for new aircraft can be reduced by as much as 45% in 2030 through pretty aggressive technology and development…”

For the foreseeable future, this is the best that can be expected from alternative fuels. This means there is a limit on how much aviation’s net GHG emissions can be reduced, even with alternative fuels, as long as the commercial airline fleet changes only incrementally and no major technological breakthroughs reach the market.

However, there are new engines, materials and aircraft designs now available that can make a big difference, Rutherford says: “We project that the fuel burn for new aircraft can be reduced by as much as 45% in 2030 through pretty aggressive technology and development, better engines, improved aerodynamics and lighter materials.”

Campaigners would like to see regulation obliging the industry to increase efficiency by improving faster.

Aviation needs a global policy and enforcement structure; all major airlines’ aircraft emit GHGs globally. This problem brought the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to its knees in 2014.

The ETS, which came into effect in 2012, charges airlines for their emissions in European Economic Area airspace. When non-EU airlines protested, the European Commission temporarily exempted flights to or from non-EU airports but still charged for emissions within EU airspace.

Washington, one of the most energetic lobbyists against the charges, forbade its airlines by law from paying the EU fees. The US also threatened trade sanctions, and China suspended its orders from European airplane manufacturer Airbus. There is now a moratorium on extra-EU carbon charges, pending the results of the next ICAO meeting in 2016.

No hurry

But despite the EU’s surrender to foreign pressure, many observers think the dispute has increased pressure on the ICAO to devise a meaningful emissions reduction programme.

The ICAO’s actions are expected to be closely co-ordinated with those of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Within the US, GHGs are regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act, which requires action if an air pollutant is found to endanger the public. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that GHGs are pollutants.

Several US environmental NGOs say the EPA is dragging its feet on deciding “whether emissions cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare”.

It has refused repeated requests for an interview with an expert source and says it does not see the need for an interview. The agency expects to issue any regulations in 2016 − presumably in time for the ICAO meeting.

But there is no doubt that the EPA will have to produce an endangerment finding and eventually issue a regulation, says Vera Pardee, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity who worked on the NGOs’ notice to the EPA.

Politics versus science?

In 2013 the ICAO committed to what the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions calls “an aspirational mid-term goal of zero carbon emissions growth for the aviation industry beginning in 2020”. In addition, Csonka says, the aviation industry has accepted the notion of “a market-based mechanism to offset if we miss that goal in an international environment. Our industry will have carbon monetised from 2020 onward to some degree.”

Yet time is vital, and there is a risk that action taken by governments and industry may be politically feasible but scientifically ineffectual. There is no guarantee that the 2016 ICAO meeting will result in binding obligations.

In the meantime, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change currently aims at a 40%-70% drop in total global GHG emissions by 2050 to avoid a greater than 2˚C rise in global temperature. In January 2013, climate scientist Thomas Stocker warned in the journal Science that delayed action results in the “fast and irreversible shrinking, and eventual disappearance, of the mitigation options with every year of increasing greenhouse gas emissions”.

But the next two years are likely to see a firming up of the aviation industry’s commitment to GHG reductions and some sort of international mechanism to charge for emissions.

There are signs that industry experts and green advocates are cautiously optimistic. “I see the EPA’s domestic regulation of the airlines as a real catalyst for global action,” says Pardee. “If the EPA acts, the rest of the world will have to follow”. And Csonka adds: “The future is somewhat bright.” – Climate News Network

•Valerie Brown, based in Oregon, US, is a freelance science writer focusing on climate change and environmental health. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and Society of Environmental Journalists.

http://www.vjane-arts.com/vjane-arts/writing.html; Twitter link: @sacagawea

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Investment falters as fossil fuels face ‘perfect storm’

Investment falters as fossil fuels face ‘perfect storm’

Increasing oil production but falling demand is creating big problems for the fossil fuel industry as some investors are now turning away from the sector.

LONDON, 28 December, 2014 − The world’s investors – both big and small – think primarily in terms of making good returns on their money. And, over the years, investing in the fossil fuel industry has been considered a safe bet.

Yet maybe, just maybe, attitudes are changing – and fairly profoundly – as financial analysts warn that the industry faces “a perfect storm” as it enters 2015.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI), a London-based financial thinktank, analyses the energy industry and lobbies to limit emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

On one side, CTI says, the industry is being buffeted by a crash in oil prices and a drop in demand. On the other, there’s the threat of increasing regulation aimed at cutting GHG emissions and a worldwide growth in renewable forms of energy.

Cool reception

Anthony Hobley, CTI’s chief executive, says investors are realising that the energy world is changing.

“At one stage, when we talked to investment firms about the risks of investing in fossil fuels we were given a cool reception,” Hobley told Climate News Network.

“Now we are being invited to brief the big investment funds. Investors have an enormous amount of power – they are weighing up the risks of investing in fossil fuels and wondering just how safe their money is.”

The CTI has long warned of the dangers of a “carbon bubble”, with investments in fossil fuels becoming ”stranded assets” due to the imposition of stricter regulatory controls on emissions and the widespread adoption of renewable energy.

“The carbon bubble is not going to burst in 2015,” Hobley says. “The transition from fossil fuels to other forms of energy is going to take place over several decades.

“But a combination of more regulations, new technologies, the falling price of renewable energy, and the need for a more efficient use of resources, is making investors rethink their investment strategies.”

Energy companies are also reconsidering their plans. EON, Germany’s largest power utility, announced earlier this month that it would be reorganising its structure in order to focus on the development of renewables.

Concern in boardrooms

A worldwide campaign calling for divestment in fossil fuels is another factor causing some concern in the boardrooms of the big fossil fuel companies.

The industry is powerful and, despite the problems it’s facing, it is unlikely to collapse anytime soon. But it has been severely damaged by recent events.

Goldman Sachs, the global investment bank, says a trillion dollars of investments in various oil and gas projects around the world are at risk − or stranded − due to the fall in oil prices.

A rapid rise in production from US shale deposits in recent years has caused a glut on the global oil market.

Analysts say a significant slowdown in the rate of economic growth in China is also a major factor behind the present fall-off in oil prices, and in the big declines in coal prices on the world market. – Climate News Network

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Beavers damned for increasing threat from methane

Beavers damned for increasing threat from methane

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

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

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

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

Trapping limited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copious amounts

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

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

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

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

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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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Australia heading in wrong direction on emissions targets

Australia heading in wrong direction on emissions targets

The current government in Australia has made no secret of its doubts about the scientific evidence of climate change – but new research confirms that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising fast.

LONDON, 16 December, 2014 − Australia’s emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases are going up and up – and are set to rise by more than 50% over 1990 levels by 2020, according to new research.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent science-based programme that analyses the emission commitments and actions of countries around the world, says Australia’s present emission levels are about 31% higher than in 1990 and continue to rise.

“In terms of emission effort, Australia will be going in the opposite direction to China and the US, who are putting effort into reducing emissions,” says the CAT analysis.

Emissions calculations

The research says Australia has exerted considerable efforts over the years in order to alter the way its emissions are calculated under the terms of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Australia has insisted on including reductions in emissions from land use and forestry in its emissions calculations. As a consequence, it has sought more allowances for emissions from its industrial − mainly mining − sector.

“This is just the most recent example of Australia lobbying for rules that undermine
the integrity of the emissions accounting system”

According to CAT, the data supplied by the Australian government on supposed land and forestry emission reductions lacks transparency. And lobbying for such calculation methods – which continued during the recent global climate negotiations in Lima, Peru − goes against the terms of the Kyoto Protocol.

“This is just the most recent example,” CAT says, “of Australia lobbying for rules that undermine the integrity of the emissions accounting system as a whole and the rules that carve out special exceptions to the detriment of all, but to the benefit of a few.”

At the 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change, Australia pledged that it would cut its emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

CAT − a project run by a number of international organisations, including the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Ecofys, a sustainable energy consultancy − says its assessment of Australia’s emissions’ performance is a reasonable, independent and scientifically-based estimate based on available data and the application of the Kyoto rules as they are generally understood.

Worst performing

Australia was recently named as the worst performing industrial country on the issue of climate change in a report by the Germanwatch thinktank and the Climate Action Network, a group that links more than 900 non-governmental organisations around the world.

Since coming to power in federal elections late last year, the conservative coalition government led by Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, has done away with a clean energy bill and championed the country’s iron ore and coal mining sectors.

In recent years, Australia has been hit by a series of severe droughts and record-breaking high temperatures, with 2013 the hottest year since records began more than a century ago.

This year’s spring weather in Australia has also been unusually hot, with temperatures of more than 40˚C being recorded over several days in parts of the country. – 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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