China-US links can spark emissions breakthrough

China-US links can spark emissions breakthrough

New research suggests that global emission reduction targets are achievable if China and the US – the world’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases − work together to reduce pollution levels.

LONDON, 29 October, 2014 – Tentative steps have been taken by China and the US towards co-operating on climate change − mainly focusing on relatively modest technological schemes connected with more efficient and less polluting power generation.

But a new report calls on the two countries to be far more ambitious, and says that if the two adopt global best practice on climate change policy, total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) would be radically reduced, and the goal of limiting the global average temperature rise to 2˚C by 2050 could be achieved.

Limiting the temperature rise to 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 is considered to be essential if catastrophic climate change is to be averted, although some in the scientific community have questioned the relevance of having such a target.

The new report − a collaboration between the Ecofys energy consultancy, the Climate Analytics research group and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) – says that, together, China and the US are responsible for about 35% of global GHG emissions.

Right pathway

“If they scale up action to adopt the most ambitious policies from across the world, they would both be on the right pathway to keep warming below 2˚C,” says Bill Hare, senior scientist at PIK.

“This needs to include dramatically reducing their use of coal, in order to achieve the deep decarbonisation needed in getting CO2 emissions from coal back to 1990 levels by 2030.”

The report compares the actions of both countries in their most energy intensive sectors – electricity production, buildings and transport.

  • Electricity usage per head in the US is four times that in China. In both countries, emissions from the electricity sector have been reduced, but more coal plants are planned. If both increased the share of renewables in the sector by 1.3% per year – a rate achieved by Germany and the UK since 2005 – it would make a considerable difference to overall emissions levels.
  • China’s cement plants are more energy efficient than those in the US, but the situation is reversed with iron and steel plants. Lower emissions could be achieved if both countries adopted the best available technology.
  • Car ownership is 10 times higher in the US than in China, though the difference is narrowing. China implements stronger emissions standards. If both countries moved to global best practice in the sector − such as adopting EU emissions standards, or working towards a greater take-up of electric cars, such as in Norway − then lower overall emissions levels could be achieved.
  • “Massive reductions” in emissions could be achieved if China and the US adopted EU building standards governing heat and energy. The use of energy in residential buildings in the US is three times as high as in China.

The report concludes that if both countries agree to adopt global best practice across all these sectors, then China could reduce its overall emissions by 1.2% by 2020 and by 20% by 2030, while the US would reduce its emissions by 3.2% by 2020 and 16% by 2030. – Climate News Network

Lugworm’s turn to feel effects of ocean acidity

Lugworm’s turn to feel effects of ocean acidity

Researchers in the UK have found evidence that a marine worm is being damaged by the increasing ocean acidification that was widely thought to imperil mainly shellfish and coral.

LONDON, 27 October, 2014 − A common marine worm has alerted scientists to the likelihood that the effects of ocean acidification may be more widespread and severe than they had realised.

The lugworm (Arenicola marina) − common on the coasts of Europe and North America, where it can grow to 30 cms in length and is a bait popular with anglers − is being affected by rising levels of acid in the coastal seas. The acid is reported also to be affecting sea urchins.

This is further confirmation that ocean acidification is affecting species other than those that scientists call calcifying organisms − creatures that rely on calcium carbonate to form shells and similar structures.

The pH (a measure of acidity – the lower the pH, the more acidic the water) of the planet’s oceans is dropping rapidly, largely because the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing. Since carbon dioxide dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, the seas are responding to global change.

Highest rate

Scientists say the oceans are now 30% more acidic than they were at the beginning of the industrial revolution about 250 years ago. The current rate of acidification is thought to be the highest for 65 million years.

Among the sea species most vulnerable to acidification are shellfish, coral and other creatures − including some species of plankton − which suffer because the build-up of acid prevents them from developing their calcium shells. Animals further up the marine food chain are also at risk when their prey feels the acidity’s effects.

Researchers at the University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences in the UK have now found that other creatures are also being affected because the growing acidity is increasing their vulnerability to coastal pollutants such as copper.

Writing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, they explain how they found that the extra copper harms lugworms’ sperm, meaning that their young fail to develop properly. They say: “Larval survival was reduced by 24% when exposed to both OA [ocean acidification] and copper combined, compared to single OA or copper exposures.”

Toxic effects

Sperm motility − the ability of the sperm to swim strongly − was damaged by both OA and copper alone, but with added toxic effects when both factors were combined. Individually, both OA and copper also reduced the lugworms’ fertilisation success.

One of the report’s authors, Dr Ceri Lewis, a marine biologist at Exeter, told BBC News: “It’s a bit of a shock, frankly. It means the effects of ocean acidification may be even more serious than we previously thought. We need to look with new eyes at things that we thought were not vulnerable.

“Our work means we are underestimating effects of acidification for coastal invertebrates. We are now realising there are many indirect impacts of ocean acidification on other processes. It could be that we are facing a lot more surprises ahead.”

Dr Lewis told the Climate News Network: “Lugworms do as important a job as gardeners of our beaches as earthworms do on land, and they bring oxygen down to the underwater sediments. The discovery that they too are affected means there’s a whole new area of concern now, looking at the indirect effect of pollutants and at other species that may be harmed as the acidification increases.”

She has also found more evidence that copper pollution is damaging another marine species − sea urchins. They are already affected by the seawater’s increasing acidity, which means they have to spend more energy on making their shells and spines. − Climate News Network

Universities trash football in waste reduction league

Universities trash football in waste reduction league

Shouts of “what a load of rubbish” are heard at hundreds of football matches around England every weekend – but researchers say fans should direct them at overflowing waste bins rather than at players and referees.

LONDON, 25 September, 2014 − Most English football clubs, and the millions of fans who watch them, don’t think beyond what is going to happen on the pitch in the next 90 minutes. Saving the planet is the last thing on their minds, according to research into the Football League.

At the other end of the scale, universities are seriously concerned about their effect on the environment. The world’s top teaching universities are combining to lower their impact, and believe that their students − the leaders of tomorrow − will continue these efforts when they begin their careers.

Football, which has a major influence on the behaviour of millions of young people, is a major industry in the UK.

Eleven tiers make up English football’s pyramid. The Premier League is at the apex, followed by the Championship and Football Leagues One and Two, and then a national league structure – with 59 leagues across the country providing a feeder system through to the Football League.

This means that hundreds of matches take place each week, attracting crowds of spectators in varying numbers. While the numbers decrease in the lower leagues, the huge amount of games played means the aggregate number of spectators is on a par with the Premier League.

Extra revenue

Of course, the big money is made by Premier League clubs, which get millions in revenue from sponsorship and worldwide TV. But one thing all the clubs have in common is that food and drink generates extra revenue and plenty of waste.

Football does sometimes manage to notch up an environmental goal. Like many large businesses, some of the top clubs take seriously the amount of waste that fans produce during matches − mainly because it costs clubs a lot of money to dispose of it.

For example, Arsenal FC now has its own waste recycling centre, and Manchester City and Manchester United have made such improvements in waste generation and disposal that none of their waste now goes to landfill.

In the lower leagues, however, the problem is still largely ignored.

The School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex, UK, decided to investigate to see how much rubbish was produced by the highest profile and most popular sport in England, and what effect they had on greenhouse gas emissions.

The amount of waste generated by each one of the nine million fans who watched games in the lower leagues in the 2012/13 season was 3.27 kg each. That amounts to 30,146 tonnes of waste over the season, about a quarter of which went to landfill and produced more than two million kg of carbon dioxide to add to climate change.

In their paper, published in Scientific Research, the researchers say that waste per person at an average lower league match was 10 times that produced on big sporting occasions such as FA Cup finals – less than a quarter of a kilo, compared with 3.27 kg.

The amount produced over a season by the eight lower tiers o f the football league is three times the amount produced at the 2012 London Olympic Games. According to the researchers, this shows that the management of the lower league football clubs need to do more to monitor and reduce their waste.

The incentive, apart from saving the planet, is that taking rubbish to landfill is expensive. The tax each club has to pay per tonne of waste produced has increased from £7 in 1996 to £40 a tonne in 2014.

“Although many corporate organisations have moved to a wider social audit . . . football clubs have not yet moved in this direction”

The paper suggests that football also has a moral responsibility because sport has wider effects than other businesses in providing support and inspiration in such areas as education, health and fitness, environment, art, and culture.

The report concludes: “Although many corporate organisations have moved to a wider social audit of their performance that includes triple bottom line reporting of their economic, environmental and social performance, football clubs have not yet moved in this direction.”

In contrast, some of the world’s top teaching universities − meeting at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark this week – have launched a green guide to reduce their impact on the environment.

The International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) guide focuses on sharing experience about how universities can become more sustainable. This includes reusing materials, eliminating rubbish and recycling as well as extensive programmes of reducing energy use in laboratories, lecture theatres and residential accommodation.

Among the universities taking part are Oxford and Cambridge in England, Yale in the US, Peking in China, Tokyo in Japan, Eth in Switzerland, and the National Universities of Singapore and Australia.

Green guide

Jørgen Honoré, University Director at Copenhagen, said in launching the guide this week: “Universities have the opportunity to create cultures of sustainability for today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders, and to set their expectations for how the world should be. The green guide provides real-world examples to inspire innovation and creative action at universities around the globe.”

The guide includes 23 case histories from these major universities, including installation of solar roofs, and some have already made big strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“At the University of Copenhagen, we have already achieved ambitious targets,” Honoré said. “We have reduced our energy consumption per person by 20%, and we have cut our CO2 emissions per person by nearly 30% since 2006.

“Many of our buildings have been made more energy efficient − for example by replacing ventilation units, installing LED lighting, insulating pipes, and making laboratory work more energy efficient.”

In the war on waste reduction, it seems that the current score stands at something like Football United 1, University Academicals 5. – Climate News Network

Europe faces crunch decision on climate policy

Europe faces crunch decision on climate policy

As European leaders meet to take a final decision on a new climate and energy policy up to 2030, there is intense interest worldwide to see if Europe opts to take a bold lead in tackling climate change.

LONDON, 23 October, 2014 − It has not been easy. Negotiations on the new climate and energy policy involving all 28 European Union member states have been going on for months – and, in some instances, for years.

The European Council meets today and tomorrow in Brussels with a heavy agenda – including the ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The European Commission’s 2030 policy framework on climate and energy that is up for discussion has two key elements:

  • A binding agreement to cut overall EU CO2 emissions by 40% over 1990 levels by 2030.
  • Achieving savings of at least 30% in energy efficiency across the EU, also by 2030.

The long-term goal is an ambitious one – nothing short of the transformation of Europe’s energy system and its economy. The EU will be decarbonised: the plan is to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by between 80% and 90% by 2050.

There are other ingredients in the package, which is designed to replace the existing policy, focused on 2020 targets. These include commitments to renewables and to the reform of the EU’s ailing Emissions Trading System, moves towards a more integrated cross-border energy system, plus the phasing out of subsidies for Europe’s coal industry.

The devil, as always, is in the detail. Achieving agreement among EU member countries – each with its own distinctive political set-up and economic ambitions – is difficult, some would say impossible. Many compromises have had to be made.

Binding targets

Some countries still have reservations about the whole idea of setting binding emission reduction targets, saying this will increase energy costs and result in Europe losing its economic competitiveness − particularly with the US, where the price of energy has dropped significantly due to the widespread take-up of shale oil and gas.

Poland is one of the countries that will be hard to convince. It is heavily dependent on coal for its energy, and is fighting against any move to phase out subsidies for the coal industry.

A group of countries, led by Germany, wants EU energy efficiency targets to be binding, while others, led by an increasingly Euro-sceptic UK government, say each country should be allowed to set its own energy efficiency goals – and that there should be less interference by Brussels.

Meanwhile, scientists and economists say the new package – even if it is approved − is not nearly ambitious enough.

Professor Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says countries are doing only what is politically achievable, rather than what is necessary to transform the EU’s energy sector.

“I don’t think many people have grasped just how huge this task is,” Skea told BBC news. “It is absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented. My guess is that 40% for 2030 is too little too late if we are really serious about our long-term targets.”

Some business interests remain firmly opposed to the EU’s new energy regime, but many of Europe’s biggest corporations − frustrated by frequent changes in policy and by political interference − are backing a call for more robust action on climate change.

Risks and impacts

“We remain increasingly concerned at the costs, risks and impacts associated with delayed action on climate change on our markets, supply chains, resources costs, and upon society as a whole,” says an open letter to the European Council from the Climate Group and 56 other leading EU businesses and organisations.

With relations between the EU and Russia increasingly strained due to events in Ukraine and elsewhere, European countries are concerned about their energy security and dependence on gas imports from Russia.

A report by the ECOFYS consultancy and the Open Climate Network group says gas imports into Europe could be cut in half by ramping up investment in renewable energy and achieving greater energy efficiency. Emissions targets would also be met much sooner.

A separate report by Ernst & Young, the professional services company, says the EU is in danger of missing out on the financial benefits of developing renewable technologies.

Stable long-term targets and smart industrial policy, Ernst & Young says, can help Europe secure its slice of “a cake that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars by the turn of the century”. – Climate News Network

Scientists refute lower emissions claim for fracking

Scientists refute lower emissions claim for fracking

As advanced technology triggers the boom in extraction of natural gas, a new study warns that market forces mean the cheaper fossil fuel could replace not just coal, but also low-emission renewable and nuclear energy.

LONDON, 15 October 2014 − The argument that fracking can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is misguided, according to an international scientific study, because the amount of extra fossil fuel it will produce will cancel out the benefits of its lower pollution content.

The study, published today in the journal Nature, recognises that technologies such as fracking have triggered a boom in natural gas. But the authors say this will not lead to a reduction of overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Although natural gas produces only half the CO2 emissions of coal for each unit of energy, its growing availability will make it cheaper, they say, so it will add to total energy supply and only partly replace coal.

Advantage nullified

Their study, based on what they say is “an unprecedented international comparison of computer simulations”, shows that this market effect nullifies the advantage offered by the lower pollution content of the gas.

The lead author, Haewon McJeon, staff scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the University of Maryland, said: “The upshot is that abundant natural gas alone will not rescue us from climate change.”

Fracking, horizontal drilling and other techniques have led to surging gas production, especially in the US. “Global deployment of advanced technology could double or triple global natural gas production by 2050,” McJeon said.

This might eventually mean not lower CO2 emissions, but emissions by the middle of the century up to 10% higher than they would otherwise be.

The report, which is the work of five research groups from Germany, the US, Austria, Italy and Australia, said the replacement of coal by natural gas was fairly limited. And it might replace not just coal, the study had found, but low-emission renewable energy and nuclear power as well.

One of the co-authors, Nico Bauer, a sustainable solutions expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany, said : “The high hopes that natural gas will help reduce global warming because of technical superiority to coal turn out to be misguided because market effects are dominating.

“The main factor here is that an abundance of natural gas leads to a price drop and expansion of total primary energy supply.”

Not only could this lead to an overall increase in energy consumption and in emissions, but increased gas production would mean higher emissions of methane from drilling leakages and pipelines.

The research groups projected what the world might be like in 2050, both with and without a natural gas boom. They used five different computer models, which included not just energy use and production, but also the broader economy and the climate system.

“When we saw all five teams reporting little difference
in climate change, we knew we were on to something”

“When we first saw little change in greenhouse gas emissions in our model, we thought we had made a mistake, because we were fully expecting to see a significant reduction in emissions,” said James Edmonds, chief scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute. “But when we saw all five teams reporting little difference in climate change, we knew we were on to something.”

Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist of PIK and co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group on mitigation, said: “The findings show that effective climate stabilisation can be achieved only through emissions pricing.

”This requires international political co-operation and binding agreements. Technological advances can reduce the costs of climate policies, but they cannot replace policies.”

Article of faith

The widespread use of shale gas continues to attract policymakers, and for some it is almost an article of faith. It recently received the IPCC‘s endorsement, with Professor Edenhofer himself apparently backing it.

In the UK, a senior Conservative politician, Owen Paterson, is urging more fracking to increase Britain‘s shale gas supplies.

Paterson, who lost his job as Environment Secretary in July, today gave the annual lecture to the climate-sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation, arguing against wind power and for “investment in four possible common sense policies: shale gas, combined heat and power, small modular nuclear reactors, and demand management”.

Paterson also said that the UK should suspend or scrap its Climate Change Act, which commits it to cutting CO2 emissions by more than 80% on 1990 levels by 2050, unless other countries follow suit.

His former Cabinet colleague, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, said that scrapping the legislation would be “one of the most stupid economic decisions imaginable”. − Climate News Network

Australia gets early blast of more extreme heat

Australia gets early blast of more extreme heat

Summer has come early across much of Australia – and as temperatures soar to record seasonal levels in many areas, the bushfire season has started well ahead of schedule.

LONDON, 14 October, 2014 − It’s the time of year when many Australians start to think about eating outdoors or heading for the beach after work. Early spring, and the temperatures are rising – particularly this year.

The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says maximum temperatures in September across much of the country were higher than average, with central and south-western areas experiencing their warmest September on record.

Australia is considered to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of a climate change, and 2013 was the country’s hottest year since records began, with average temperatures 1.2˚C above the long-term average.

In one seven-day period in early January last year, record national average temperatures exceeded 39˚C.

Unprecedented levels

September started off cool in Sydney, Australia’s most populated city, but then heated up to unprecedented levels for this time of year. For the first time, temperatures climbed to more than 32˚C for two consecutive days in the month.

Meanwhile, overall September rainfall was 27% below the monthly average − and the dry conditions mean the bushfire season has come early. The south of the island of Tasmania has fared particularly badly, with fires fuelled by dry conditions and high winds.

Areas round Sydney and throughout New South Wales – the country’s most populous state − have also been hit by bushfires, with fire warnings going out to more than a million homeowners.

Despite growing evidence that human-induced climate change is a major reason for Australia heating up, the Liberal-National coalition government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott has taken little action on the issue.

It has abolished a carbon tax introduced by the previous Labour government, abolished a Climate Commission that gave advice on the impact of warming, and is seeking to downgrade modest renewable energy targets.

Polluting fuel

Australia is one of the world’s leading producers of coal – the most polluting fuel, which is responsible for a significant portion of climate changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The country’s per capita GHG emissions are among the highest in the world.

A recent report on Australia’s climate, produced by BOM and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the national science agency, predicts temperatures rising across the country by between 0.6˚C and 1.5C by 2030, compared with the rise of 0.6˚C between 1910 and 1990.

The report says: “Data and analysis from BOM and CSIRO show further warming of the atmosphere and oceans in the Australian region. . . this warming has seen Australia experiencing warm weather and extreme heat, and fewer cool extremes.

“There has been an increase in extreme fire weather, and a longer fire season, across large parts of Australia.” – Climate News Network

Croppers pose new threat to Amazon rainforest

Croppers pose new threat to Amazon rainforest

Analysts in the US say parts of the Brazilian Amazon may face new deforestation as ranchers move from raising beef cattle to cultivating crops such as palm oil.

LONDON, 12 October, 2014 − Despite Brazil having made great strides in reducing logging in the Amazon region, a US study says the country faces a renewed threat to its forests.

The report’s authors − who focused on the Amazon states of Mato Grosso and Pará, where they interviewed ranchers and meat processors − say the cost of raising beef cattle is prompting many ranchers to consider switching to crops such as palm oil.

The study by Datu Research, a global economic research firm based in Washington DC. was commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund.

After decades of deforestation, it says, efforts to curb the losses have been working. Between 2005 and 2013, the rate of loss fell by nearly 80% − although  the Brazilian government’s figures show that losses rose again by 29% in the year to 31 July 2013.

The beef industry, meanwhile, which had caused nearly 75% of earlier deforestation, has continued to grow rapidly.

Curb on emissions

Researchers have argued that by taxing cattle on conventional pasture and by subsidising semi-intensive cattle rearing, Brazil could curb up to 26% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by the loss of forests. This in turn adds up to about one-fifth of all human-caused GHG emissions.

But the forests face problems from another quarter. The authors of the Datu Research study say pressure from Western companies requiring deforestation-free supply chains for beef from the Amazon risks being overwhelmed by big increases in demand from non-Western countries.

Russia’s recent embargo of Western beef, for example, means it has increased its demand for Brazilian beef by over 10%, creating alternative markets that do not require deforestation-free operations.

The amalgamation of the meat processors has reduced the ranchers’ bargaining power. The market share of the three largest processors − JBS, Marfrig and Minerva − grew from 24% in 2011 to 37% in 2013.

The study’s authors also say many small and medium-size processors report that, unlike their big competitors, they have restricted access to finance, which reduces their ability to monitor deforestation.

Poor regulation of cattle-raising is another problem − expensive for those ranchers who comply with the rules, yet allowing those who ignore them to escape with impunity. Licensing agencies sometimes lose entire applications, and illicit cattle operations can still enter legitimate supply chains.

Falsified documents showing the origin
and destination of cattle are easily obtained

It is not difficult, the report says, to circumvent a system that is meant to track cattle from ranch to slaughterhouse. Falsified documents showing the origin and destination of cattle are easily obtained, and cost as little as R$200 (about US$85).

A major factor in prompting ranchers to fell the forests is the harsh economic dilemma they face. The study found that the cost of going deforestation-free on 145 hectares is R$412,000 (US$167,000), nearly double the R$217,500 cost of simply clearing forest for beef production.

And while newly-deforested land can sustain cattle for at least five years at no further cost, managing pasture properly is expensive because it needs fertilizers, machinery and other investments, which cost about R$50,000 annually.

Land tenure is another problem. Several ranchers told the authors they had been waiting, sometimes for more than 20 years, to receive legal title to their land. Without a title, banks will not lend ranchers the money they need to change to a deforestation-free operation.

Foreign demand

The study found that deforestation driven by land speculation is increasing rapidly in Brazil. A further concern is the growing foreign demand for a range of crops whose cultivation requires the removal of trees. The Federation of the Industries of the State of São Paulo says production of four crops alone − soya, corn (maize), sugarcane and palm oil − will need more than 10.5 m more hectares of land by 2023.

Palm oil is fairly new in Brazil, but it is well placed to grow faster than any other commodity. The government of Pará estimates that, by 2022, palm oil plantations for biofuel will cover 700,000 ha, which would make Brazil the world’s third largest producer, behind Indonesia and Malaysia.

The study says that that only already-degraded land should be used for palm oil, so that producers do not end up illegally clearing new land.

Deforestation in the Amazon region has a considerable impact on the world’s climate as the forest is a vital carbon “sink”, soaking up greenhouse gases. If it stopped acting as a sink and became instead a source of carbon, the consequences could be profound. − Climate News Network

Oceans’ greater heat explains warming ‘pause’

Oceans' greater heat explains warming 'pause'

New technology is helping scientists to re-assess how much heat is being absorbed by the world’s oceans – much more in some regions than realised, they say.

LONDON, 7 October 2014 – One of the most hotly-argued questions in climate research – whether global warming has slowed or even stopped – appears to have been definitively answered. And the scientists’ conclusion is unambiguous: the Earth continues to warm at a dangerous pace.

All that’s happening, they say, is that the extra heat being produced – mainly by the burning of fossil fuels – is concentrating not in the skies but in the seas. They have found new evidence that backs them up.

Instead of driving up the temperature of the atmosphere quite as fast as predicted, the evidence shows that the heat from greenhouse gas emissions is warming the oceans much more rapidly than had been realised.

In some regions the water appears to have been warming, for over 40 years, more than twice as quickly as thought, for instance in the upper 2,300 feet (700 metres) of the southern hemisphere’s oceans.

Paul Durack from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and colleagues compared direct and inferred sea temperature measurements with the results of climate models. Together the three sets of measurements suggest estimates of northern hemisphere ocean warming are about right.

Serious under-estimate

But the team report in Nature Climate Change their estimate that warming in the southern seas since 1970 could be far higher than scientists have been able to deduce from the limited direct measurements from this under-researched region. Globally, they conclude the oceans are absorbing between 24 and 58% more energy than thought.

The researchers were able to use data from satellites and from a new source – Argo floats, a fleet of more than 3,000 free-floating monitors which drift through the water and measure the temperature and salinity of the upper 6,500 feet (2,000 m) of the ocean.

A year ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its Fifth Assessment Report. Professor Chris Rapley, a former director of both the British Antarctic Survey and  the Science Museum in London, told the Climate News Network then of his alarm at what the IPCC said about the oceans.

He said the Earth’s energy imbalance, and evidence that the 93% of the energy build-up absorbed by the oceans continued to accumulate, meant the slow-down in the rise of surface temperatures appeared “a minor and temporary fluctuation”.

Speaking of the latest research, Profesor Rapley told the Network: “The newly reported results of a combination of satellite altimetry measurements of globally mapped sea level rise combined with ocean heat modelling, and a further analysis of the in situ measurements from the Argo buoys, add to the evidence that the so-called ‘pause’ in global warming is confined to surface temperature data, whilst the planet’s energy imbalance continues unabated.

Cold depths

“Once more we need to assess our appetite for risk, and consider seriously what measures we should take to minimise the threats to food and water supplies, the impacts of extreme weather, and the consequences of these to the world economic system and human wellbeing.”

A second study, also published in Nature Climate Change, by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, concluded tentatively that all ocean warming from 2005 to 2013 had occurred above depths of 6,500 feet, and that it was not possible to detect any contribution by the deep oceans to sea level rise or energy absorption.

Josh Willis, a co-author of this study (which like that by Dr Durack and his colleagues results from the work of NASA’s newly-formed Sea Level Change Team)  said the findings did not throw suspicion on climate change itself. He said: “The sea level is still rising. We’re just trying to understand the nitty-gritty details.”

This study therefore leaves several questions still unanswered. Will more research find evidence that deep water is in fact warming, for instance? Why are the oceans now apparently absorbing more heat than they once did? And if the southern oceans are heating up faster, then may that help to speed up Antarctic ice melt?

One urgent question that needs answering is how much longer the water near the surface can continue to absorb the extra heat which human activities are producing. Another is what will happen when the oceans no longer absorb heat but start to release it. The answers could be disturbing. – Climate News Network

Climate helps to halve world wildlife in 40 years

Climate helps to halve world wildlife in 40 years

Conservation campaigners say the plight of much of the world’s wildlife seems “worse than ever” – and climate change is a growing cause of the damage.

LONDON, 30 September 2014 – Human pressure has halved the numbers of many of the Earth’s wild creatures in just four decades, the Worldwide Fund for Nature says.

While the main recorded threat to biodiversity comes from habitat loss and degradation, driven by unsustainable human consumption, it found, climate change is a growing concern.

It says in its Living Planet Report 2014 that vertebrate wildlife populations have declined by an average of just over half, with freshwater species suffering a 76% decline, almost double the average loss of land and ocean species.

In a foreword the director-general of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, writes: “This latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted.

“One key point that jumps out is that the Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52% since 1970.

“Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half.”

The Report is based on the Index, a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Industrial killing

WWF says the state of the world’s biodiversity “appears worse than ever.” But it is confident in the robustness of its findings: “This is a much bigger decrease than has been reported previously, as a result of a new methodology which aims to be more representative of global biodiversity.”

The authors calculated the decline by analysing 10,000 different populations of 3,000 vertebrates. This data was then, for the first time, used to create a representative Living Planet Index, reflecting the state of all 45,000 known vertebrates. The consequences, it shows, can be drastic.

Last week conservationists said that elephant poaching was now happening on an unprecedented and “industrialised” scale in Mozambique, after 22 of the animals were killed for their tusks in the first two weeks of September. Numbers of some marine turtles are estimated to have dropped by 80%.

Professor Ken Norris, director of science at the ZSL, said: “The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the very ecosystems that are essential to our existence is alarming. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.”

There is wide disagreement about the number of species on Earth. In 2007, when the total was estimated by many scientists at around 1.5 m (it is now thought to be 8.7 m) the number of vertebrate species was put at about 60,000 in the IUCN Red List.

WWF says too that humans are using more resources than the Earth can continue to provide, felling trees more quickly than they can regrow, for example, catching fish faster than they can reproduce, emptying rivers and aquifers –   and emitting too much carbon for natural systems to absorb.

Boundaries crossed

The Report devotes a section to the idea of the Ecological Footprint, the sum of the ecological services that people demand which compete for space. For more than 40 years, it says, humanity’s demand on nature has exceeded what the planet can replenish, principally through climate change.

“Carbon from burning fossil fuels has been the dominant component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint for more than half a century, and remains on an upward trend. In 1961, carbon was 36% of our total Footprint; by 2010, it comprised 53%”, the Report says.

WWF urges respect for “planetary boundaries” beyond which humanity will “enter a danger zone where abrupt negative changes are likely to occur.”

It says “three planetary boundaries appear to have already been transgressed: biodiversity loss, and changes to the climate and nitrogen cycle, with already visible impacts on the well-being of human health and our demands on food, water and energy.”

The Report argues for the diversion of investment away from the causes of environmental problems and towards solutions, and for “ecologically informed” choices about how we manage resources.

Next year world leaders are due to conclude two critical global agreements: the post-2015 development framework, which will include Sustainable Development Goals intended to be met by all countries by 2030; and a UN treaty leading to effective action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

California burning points to more intense wildfires

California burning points to more intense wildfires

As the forest fires season peaks in the western US, a new report predicts that climate-led temperature rise will lead to millions more acres across the world being burned to the ground.

LONDON, 27 September, 2014 − Smoke from fires burning at present in northern California has been detected as far north as Canada, as thousands of firefighters battle to contain blazes that together cover nearly 300,000 acres of forest and shrub wood. And it looks like things are going to get worse.

A new report by the US-based Cost of Carbon Pollution project forecasts that such fires are going to become ever more intense in the years ahead – not just in the western US, but elsewhere round the world, and particularly in areas of southern Europe and in Australia.

The ongoing drought across much of the western US has had a serious impact on the region’s agricultural industry, and has resulted in the build-up of vast amounts of tinder-dry material on the land.

“We haven’t been out of fire season for a year and a half,” a leading fire official told the Washington Post. “There is no end in sight.”

Incidence doubles

The new report says the incidence of wildfires – unrestrained fires that burn predominantly in areas of forests, woodlands, grasslands, peat or shrubs – has doubled in the US since the 1990s.

In total, between seven and nine million acres in the US are burned as a result of wildfires every year – an area equivalent to one-and-a-half times the size of the state of Massachusetts.

“These amounts are expected to increase significantly due to climate change and other factors,” the report says. And, overall, there is likely to be a 50% increase by 2050 in the area of North America burned, with more large and potentially catastrophic wildfires.

Not only will more valuable forest be lost, the fires will also have an increasing impact on the economy − with important industries such as tourism suffering serious losses.

More and more people have been migrating to the western US. In 1960, California’s population was 15 million: it’s now nearly 40 million, and is expected to increase to 50 million by 2030. The study says the fires are already taking their toll on people’s health.

Forests and peat lands function as carbon sinks – sucking up volumes of greenhouse gases (GHGs). But the report says an increase in wildfires could mean that, in time, these areas would become net emitters of GHGs, adding to problems of global warming.

Mistaken policies

Dr Wallace Covington, director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, is an internationally-recognised expert on forest restoration. He says that the growth in wildfires in the western US is due, to a large extent, to mistaken forest policies over the past 100 years.

Dense forests were planted, while natural fires – which form a normal part of nature’s cycle, and can regenerate growth in some trees and plants – were suppressed.

“Forests became unhealthy, and an excessive amount of fire fuel was allowed to build up,” Covington told the Climate News Network. “Natural fires can be easily controlled, but once fires spread over thousands of acres they are virtually impossible to contain.”

Covington says that climate change has exacerbated the situation. “We’re seeing wider swings from very dry to very wet conditions, and wind speeds, which fan the forest flames, have been building up across the region over recent years.”

Forest specialists at Northern Arizona University and elsewhere are now pressing for radical changes in forestry policy, including the thinning of densely-wooded areas and the reintroduction of controlled, natural fires at various times of the year. – Climate News Network