Mangroves hold key to Indonesia’s emissions cuts

Mangroves hold key to Indonesia’s emissions cuts

New study says Indonesia could go a quarter of the way to reaching its 2020 target for carbon emissions reduction by ending the destruction of its vital mangrove forests.

LONDON, 27 July, 2015 – Indonesia, one of the world’s largest carbon emitters, would take a major step towards losing that tag by protecting its massive mangrove forests, according to new research.

The mangroves, which store prodigious quantities of carbon, are currently disappearing fast − often destroyed to make room for aquaculture to satisfy the wants of lucrative foreign markets.

But a team from the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that protecting the mangroves could take Indonesia a quarter of the way to achieving the whole of the greenhouse gas emissions cuts it plans for 2020.

Indonesia, with the longest coastline in the tropics, has more mangroves than any other country − more than 2.9 million hectares. But it also has one of the world’s fastest rates of mangrove loss.

The main threats to the forests include conversion to shrimp ponds, logging, conversion of land to agriculture or salt pans, and degradation by oil spills and pollution.

In 2013, Indonesia’s revenue from shrimp exports was close to US$1.5bn, almost 40% of the total revenue from the country’s fishery sector.

Grave threat

The researchers say the Indonesian mangroves, some of which grow to 50 metres in height, store 3.14 billion tonnes of carbon, which amounts to one-third of the carbon stored in Earth’s coastal ecosystems.

But they are under grave threat. In the last 30 years, 40% of these coastal forests have gone, and the annual rate of loss now is about 52,000 hectares, causing substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

The current rate of destruction means that 190 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) are emitted annually. That is 42% of the world’s annual emissions from the destruction of coastal ecosystem services − marshes, mangroves and sea grasses.

Put more graphically, Indonesia’s destruction of its mangroves emits as much greenhouse gas as if every car in the country was driven around the world twice.

“We hope that these numbers help policymakers see mangroves as a huge opportunity for climate change mitigation,” says Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist at CIFOR and lead author of the paper.

“It is time to acknowledge that mangroves must be part of the solution to climate change”

“But to make progress, it is crucial that mangroves are protected and managed sustainably. It is time to acknowledge that mangroves must be part of the solution to climate change.”

Dr Murdiyarso is also co-author of a CIFOR guide on climate change adaptation and mitigation in Indonesia’s wetlands.

In a separate study, published in the Royal Society Proceedings A, further light is shed on the crucial role mangroves play in protecting coastal areas from sea level rise caused by climate change.

The study, by researchers at the University of Southampton, UK, and colleagues from the universities of Auckland and Waikato in New Zealand, used mathematical simulations to discover how mangrove forests respond to elevated sea levels.

Mesh-like roots

When sea levels rise, they found, areas in estuaries and river deltas without mangroves are likely to widen from erosion, and more water will encroach inwards. But mangrove regions prevent this effect, probably because of soil building up around the trees’ mesh-like roots and acting to reduce energy from waves and tidal currents.

Dr Barend van Maanen, a coastal systems researcher in the department of engineering and environment at the University of Southampton, explains: “As a mangrove forest begins to develop, the creation of a network of channels is relatively fast. Tidal currents, sediment transport and mangroves significantly modify the estuarine environment, creating a dense channel network.

“Within the mangrove forest, these channels become shallower through organic matter from the trees . . . and sediment trapping (caused by the mangroves), and the sea bed begins to rise, with bed elevation increasing a few millimetres per year until the area is no longer inundated by the tide.”

In modelling of sea level rise in the study, the ability of mangrove forest to gradually create a buffer between sea and land occurs even when the area is subjected to potential sea level rises of up to 0.5mm per year.

“These findings show that mangrove forests play a central role in estuarine and salt marsh environments,” says Giovanni Coco, associate professor in the school of environment at the University of Auckland.

“As we anticipate changes caused by climate change, it’s important to know the effect sea level rise might have, particularly around our coasts.” − Climate News Network

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Economic changes needed to tackle climate challenges

Economic changes needed to tackle climate challenges

A meeting building towards the Paris climate summit hears Ireland’s president call for a new economic order to address the threats of global warming.

LONDON, 25 July, 2015 − The president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, says the world needs a whole new economic framework to tackle the consequences of the warming caused by emissions of greenhouse gases.

Speaking at a meeting in Paris, entitled the Summit of Consciences for the Climate, he said this generation could be the last with the chance of responding to the urgent, uncontested effects of climate change.

The challenge of climate change, he said, provided opportunities to construct a new order for humanity and for the planet.

“Climate change is grounded in forms of development and industrialisation that are based on the exploitation of fossil fuels, with an assumption of infinite growth,”  he  told the meeting.

Climate agreement

The Paris summit, attended by religious groups, Nobel  laureates and artists, as well as prominent politicians, was convened by the President of France, François Hollande, and is one of a series of gatherings to be held in the run-up to the UN climate change conference in Paris in December, at which a new global climate agreement is due to be finalised.

Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, and Mary Robinson, the UN’s special envoy on climate change, were among those speaking at the meeting.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Higgins said that the neo-liberal model of economic development prevalent in western countries advocated the rolling-back of the state.

“The World Bank says we will have to go from billions to trillions to pay for the agendas that will flow from the conferences in 2015”

Massive movements of capital had created what he termed great fissures of inequality, and such freewheeling capitalism had shown itself capable of dislodging the whole fiscal system.

The global challenges of climate change and inequality could not be met if governments were not in control of their economies, Higgins said.

Besides the year-end Paris summit, several other significant  conferences are being held this year, including a UN meeting focusing on a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.

“The World Bank says we will have to go from billions to trillions to pay for the agendas that will flow from the conferences in 2015,” Higgins said. “The issue is, can you do this with a minimised state?”

Global diversities

François Hollande told the meeting that it was up to every individual to see what he or she could do to save the planet. “There are philosophies, there are convictions, there are global diversities that should at a certain point unite – and unite to make decisions,” he said.

Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, said that leaders of developing countries are trying to find a way of building a more sustainable model of development without increasing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Kofi Annan said the threat posed by climate change is as great as the danger of nuclear war, and he quoted the former Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who said that, in the event of a nuclear conflagration, “the living will envy the dead”. – Climate News Network

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UK’s leading scientists urge immediate climate action

UK scientists urge immediate climate action

The pre-eminent institutions in British science and engineering – some with long records of promoting fossil fuels – say the UK should lead the way to a zero carbon world. 

LONDON, 23 July, 2015 – Twenty-four of Britain’s most learned scientific societies have joined forces to urge the British government to act now to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

They want the UK to take the lead in intergovernmental talks in Paris in December, and keep global warming to an average of 2°C this century.

The societies want drastic reductions in the burning of fossil fuels, a shift towards energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy, and other changes to sidestep damaging climate change as a consequence of the atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide.

A joint communiqué agreed by organisations that speak for the most advanced research in the humanities, the social sciences, the arts, science, medicine and engineering urges action by governments, individuals, business, local communities and public institutions, to make the transition to a zero carbon world.

That any of the institutions has signed the communiqué is no surprise: many of them have delivered such advice separately, and some of them many times. What is significant about this latest statement is that all sorts of scholarly authorities with quite different origins have been united in one unequivocal statement.

Hydrocarbon pioneers

The Geological Society of London, for instance, the oldest such in the world, is backed by the fossil fuel industry and has sponsored petroleum, gas and coal prospecting and exploitation for much of its 200-year history.

The Royal Society of Chemistry was an intellectual centre for scientists and industrialists who pioneered the use of hydrocarbons derived from stores of crude oil and seams of coal.

The Royal Society provided intellectual support for the scientists who made the Industrial Revolution possible – and then endorsed the conclusions by a new generation that first identified the dangers inherent in atmospheric pollution, and then began systematically measuring the cost to the planet’s environment of such advances.

The signatories also include the Institutions of Civil Engineers and Chemical Engineers, members of which played a powerful role in the spread and advance of a fossil-fuel burning economy, as well as the Zoological Society of London, which has been more concerned with protecting the wildlife at risk from human activity, and the Royal Meteorological Society,  whose members have identified, measured and projected all the evidence of climate change.

“At or above 4°C, the risks include…fundamental changes to human activities that today are taken for granted”

Calling on the British government to show leadership on climate action, when the world’s nations meet in Paris in December to try once more to reach an enforceable agreement on cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Lord Stern, the President of the British Academy, said: “The UK led the world with both the modern scientific revolution and the industrial revolution, and must again lead now on the creation of a safer, cleaner and more prosperous world.

“Tackling climate change is a responsibility for the whole world, but the UK has a special position at the forefront of international efforts.”

The communiqué points out that while climate change poses far-reaching threats, the ways in which humankind tackles the issue present great opportunity, with vast potential for innovation in low-carbon technologies.

But not to take action could be catastrophic. “At or above 4°C, the risks include species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, and fundamental changes to human activities that today are taken for granted,” the communiqué says. – Climate News Network

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Global warming’s record-breaking trend continues

Global warming’s record-breaking trend continues

Detailed update by hundreds of scientists on climate indicators in 2014 reveals highest recorded rises in temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 22 July, 2015 – Forget talk of a slowdown in global warming. Scientists say the climate is heading smartly in the opposite direction, with 2014 proving to be a record-breaking year.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the most respected sources of climate science, says that last year “the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet”. Some − including rising land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse gases − reached record highs.

The authoritative report by the NOAA’s Centre for Weather and Climate at the National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI), published by the American Meterological Society, draws on contributions from 413 scientists in 58 countries to provide a detailed update on global climate indicators.

“The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” says Thomas R. Karl, director of the NCEI.

Rising concentrations

The authors report that concentrations of greenhouse gases continued to climb during the year. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations rose by 1.9 parts per million (ppm), reaching a global average of 397.2 ppm for the year. This compares with a global average of 354ppm in 1990 when the first edition of this report was published. And levels of methane and nitrous oxide also went up.

“Variety of indicators shows how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere”

Four independent global datasets showed that 2014 was the warmest year on record, with the warmth widespread across land areas.

Europe experienced its warmest year; Africa had above-average temperatures across most of the continent throughout 2014; Australia recorded its third warmest year; and Mexico had its warmest. Eastern North America was the only major region to experience below-average annual temperatures.

Global average sea level rose to a record high, and the globally averaged sea surface temperature was also the highest recorded. The warmth was particularly notable in the North Pacific Ocean, where temperatures are in part probably driven by a transition of the Pacific decadal oscillation – a recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centred in the region.

Earlier snow melt

The Arctic continued to warm, and sea ice extent remained low. Arctic snow melt occurred 20–30 days earlier than the 1998–2010 average. On the North Slope of Alaska, record high temperatures at a 20-metre depth were measured at four of five permafrost observatories. The eight lowest minimum sea ice extents during this period have occurred in the last eight years.

But temperature patterns across the Antarctic showed strong seasonal and regional patterns of warmer-than-normal and cooler-than-normal conditions, resulting in near-average conditions for the year for the continent as a whole. Last year was the third consecutive year of record maximum sea ice extent in the Antarctic.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a periodic warming of the water in the central and eastern Pacific that disrupts weather over thousands of miles, was in a neutral state during 2014, although it was on the cool side of neutral at the beginning of the year and approached warm El Niño conditions by the end of the year. This pattern played a major role in several regional climate outcomes.

There were 91 tropical cyclones in 2014, well above the 1981-2010 average of 82 storms. But the North Atlantic season, as in 2013, was quieter than most years of the last two decades with respect to the number of storms. – Climate News Network

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Recession cut US emissions, not falling coal use

Recession cut US emissions, not falling coal use

Researchers say it was the economy rather than the replacement of coal by natural gas that drove the recent drop in US emissions of the main greenhouse gas.

LONDON, 21 July, 2015 – Between 2007 and 2013 emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels burnt in the US fell significantly − by about 11% − and many analysts credited this to a change from coal to natural gas in electricity production.

But new research says it was, in fact, the economic recession that explains most of the decline, and more extensive use of natural gas may not do much to slow global warming.

“Natural gas emits half as much CO2 as coal when used to make electricity,” says research professor Laixiang Sun, of the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), who conducted the study with colleagues from the University of Maryland, US.

Release of methane

But that is only part of the story, he says in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications. “This calculation fails to take into account the release of methane from natural gas wells and pipelines, which also contributes to climate change.”

Methane is 34 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over a century, but 84 times more over just 20 years.

In the US, coal-powered electricity fell from 50% to 37% of the generation mix between 2007 and 2012, with most of it replaced by natural gas − in large part, due to fracking and underground mapping technologies.

If we don’t understand the factors that led to this emissions reduction, we won’t know how to effectively reduce emissions in the future”

The researchers say that because this shift occurred at the same time as the reduction in emissions, many commentators linked the two, mistaking temporal co-incidence for causality.

Apart from the state of the economy, they say, there were several other factors involved: population growth, for example, and energy efficiency, which both also affect total emissions.

“If we don’t understand the factors that led to this emissions reduction, we won’t know how to effectively reduce emissions in the future,” says Klaus Hubacek, an ecological economist at the University of Maryland.

So the researchers used a method known as structural decomposition analysis to tease apart the various contributions of different factors related to energy use and CO2 emissions.

This enabled them to determine the relative influence of changes in population, amount and patterns of consumption, production structure, and changes in fuel mix on total emissions of greenhouse gases.

They found that from 1997 to 2007, a period of rising emissions, 71% of the increase was due to increasing US consumption of goods and services, with the remainder due to population growth.

Mix of factors

But from 2007 to 2009, when emissions declined the most, the study finds that 83% of the decrease was due to economic factors, including consumption and production changes, and just 17% of the decline related to changes in the fuel mix. After 2009, emissions declined by only about 1%, and this was due to a mix of all three factors.

Knowing the relative influence of such factors on emissions is important for devising effective policies for future climate mitigation, the researchers say.

In particular, they say their findings may indicate that further increases in the use of natural gas may not have major benefits for the climate.

Natural gas can replace coal, but research also shows that, if it is cheap and abundant, it can limit the growth of carbon-neutral renewable energy sources.

Prof Sun says: “Sustaining economic growth while also drastically reducing emissions to the levels targeted by the Obama Administration will depend upon large additional decreases in the energy intensity of the US economy, as well as radical decarbonisation of the energy sector.” – Climate News Network

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Ice offers insight into volcanic impacts on climate

Ice offers insight into volcanic impacts on climate

Analysis of ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica yields new information on ancient volcanic blasts – and on the current effects of fossil fuel emissions.

LONDON, 16 July, 2015 − Fifteen of the 16 coldest summers recorded in ancient history followed violent volcanic blasts that darkened the skies between 1000BC and 500 BC − and four of the coldest happened shortly after the largest volcanic events on record, according to US and European scientists.

Studies of this kind, which reveal an intimate connection between discharges into the atmosphere and the consequences for the natural world, are an important part of the greater mosaic of research into climate change and global warming as a consequence of the human use of fossil fuels.

Michael Sigl, an environmental chemist with both the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, US, and the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, and 23 colleagues from 18 institutions report in Nature journal that they analysed Greenland and Antarctic ice cores to create a more accurate timetable of more than 300 volcanic events, dating back to the early Roman period.

Dramatic shifts

Eruptive blasts from the past have been implicated in dramatic shifts in human history. Among them was the devastating bout of harvest failure, epidemic and famine − known as the Plague of Justinian − in the eastern Roman Empire from 541 to 543 AD.

And ice cores offer a reservoir of annual levels of atmospheric sulphate − evidence of volcanic eruptions.

The scientists matched these records with evidence from tree rings from Germany, the Alps, the US Great Basin, Siberia and New Zealand’s kauri forest.

They also combed historic chronicles and accounts − from China, Babylon and from ancient and medieval Europe − that recorded telltale atmospheric observations such as weak sunlight, a discoloured solar disc, and very red twilight skies.

Such matching has been attempted before, but the scientists believe their latest research has dated events with greater precision.

“Large volcanic eruptions were responsible for numerous and widespread summer cooling extremes over the past 2,500 years”

Large quantities of sulphate particles high in the atmosphere tend to block incoming sunlight, significantly reducing the temperature. For most of human history, the only source of such atmospheric pollution was violent volcanic eruption.

“We are able to show that large volcanic eruptions in the tropics and high latitudes were the dominant drivers of climate variability, responsible for numerous and widespread summer cooling extremes over the past 2,500 years,” Dr Sigl says.

“These cooler temperatures were caused by large amounts of volcanic sulphate particles injected into the upper atmosphere, shielding the Earth’s surface from incoming solar radiation.”

The researchers also pinpointed the beginning of a climate crisis in the Dark Ages. In 536 AD, a veil of dust began to mask the Mediterranean − evidence of a massive eruption in the high latitudes.

Four years later, a second volcano intensified the cooling, and a pattern of crop failure and famine persisted for the next 15 years, along with the Plague of Justinian, one of the greatest pandemics in human history.

Volcanoes have already been implicated in recent climate research, with two recent studies proposing that an increase in eruptive activity might account for the seeming “pause” in global warming as a consequence of increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

But climate impact is only one aspect of volcanic hazard. A new position paper from the European Science Foundation warns that in just the last 300 years, volcanic eruptions have directly killed more than 250,000 people and devastated entire communities.

Directly at risk

At the turn of the century, the population known to be directly at risk from eruption stood at more than 500 million − “a figure certain to grow”, says the paper.

The European scientists also calculated the hazard of another mega-eruption on the scale of one 75,000 years ago from what is now Lake Toba, in Indonesia. This explosion in the distant Palaeolithic era is thought to have accounted for the deaths of two-thirds of all humans then living.

A second such eruption would be enough to devastate the global food supply by depositing a metre of ash over millions of square kilometres, destroying the food resources of two billion people, and then reducing yields by cooling the climate between 5°C and 15°C for up to a decade.

The scale of mortality would be impossible to predict, but the scientists conclude that “it is likely that it would be the greatest catastrophe since the dawn of civilisation”. – Climate News Network

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Muslim scholars say climate change poses dire threat

Muslim scholars say climate change poses dire threat

Islamic declaration adds to growing pressure religious leaders are exerting on richer nations to reduce the burden they are putting on the Earth’s climate.

LONDON, 15 July, 2015 − Human beings could cause the ending of life on the planet, says a group of Islamic scholars − and countries round the world, particularly the rich ones, must face up to their responsibilities.

Climate change, they say, is induced by human beings: “As we are woven into the fabric of the natural world, its gifts are for us to savour – but we have abused these gifts to the extent that climate change is upon us.”

The views of the scholars – some of the strongest yet expressed on climate from within the Muslim community – are contained in a draft declaration on climate change to be launched officially at a major Islamic symposium in Istanbul in mid-August.

Allah, says the declaration, created the world in mizan (balance), but through fasad (corruption), human beings have caused climate change, together with a range of negative effects on the environment that include deforestation, the destruction of biodiversity, and pollution of the oceans and of water systems.

Natural resources

The draft declaration has been compiled by the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), a UK-based charity focused on environmental protection and the management of natural resources. The declaration mirrors many of the themes contained in a recent encyclical issued by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic church.

The Islamic declaration makes particularly strong criticism of the world’s richer and more powerful countries, which, it says, have delayed through their selfishness the implementation of a comprehensive climate change agreement.

“Their reluctance to share in the burden they have imposed on the rest of the human community by their own profligacy is noted with great concern,” the declaration says.

Wealthy oil-producing countries must “refocus their concerns from profit to the environment
and to the poor of the world”

Interestingly, the draft declaration – which is still being worked on by various Muslim academics around the world – says that, in particular, wealthy oil-producing countries must “refocus their concerns from profit to the environment and to the poor of the world”. Saudi Arabia, where Mecca is located, is one of the world’s leading oil-producing countries.

Carbon footprint

The declaration says a new economic growth model should be found that recognises that the planet’s resources are finite.

It also calls on big business to face up to its social responsibilities and not exploit scarce resources in poor countries, and says that businesses should also take a more active role in reducing their carbon footprint.

The declaration says Muslims everywhere in their particular spheres of influence should seek to play a role in tackling climate change – and that other faith and religious groups should also join in realising the aims of the Islamic scholars “to compete with us in this endeavour so we can all be winners in this race”.

The declaration quotes extensively from the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, as the basis of its arguments.

Besides IFEES, Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Climate Action Network International and GreenFaith have also been involved in formulating the declaration. – Climate News Network

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Record torrential rainfall linked to warming climate

Record torrential rainfall linked to warming climate

Scientists show that devastating increases in extreme rainfall over the last 30 years fit in with global temperature rise caused by greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 13 July, 2015 – If you think you’re getting an unusually hard soaking more often when you go out in the rain, you’re probably right.

A team of scientists in Germany says record-breaking heavy rainfall has been increasing strikingly in the last 30 years as global temperatures increase.

Before 1980, they say, the explanation was fluctuations in natural variability. But since then they have detected a clear upward trend in downpours that is consistent with a warming world.

The scientists, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), report in the journal Climatic Change that this increase is to be expected with rising global temperatures, caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

High-impact flooding

Short-term torrential rains can lead to what the team calls “high-impact” flooding. For example, extreme rainfall in Pakistan in 2010 brought devastation that killed hundreds of people and led to a cholera outbreak.

In the same year, rainstorms in Texas caused dozens of flash floods. And no fewer than three “once-in-a-century” floods in Germany all happened in just a couple of years from 1997.

“In all of these places, the amount of rain pouring down in one day broke local records – and while each of these individual events has been caused by a number of different factors, we find a clear overall upward trend for these unprecedented hazards,” says the lead author, Jascha Lehmann, a PIK researcher into climate impacts and vulnerabilities.

Statistical analysis of rainfall data from 1901 to 2010, derived from thousands of weather stations around the globe, shows that from 1980 to 2010 there were 12% more of these intense events than would be expected in a climate without global warming. In the last year of the period the team studied, there were 26% more record-breaking daily rainfall events globally.

“One out of 10 record-breaking rainfall events in the past 30 years can only be explained if
the long-term warming is taken into account”

Not all parts of the world are experiencing a similar pattern of soaking. The PIK scientists found that − possibly not surprisingly − wet regions generally saw a bigger increase in deluges and drier regions a smaller one.

In southeast Asia, the observed increase in record-breaking rainfall events is as high as 56%, in Europe 31%, and in the central US it is a more modest, but still worrying, 24%.

In marked contrast, some regions have experienced significantly fewer record-breaking daily rainfall events. In the Mediterranean, the reduction is 27%, and in the western US it is 21%. Both regions are at risk from severe droughts.

The team says there is a simple scientific explanation for what they report. They compared their findings with existing knowledge about how much more water the atmosphere can store when temperatures rise, described by what they call the well-known Clausius-Clapeyron equation.

Put simply, warmer air holds more moisture, which can be released during short-term heavy rainfall.

The scientists show that the observed increase in unprecedented heavy rainfall generally fits with this thermodynamically expected increase under global warming.

Upward trend

“One out of 10 record-breaking rainfall events observed globally in the past 30 years can only be explained if the long-term warming is taken into account,” says co-author Dim Coumou, a PIK researcher into the links between atmospheric circulation and extreme weather events. “For the last year studied, 2010, it is even one event out of four, as the trend is upward.”

There are, of course, qualifications to the broad picture. For instance, the scientists allowed for the fact that the quality of historic weather data differs from one place to another. Unsurprisingly, rainfall measurements from the Sahara desert are scarce, so the team avoids drawing conclusions for the region.

But rainfall in regions such as Europe and the US has been carefully monitored for over a century, allowing the authors to draw conclusions with high levels of confidence

“The pronounced recent increase in record-breaking rainfall events is, of course, worrying,” Coumou says. “Yet since it is consistent with human-caused global warming, it can also be curbed if greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are substantially reduced.” – Climate News Network

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Fossil fuel firms fail to report climate risks

Fossil fuel firms fail to report climate risks

Accusation that many oil, gas and coal companies in the UK are ducking their legal duty to inform investors of risks caused by climate change.

LONDON, 9 July, 2015 – Fossil fuel companies operating in the UK are accused by a financial monitoring group of a “staggering” disregard for their obligation to acknowledge the risks which climate change poses to them and their investors.

An alliance of non-governmental organisations says the situation is so serious that there should be intervention by the UK Financial Reporting Council (FRC), the independent regulator responsible for promoting high-quality corporate governance.

The members of the alliance are an environmental lawyers’ group, ClientEarth, the Carbon Tracker InitiativeCDP, which works to improve business reporting, and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB).

Together, they are urging the FRC to ensure companies in the oil, gas and coal sectors comply with the rules that govern their reporting.

Informed decisions

David Cooke, an environmental services lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “It’s essential that this information is disclosed to investors so they can make informed decisions about the companies they invest in. Without this information, investors are flying blind.”

Mark Campanale, founder and executive director of Carbon Tracker, said: “The lack of consideration and disclosure of climate risk by fossil fuel companies is staggering. They are continuing to behave as if climate targets will not impact their business models.

“This clearly isn’t the case, and today it is a matter that is material for shareholders. Fuller guidance by regulators on what ought to be disclosed is the first place for the FRC to start.”

Legislation requires UK incorporated businesses to produce a strategic report, which, for fossil fuel companies, should contain information on how they are dealing with climate risk. But the groups say that seldom happens.

In a letter to the FRC’s conduct committee, the four members of the alliance say they believe many companies in the oil, gas and coal business “are not satisfying existing mandatory reporting requirements”.

They think the problem is widespread, saying that “very few” companies adequately address these risks in their corporate reports.

“They are continuing to behave as if climate targets will not impact their business models”

The letter says: “The risk to fossil fuel companies from climate change is that preventing warming of more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels will cause declines in the demand for, and price of, their commodities, impacting cash flows and margins and jeopardising returns on the highest cost projects.”

Most of the world’s governments have agreed that temperature rises caused largely by human burning of fossil fuels should be kept below the 2ºC guardrail to avoid dangerous climate change. The UN climate negotiations in Paris later this year will try to secure an agreement to stay within 2ºC.

The letter argues that legislation and the growth in the increasingly competitive low-carbon sector need to be factored into current investment decisions, as they are likely to affect cash flow and economic returns on existing projects.

Financial risks

Paul Simpson, chief executive officer at CDP, said: “There are financial risks from climate change for companies across all sectors of the economy, with fossil fuel companies particularly exposed as countries increase ambitions to reduce carbon-intensive energy demand. Access to high-quality information is essential for the management of these risks.”

Jane Stevensen, managing director of CDSB, said: “As the UK’s independent regulator responsible for setting the framework of codes and standards for the accounting community, we urge the FRC to exercise its functions to ensure that fossil fuel companies satisfy the levels of disclosure required by law in order to fully inform stakeholders and protect investors from carbon asset stranding.”

The FRC told the Climate News Network: “The Conduct Committee of the FRC is responsible for monitoring companies’ strategic reports and, in that context, takes the reporting of risk and environmental matters very seriously.

“The Committee not only selects reports and accounts for review, but responds to well-informed complaints − in particular, where concerns are raised that disclosures fall materially short of what is required by law.” − Climate News Network

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Quantum leap taken in measuring greenhouse effect

Quantum leap taken in measuring greenhouse effect

New technique for analysing satellite data will allow scientists to predict more accurately how much the Earth will warm as a result of carbon dioxide emissions.

LONDON, 8 July, 2015 – British scientists have devised a new way to observe the greenhouse world, enabling researchers to measure with exquisite accuracy how atmospheric carbon dioxide builds up, migrates, evolves and absorbs radiation.

The technique will allow more accurate predictions about how much the Earth is likely to warm over the next few decades as a result of the inexorable rise in atmospheric CO2 – from car exhausts, power station chimneys and burning forests – that drives global warming and climate change.

More than a century has elapsed since the Swedish Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius first predicted the greenhouse effect, but scientists have until now only been able to establish the way CO2 absorbs light, with accuracies of about 5% at best.

Exploit laws

But Oleg Polyanksy and Jonathan Tennyson, professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London, and colleagues report in the journal Physical Review Letters that they can exploit the laws of quantum mechanics to narrow the uncertainty to 0.3%.

The consequence is that a range of dedicated satellite missions – among them Japan’s Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellite (GOSAT), the US space agency NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) and potential European Space Agency missions such as CarbonSat − will not just be able to identify industrial sources of CO2 and map their spread, but watch the gas in action, slowly warming the planet by as much as 5°C by 2100.

“It is necessary to have a very precise answer
to the question: how much radiation does
one molecule of CO2 absorb?”

“Billions of dollars are currently being spent on satellites that monitor what seems to be the inexorable growth of CO2 in our atmosphere,” Professor Tennyson says. “To interpret their results, however, it is necessary to have a very precise answer to the question: how much radiation does one molecule of CO2 absorb?

“Up until now, laboratory measurements have struggled to answer this question accurately enough to allow climate scientists to interpret their results with the detail their observations require.”

The orbiting satellite has become the climate scientist’s most prolific data delivery machine. There are satellites measuring the shrinking of the ice caps and the rate at which the ice is melting.

Besides an arsenal of weather monitors, satellites are using sophisticated sensors to monitor sea level rise, changes in ocean acidity and soil moisture, agricultural success in India, and even the energy spent in lighting up the world’s cities at night.

Warming puzzle

All these studies are part of the great global warming puzzle, but for most of the last 50 years, confirmation of what a greenhouse gas does has mainly rested on the match of CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the consequent rise in global average temperatures.

The University College team, with colleagues in Russia, the US and Poland, tried another approach. They started with the exact quantum mechanical equations obeyed by a molecule such as CO2 , then harnessed computers and subtle laboratory technologies to measure the different “colours” or wavelengths of light absorbed by molecules.

Each wavelength carries a precise energy, and highly-accurate measurements for small laboratory samples should enable researchers to scale up to equivalent accuracies for the entire atmosphere.

That means that they will be able to observe the intricacies of global warming − more or less as it happens − from high orbit, and make increasingly accurate predictions about future global warming. – Climate News Network

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