Aerosols may offer short-term lifeline to corals in crisis

Aerosols may offer short-term lifeline to corals in crisis

Reducing the bleaching of corals by blocking the sun’s rays might buy time to keep tropical reefs alive if efforts are increased to halt global warming.

LONDON, 29 May, 2015 − A new solution has been proposed for the forthcoming crisis of the coral reefs: blot out some of the sunlight.

Scientists from the US, UK and Australia suggest a form of climate engineering called solar radiation management, which involves pumping aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce global temperatures − and especially the warming of the tropic seas.

If sea temperatures rise just 1°C to 2°C above the normal summer high, something gruesome happens to the coral reefs: they bleach.

This is because they sicken, and expel the colourful algae with which they cohabit. It is a survival technique known to biologists as symbiosis. But if the bleaching goes on for long enough, they die.

Human-induced warming

Lester Kwiatkowski − a researcher with both the University of Exeter in the UK and the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US − and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that human-induced global warming because of the burning of fossil fuels could raise temperatures enough by 2050 to bleach and degrade 90% of the world’s coral reefs.

So, the authors argue, the world must accept that the loss of the reefs is inevitable − or buy time to save them.

The latter option could be addressed by squirting massive quantities of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect radiation and darken the skies, while humans get on with the much-delayed challenge of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations by switching to renewable sources of energy.

The irony is that Dr Kwiatkowski has only lately dismissed at least one ocean geoengineering solution – to cool the sea surfaces by pumping up cold water from the ocean depths – because, in the long run, it might make the climate change crisis even worse. Nor is he the only scientist to make that point.

“We need to accept that the loss of a large percentage of the world’s reefs is inevitable,
or start thinking beyond conventional
mitigation of CO2 emissions”

Geoengineering has repeatedly been defined as the wrong answer to problems of soaring human numbers and uncontrolled economic growth.

So the real message of this latest study may be that the choices facing humankind have become increasingly unwelcome.

Coral reefs are the richest ecosystems in the oceans, and 500 million people depend on the living coral and its co-dependants for food, tourist income and coastal protection.

The tropical reefs have bleached before, in extremes of heat, but after a few years have recovered. Whether they could survive both a sustained rise in temperatures and the increasing acidification of the oceans that goes with higher carbon dioxide levels is another matter.

Ecosystem at risk

So the researchers decided to see what it would take to reduce the risk. They took some account of the impact of the debilitating effect of increasing ocean acidity. Then they considered the hypothetical fate of corals in a warming world.

There is no doubt that bleaching is a consequence of hotter seas, or that by 2100 the entire reef ecosystem will be at risk.

At least one other group has proposed that some form of solar protection could be an answer, but another has suggested that at least some corals might adapt.

“Coral reefs face a dire situation, regardless of how intensively society decarbonises the economy,” says Peter Cox, professor of climate system dynamics at the University of Exeter.

“In reality, there is no direct choice between conventional mitigation and climate engineering, but this study shows that we need to accept that the loss of a large percentage of the world’s reefs is inevitable, or start thinking beyond conventional mitigation of CO2 emissions.” – Climate News Network

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New energy policy needed as nuclear giants take a hit

New energy policy needed as nuclear giants take a hit

Plans for a worldwide fleet of huge new nuclear reactors have collapsed, with the cancellation of a major project and no new orders being placed.

LONDON, 28 May, 2015 − The European nuclear industry, led by France, seems to be in terminal decline as a result of the cancellation of a new Finnish reactor, technical faults in stations already under construction, and severe financial problems.

The French government owns 85% of both of the country’s two premier nuclear companies Areva, which designs the reactors, and Électricité de France (EDF), which builds and manages them. Now it is amalgamating the two giants in a bid to rescue the industry.

Even if the vast financial losses involved in building new nuclear stations can be stemmed, there is still a big question mark over whether either company can win any new orders.

Their flagship project, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), billed as the most powerful reactor in the world, has two prototypes under construction − one in Finland and the second in France. Both of the 1,650 megawatt reactors are years late and billions of  Euros over budget, with no sign of either being completed.

Enthusiastic cheerleader

The Finnish government, once the most enthusiastic nuclear cheerleader in Europe, has lost patience with Areva, and the Finnish electricity company TVO has scrapped plans to build a second EPR in Finland.

This is because the first one, under construction at Olkiluoto since 2005, and which was supposed to be finished by 2009, is not expected to be producing electricity until 2018 and even that may yet prove optimistic. It was intended  to be the first of a “worldwide fleet”.

The second EPR under construction, at Flamanville in France, is also seriously delayed, and possibly in even deeper trouble because of concerns about the quality of steel in the pressure vessel.

The components, forged in France by Areva, were already in place in the half-built reactor before questions over the carbon content of the vessel and its safety were raised and work was halted.

The knock-on effect of the inquiry into this safety glitch is that the Flamanville reactor will be delayed again. In a worst-case scenario, it would have to be part-dismantled or scrapped altogether.

The French government is keen to rescue
the industry, but had already decided against
ordering any more reactors after the fiasco
in building Flamanville

This has also raised queries over the French company’s biggest potential export market, China. Two EPRs are being built in China, but checks are being made there too because these reactors may also have excess carbon in the steel. The suspect parts were made in France in the same forge as the Flamanville pressure vessel.

These delays and cancellations have placed a severe strain on Areva’s finances. In 2014, on revenues of €8.3 billion ($9.2 billion), it lost €4.8 billion. Hence, the French government’s move to amalgamate the two companies to try to make one viable unit. In fact, EDF will take over Areva, which has not sold a new reactor since 2007.

Serious blow

This is a serious blow to the pride of a country that is seen as the world leader in nuclear energy, with 75% of its electricity coming from 58 reactors.

The French government is keen to rescue the industry, but had already decided against ordering any more reactors after the fiasco in building Flamanville, which was years late and over budget even before the latest hiccup.

All this leaves the UK as the last country in the world anxious to buy a French reactor. With a new Conservative government in power for less than a month, its energy policy is already in disarray.

Plans to build four 1,650 megawatt EPRs in Britain to produce 14% of the country’s electricity − announced before this month’s general election − look ever more unlikely.

Even with the first two at Hinkley Point in the west of England − where site preparations have been made, and a final agreement was expected with EDF this summer − nothing is likely to happen for months. The most likely course must now be cancellation.

Plans have been put on hold while EDF and Areva sort out the problems at Flamanville, and then try to find a way of financing the project. Four hundred workers on the Hinkley Point project have already been laid off.

Unfair state aid

The new British government is already facing legal challenges from Austria and Luxembourg and from various renewable energy groups for unfair state aid for this nuclear project.

Even if ministers see these threats off, it seems unlikely that anyone will commit to building new EPRs in the UK until at least one of the four reactors under construction in China, Finland and France is actually shown to work.

There is no guarantee that will happen in the next three years, so the chances of Britain getting any new nuclear power stations before 2030 are close to zero.

Currently, the UK is closing coal-fired stations to comply with European Union directives to combat climate change, but it has not developed renewables as fast as Germany and other European neighbours − claiming that new nuclear build would fill the gap.

It now looks as though the government will urgently need to rethink its energy policy. – Climate News Network

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Global finance must face up to climate challenge

Global finance must face up to climate challenge

Trillions of dollars need to be redirected into building low-carbon economies to avoid serious climate change, the UN warns.

LONDON, 27 May, 2015 − The world’s financial system must undergo comprehensive change by 2035 if humanity is to make the transition needed to reduce the threat of dangerous climate change, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, on an inquiry into aligning the financial system with sustainable development, says finance must be focused on moving investments into low-carbon projects.

It quotes World Bank estimates that investments of more than US$90 trillion will be needed over the next 15 years to enable the switch  to a low-carbon future that would let the world  stay within the internationally-agreed limit of a 2°C rise in global temperatures on pre-industrial levels by mid-century.

Short-term thinking

The risks of climate change are not properly priced in financial systems, says UNEP. Market and policy failures are exacerbated by short-term thinking and misguided incentive structures, such as the enormous subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry each year.

Rising carbon emissions cause health problems and affect water supplies and food production, which in turn can cause volatility in financial markets and hit economic growth. In Kenya, says UNEP, climate change is already costing up to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Radically altering how the global financial system operates will not only help in the battle against climate change, but is also vital  to ensure sustainable development.

“The globe’s financial systems need to better price pollution and invest in real wealth. It is happening, but nowhere near the scale required.”

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, says: “Integrating sustainability criteria that include environment and social factors into the rules that govern the financial system can substantially strengthen the resilience of the world’s financial system, which has been a key goal of governments and regulators since the global financial crises of 2008.

“If brought to scale, the approximately US$300 trillion global financial system could help close the widening gap in sustainable development investment.”

Stronger action is needed to drive the demand for green finance through such measures as giving more incentives to clean energy projects and implementing carbon pricing systems.

At present, UNEP says, the world’s emerging economies are leading the way in transforming their financial and capital markets to reflect the realities of climate change.

In China, annual investment in various green industries and associated infrastructure could reach US$320 billion in the next five years.

In Brazil, integrating environmental risk factors into investment considerations is seen as a way to strengthen the financial system.

Companies and institutions in most developed countries have been slow to recognise the impact that climate change will have on their financial systems.

Climate risks

A notable exception, says UNEP, is the Bank of England, which recently announced a review exploring what risks climate change might pose to the country’s financial system.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), says the goal is clear: a peaking of global emissions over the next 10 years, followed by a deep de-carbonisation of the global economy.

“In order to achieve this, and support the aspirations for growth and poverty eradication of developing countries, the globe’s financial systems need to better price pollution and invest in real wealth,” she says. “It is happening, but nowhere near the scale required.”

Figueres believes the UN conference on climate, to be held in Paris in December, “can be a trigger that starts directing the trillions of dollars required away from high-carbon, high-risk investments and infrastructure towards the low-carbon, green economy that is everyone’s future”. – Climate News Network

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India’s coastal villages map out disasters strategy

India’s coastal villages map out disasters strategy

The Indian Ocean can be an angry and sometimes lethal neighbour, but those who live beside it are now learning how to prepare for its next onslaught.

CHENNAI, 26 May, 2015 – It has been over a decade since the devastating tsunami struck southeast Asia, but the horrific memories remain as vivid as ever for people in the coastal villages of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Now, in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and also two cyclones, local people are benefiting from the Indian government’s encouragement of international co-operation in helping vulnerable communities, and have produced a hazard map as a precaution against future disasters.

Vikas Shankar, from the fishing village of Sulerikattukuppam, remembers clearly the moment the tsunami struck.“I was engrossed in playing cricket when I saw water entering the village,” he says. “I thought it was just another day when the sea poured in. Then, suddenly, I saw my mother caught in a whirlpool and realised something was seriously wrong.”

His mother, Tilakavathy, survived the tsunami’s fury, but recalls: “I thought this was really the end of the world.”

Completely destroyed

Amazingly, no one in the village died, but fishermen lost their gear and livelihoods, and many buildings close to the shore were completely destroyed.

The tsunami prompted Tilakavathy and her husband to decide not to send their sons to sea to earn a livelihood.

When Vikas, their youngest son, was old enough, he was sent instead to the local community college, built in 2011 by the state government to provide education and alternative livelihood opportunities for the fishing community.

The local people, recognising the need for disaster preparedness, are now involved in a programme that focuses on  developing communication tools for vulnerable communities and raising awareness of other disaster-related issues.

Krishnamurthy Ramasamy, professor of applied geology at the University of Madras, was formerly the principal of the community college. He says: “We realised the need for international collaboration to build a curriculum on disaster management and field-based learning activities.”

Kyoto University in Japan was one of the universities keen to work with him, and two Australian universities, Melbourne and Victoria, also joined in, helping with funds, curriculum development and exchange visits.

“We were taught how and why cyclones and tsunamis happen. It helped us to understand disasters in the first place.”

The college itself fostered community-based preparedness by offering disaster management as an optional subject, and by helping to set up a Local Residents’ Alliance (LRA) in 2013 to mobilise villagers. Most members of this group were parents of students from the college.

Vikas Shankar says: “In the class, we were taught how and why cyclones and tsunamis happen. It helped us to understand disasters in the first place.”

To learn about other people’s best practices, Professor Ramasamy visited communities along the Japanese coast, and there he made a significant discovery. He says: “The first thing I noticed in each village was the hazard map. I thought that we needed this too.”

Back at the college, work on hazard map preparation began, and the first step was students surveying their own villages to understand the geography better.

Teams went from house to house and marked all the huts in the village. They counted the number of people in the house, with details of numbers of women, children, old and disabled people living there. All this information went on the hazard map.

Miwa Abe, from the Centre for Policy Studies at Kumamoto University, Japan, who trained the Indian students, says: “A hazard mapping exercise with local people gives them an opportunity to know their village.

“It is not only about environmental conditions, but also human relationships, social networks, architectural conditions. Usually people do not think about their own area because it is too familiar to them.”

Evacuation routes

The teams also prepared evacuation routes, and, after six months of rigorous work, the students presented the final map to the local people.

Today, as one walks into the village, the first thing to catch the eye is the big blue hazard map board at its entrance. It shows the evacuation routes to be followed during disasters, and also the village’s population distribution − crucial information so that local people will know who to rescue first, and where they live.

The village’s approach is now being used as a case study in efforts to prepare community-based disaster management (CBDM) plans for the entire district, and eventually as a model for the state. The Tamil Nadu government has given land adjacent to the college to establish permanent infrastructure and to provide better facilities for the students.

Rajalakshmi Mahadevan, a fisherman’s daughter, says: “The evacuation map can be read by anyone, even a newcomer. Now we know which house to go to, who to evacuate first, and this has lifted the fear of disaster from local people’s minds.”– Climate News Network

  • Sharada Balasubramanian, an independent journalist from Tamil Nadu, India, writes on energy, agriculture and the environment. Email: sharadawrites@gmail.com; Twitter: @sharadawrites

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Rising temperatures mean fewer but fiercer hurricanes

Rising temperatures mean fewer but fiercer hurricanes

Climate change brings mixed prospects for people threatened by hurricanes: they are likely to occur less often, but when they do they will be even more destructive.

LONDON, 25 May, 2015 − Once again, scientists have confirmed the link between climate change and destructive hurricanes. The link is a simple one: a warmer world could mean fewer tropical storms, but those that arrive are likely to be more violent.

The conclusion is not new: other teams have already proposed that global warming linked to increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion could drive tropical cyclones to higher latitudes and that the most destructive hurricanes could happen increasingly often. A British team has even linked better air quality – fewer sulphate aerosols and dust – to a greater probability of more violent winds.

But Nam-Young Kang, who now directs South Korea’s National Typhoon Center, and James Eisner, a geographer at Florida State University, set about a study of weather data and hurricane, cyclone and typhoon records between 1984 and 2012 to see if they could identify a pattern of change.

In the last 60 years or so, global average temperatures have risen, but are still less than 1°C above the average for the centuries before the Industrial Revolution. Hurricanes are linked to sea surface temperatures and the hurricane “season” does not start until ocean surface levels go beyond 26°C.

“We’re seeing fewer hurricanes, but the ones we do see are more intense. When one comes, all hell breaks loose”

The two scientists reckoned that even slightly higher average temperatures would mean more energy and therefore higher wind speeds at sea as well. They report in Nature Climate Change that they found what they were looking for: a pattern. On average, storm wind speeds had increased by 1.3 metres a second and there were 6.1 fewer tropical storms a year worldwide than there would have been if land and water temperatures had remained constant.

The research paper describes tropical cyclones – a term that for geographers also embraces Pacific typhoons and Atlantic hurricanes – as “perhaps the least welcomed natural phenomena on our planet” and points out that even well-developed, highly complex societies are exposed to them, and vulnerable. Superstorm Sandy, which began as an Atlantic hurricane, hit New York in 2012 with devastating consequences and even set the nation’s earthquake alarms ringing.

Professor Eisner has already established a link between temperatures and tornado hazard.  The new study delivers a statistical warning of a trade-off between frequency and strength offshore as well.“We’re seeing fewer hurricanes, but the ones we do see are more intense. When one comes, all hell breaks loose,” he said. − Climate News Network

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US farmers given early warning about hungry crop pest

US farmers given early warning about hungry crop pest

Biologists say a destructive insect is likely to cause even more damage than usual as rising temperatures prompt leaves to sprout earlier.

LONDON, 24 May, 2015 − It is small, bright green and an unwelcome visitor. But global warming means that this particular agricultural menace arrives earlier than ever − and consumes more than ever.

New research has confirmed that the potato leafhopper now turns up to devour US crops on average 10 days earlier than it did 60 years ago.

Despite its informal name, Empoasca fabae is known to have developed an appetite not just for potatoes, but for anything from rhubarb to red maple trees.

It survives over the winter in the southernmost states, then moves north as the temperatures begin to rise and crops begin to sprout.

It has been observed to reproduce itself on around 200 plant species, and it also has a taste for apples, celery, beans, grapes, hops and the important perennial forage crop alfalfa, sometimes also known as lucerne.

Severe infestation

Three biologists from two US universities report in PLOS One, the Public Library of Science journal, that leafhopper infestation is more severe in the warmest years, and that the damage caused by the tiny insect is likely to increase as average temperatures continue to rise.

It arrives in the growing season and pierces the plant leaf tissue to get at the sap. Its saliva carries a toxin that can cause the leaf to dry, curl and rot, and the consequent damage is called “hopperburn”.

“You don’t realise they’re even there until you see the damage to the plants . . . By then it’s too late”

“Earlier arrival dates make it particularly important for farmers to get out early in the season and scout for leafhoppers,” says William Lamp, associate professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, and one of the three authors of the study.

“They’re tiny, flighty and very hard to see. You don’t realise they’re even there until you see the damage to the plants, which can take up to a week to manifest. By then it’s too late.”

The researchers combed the records between 1951 and 2012 to track the dates in which the pest was recorded in each of 19 affected US states, and matched this with weather records over the same timespan. Such a finding was  possible only because scientists had access to systematic data.

Dilip Venugopal, an ecologist, and colleague of Lamp at the University of Maryland, says: “The historical records on agricultural pests are a gold mine, made possible by decades of hard work by agricultural research and extension personnel who collect this data. There has been a decline in data collection activity over the past decade, and we would love to see an effort to ramp this up again.”

Global average temperatures have risen by 0.74°C since 1951, and the last decade has been the warmest since climate records began.

Changed behaviour

The leafhopper is only one of many long-distance migratory pests likely to change behaviour in response to climate change. Other researchers have already observed crop pests’ steady movement towards higher latitudes in recent decades.

“Climate change is not just costly because temperatures and oceans rise, but because it makes it harder to feed ourselves,” says report co-author Mitchell Baker, assistant professor of biology at Queens College, City University of New York.

“Increased pest pressure in agriculture is one of the complex effects of continued warming. Predicting arrival time and severity is critical to managing this pest and others like it.” – Climate News Network

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Rainforests are left on edge of destruction

Rainforests are left on edge of destruction

Eminent conservationist says climate change’s major threat to the world’s tropical rainforests comes not from heat, but from drought and uncertain rainfall.

LONDON, 23 May, 2015 – Rising temperatures will not themselves spell disaster for the world’s rainforests. It is the droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns, which climate change is already worsening, that will settle the forests’ fate before the century ends, according to a new book.

Claude Martin, who has worked in tropical rainforest conservation since the 1970s, is author of On the Edge, commissioned by the Club of Rome, which published the seminal Limits to Growth report in 1972. Since then, nearly 50% of the world’s forest cover has disappeared.

Martin, a former director-general of WWF International, recognises that there are many drivers of forest damage and destruction − including the pressures of the global economy for animal feed and food for humans, and the worldwide demand for biofuels.

Essential ecosystem

Acknowledging the progress made in science and conservation, he reminds his readers that the forests are not just huge repositories of biodiversity, but an essential ecosystem providing everyone on the planet with fresh water, clean air and climate regulation.

Evaluating the impact of climate change on rainforests means focusing on the length of dry seasons and water stress, rather than temperature, Martin writes.

The likeliest cause of forest collapse and severe risks of reaching a tipping point is not temperature rise, but the change from the dependable rainfall patterns of the past, and the probability of increasing droughts and forest fires.

He sees a likelihood of drought and fires increasing − not least in the Amazon − because of the way in which climate change is fuelling El Niño and La Niña, the twin periodic temperature disruptions that occur every few years in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Known together as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), their impacts spread for thousands of miles.

“Lethargy of governments and the impotence of the intergovernmental system make it very unlikely that average global warming will be kept below 2°C

Martin is one of those scientists who are convinced that climate change will intensify ENSOs. As global warming effects become stronger, ENSO events become more frequent, rainfall drops further because of forest loss and fragmentation, and droughts are likely to become more common and more severe. And so the vicious circle becomes a constant downward spiral.

“When the 20th century’s strongest ENSO occurred in 1997/98,” Martin writes, “it was considered to be an unusual phenomenon. . . . [It] caused severe drought in Amazonia, Southeast Asia and Mexico, and had massive effects on the net primary productivity of forests, thus their capacity of carbon storage as well as forest fires.”

After another severe drought in 2001, following another ENSO event, about a third of the Amazon forests stored significantly less carbon and became vulnerable to fire. Two more droughts followed soon after, in 2005 and 2010. The first was estimated to be a once-in-a-century occurrence.

Fastest warming

Martin’s concerns are not confined to Amazonia. He cites modelling by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shows that Africa is expected to warm by 3-4°C by the end of the century − the fastest warming since the end of the last ice age around 11,500 years ago. This would expose the great Congo Basin forest to the risk of severe damage.

Globally, Martin is not hopeful. “The current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the lethargy of governments and the impotence of the intergovernmental system make it very unlikely that average global warming will be kept below 2°C,” he says.

Under a mid-range emissions scenario, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are likely to rise by the end of the century to levels not seen in the last 50 million years. But he thinks the forest crisis will be developing uncontrollably some decades before then.

He predicts: “The decisive period for the long-term future of the rainforests . . . will be the second half of the century, when global warming is likely to exceed 2°C above the pre-industrial global average.

“It will be too late then to avoid a dangerous tipping point of self-reinforcing climate change.” – Climate News Network

  • On the Edge − The State and Fate of the World’s Tropical Rainforests. A Report to the Club of Rome, by Claude Martin (Greystone Books, £20/US$32.95).

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Heat and drought pose threat to US power supplies

Heat and drought pose threat to US power supplies

Global warming will leave people in the western states of the US exposed to increasingly extreme temperatures that could seriously affect electricity generation.

LONDON, 22 May, 2015 – Climate change could mean that things get really tough for people in the US west in the second half of this century, according to new research.

Higher temperatures and increased intensity of droughts could compromise the electricity grid, while the number of people exposed to extremes of heat is likely to multiply at least fourfold, and perhaps more.

Sustainability scientists Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester, of Arizona State University, report in Nature Climate Change that changes in precipitation, air and water temperature, air density and humidity could combine to create problems for electricity generating plant in the western US.

They estimate that around 46% of the generating capacity in 14 US states could experience reductions of up to 3% in the next few decades.

Stream flow

That is because there may not be enough stream flow for hydroelectric stations, and coal and nuclear power plant may not be able to get enough water through the cooling systems to keep generating at peak capacity, especially in the summer months.

Gas turbines, wind turbines and solar cells also could be affected by changes in air temperature.

“Drought and heat-related capacity reductions are especially problematic, because they are likely to occur during periods of high demand,” the researchers warn.

“From 2001 to 2008, a series of droughts caused electricity shortages in the American  southeast, the Pacific  northwest, and continental Europe. As concentrations of atmospheric carbon increase, drought events are anticipated to increase in frequency, duration and intensity.”

“Power providers are not taking into account climate change impacts”

Research such as this is intended to help energy utilities plan for problems ahead. Scientists identify a worst-case scenario, outline the probable  difficulties, and prompt the engineers and managers to take steps to avoid future embarrassments.

As global temperatures rise on average in the coming decades – as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increase with the continued use of fossil fuels – so regions such as the American southwest will experience greater extremes of heat and longer periods of drought.

This will mean that available water will have to be pumped further, and there will be greater demand for cooling and air-conditioning systems.

California and the US  southwest have already been in the grip of extended drought.

“Power providers are not taking into account climate change impacts,” Bartos says. “They are likely overestimating their ability to meet future electricity needs.”

Reduced capacity

The scientists calculated that – if a drought lasted for a decade – capacity in vulnerable power generating stations could be reduced by as much as 8.8%.

Meanwhile, Bryan Jones, a demographer at the City University of New York, and colleagues report in the same issue of Nature Climate Change that the number of people who will want to switch on the air conditioning in the second half of the century will increase dramatically.

“We find that US population exposure to extreme heat increases fourfold to sixfold over observed levels in the late 20th century, and that changes in population are as important as changes in climate in driving this outcome,” they report.

And they add a warning: “Extreme heat is responsible for more deaths in the United States than any other weather-related event, and its frequency and intensity is expected to increase over this century.” – Climate News Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similar actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowest levels

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

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

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

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

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First head of state backs campaign to save the planet

First head of state backs campaign to save the planet

Hungary’s president boosts an ambitious plan to collect a billion-signature petition aimed at pressuring politicians to agree on radical measures to tackle global warming.

BUDAPEST, 20 May, 2015 – János Áder, the President of Hungary, has become the first head of state to join the Live Earth: Road to Paris campaign that aims to ensure world leaders agree to a binding deal on tackling climate change.

The specific aim is to get a billion signatures from concerned citizens before the UN climate change conference in Paris in December, but organisers are also keen to get as many politicians and celebrities as possible to back the campaign.

The Road to Paris campaign was launched in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by former US vice-president Al Gore, songwriter and recording artist Pharrell Williams, and the Emmy award-winning producer and new media entrepreneur, Kevin Wall.

Global voices

Williams, winner of 11 Grammy awards, is Live Earth’s creative director, and music concerts will be staged in Paris, New York, Johannesburg, Sydney, São Paulo and Beijing on June 18, seeking to reach two billion people in 190 countries and unite global voices in demanding environmental accountability from world leaders.

Áder, a former member of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, endorsed the campaign at a press briefing in Budapest earlier this month.

Praising Gore’s initiative, Áder talked about the evidence of climate change, available solutions, the positive impacts of green technologies, and the challenges and opportunities of the Paris conference in December.

A spokesperson for Gore told the Climate News Network that the agreement in Paris should involve meaningful emissions reductions commitments at the national level, subject to a system of periodic review, and a long-term goal of net zero-carbon emissions.

Planet-wide shift

A Hungarian website that mirrors the US initiative will seek to encourage widespread local demand for a strong agreement that will dramatically cut emissions and accelerate the planet-wide shift to clean energy, said Zsolt Bauer, of the Hungary-based Regional Environmental Centre (REC).

The REC was instrumental in setting the scene for Áder’s announcement, in partnership with the Climate Reality Project, chaired by  Gore.

Áder has committed to speaking and broadcasting in Hungary to promote the petition, and to raising awareness of the available climate solutions, backed by  the REC nationally and regionally. − Climate News Network

  • Pavel Antonov, a Budapest-based journalist and social researcher, edits Evromegdan.bg, a not-for-profit online magazine for journalism in the public interest, published by BlueLink.net

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