Polar bears feel the heat as icy habitat shrinks

Polar bears feel the heat as icy habitat shrinks

As climate change increasingly affects the Arctic, some polar bear populations are suffering because rising temperatures are reducing the sea ice vital for their survival.

LONDON, 19 December, 2014 − The Arctic is changing faster under the influence of the warming climate than anywhere else on Earth, scientists have confirmed.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says Arctic air temperatures continue to rise more than twice as fast as they do globally − a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.

The extent of snow cover in April 2014 in Eurasia was the lowest since 1967, and sea ice extent in September was the sixth lowest since 1979.

Badly affected

Some Arctic polar bear populations have been badly affected by the progressive shrinking of Arctic sea ice.

But NOAA says: “Natural variation remains, such as the slight increase in March 2014 sea ice thickness and only a slight decrease in total mass of the Greenland ice sheet in summer 2014.”

Increasing air and sea surface temperatures, a decline in the reflectivity of the ice at the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, shrinking spring snow cover on land and summer ice on the ocean, and the declining populations and worsening health of some bear populations are among the findings described in NOAA’s Arctic Report Card 2014.

“Arctic warming is setting off changes that affect people and the environment in this fragile region, and has broader effects beyond the Arctic on global security, trade and climate,” Craig McLean, of NOAA, told the annual American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in San Francisco.

“This year’s Arctic Report Card shows the importance of international collaboration on long-term observing programmes that can provide vital information to citizens, policymakers and industry.”

“Arctic warming has broader effects beyond the Arctic on global security, trade and climate”

The Report Card, published annually since 2006, updates changes affecting the Arctic. This year’s report − written by 63 US and other authors − covers key indicators, and also includes a new report on the status of the bears.

This section, written by the Norwegian Polar Institute and Polar Bears International, assesses the animals’ populations in some areas where there is good long-term data available. There are clear variations between areas.

Ice break-up

The most recent data shows that a population decline in western Hudson Bay, Canada, was caused by earlier sea ice break-up and later freeze-up.

The bears depend on sea ice to travel, hunt, mate and, in some areas, to den. But in the southern Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, their numbers have now stabilised after a decline of about 40% since 2001.

In the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Russia and immediately to the west of the Beaufort, the condition of the bears and their reproductive rates have been stable for 20 years.

The Report Card says there are now twice as many ice-free days in the southern Beaufort as there are in the Chukchi Sea.

It notes that polar bears have been through “long and dramatic periods of population decline” during the last million years, and that during periods with little sea ice, polar bears and brown bears have often interbred.

The report says Alaska recorded temperature anomalies more than 10°C higher than the January average during 2014.

Snow cover across the Arctic during the spring was below the long-term average for 1981-2010, with a new record low set in April for Eurasia. North America’s June snow extent was the third lowest on record.

Snow disappeared three to four weeks earlier than normal in western Russia, Scandinavia, the Canadian sub-Arctic and western Alaska because of below-average accumulation and above-normal spring temperatures.

The eight lowest sea ice extents since 1979 have occurred in the last eight years (2007-2014). There is still much less of the oldest, thickest (greater than 13 feet, or four metres) and most resilient ice than in 1988, when it made up 26% of the ice pack. This year’s figure is 10%.

Extent of melting

As sea ice retreats in summer, sea surface temperature across the Arctic Ocean is increasing. In the Chukchi Sea, it is increasing at 0.5°C per decade.

Melting occurred across almost 40% of the surface of the Greenland ice sheet in summer 2014. For 90% of the summer, the extent of melting was above the long-term average for 1981-2010.

In August 2014, the reflectivity (albedo) of the ice sheet was the lowest recorded since satellite observations began in 2000. When less of the sun’s energy is reflected by ice, melting increases. The total mass of the ice sheet remained essentially unchanged between 2013 and 2014.

Declining sea ice allows more sunlight to reach the upper layers of the ocean, triggering increased photosynthesis and greater production of phytoplankton − the tiny marine plants that form the base of the food chain for fish and marine mammals. − Climate News Network

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Extremes concern as planet gets hotter and colder

Extremes concern as planet gets hotter and colder

Scientists predict that lethal heat waves in Europe, and ice storms and big freezes across the globe, could become regular events if greenhouse gas emissions are not controlled.

LONDON,  December 18, 2014 − Global average temperatures continue to rise, but new research shows that the extremes of heat and cold are rising even faster.

Scientists report that heat waves have got hotter and cold snaps have got colder at a more extreme rate – and that continuing greenhouse gas emissions will mean that, in another two decades, Europe could experience once every two years the sort of lethal heat waves that occurred once in a thousand years.

Scott Robeson, professor of geography at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that they analysed a set of temperature records from 1881 to 2011 and graded them according to how near or far they were from the normal averages of any particular region of the globe.

Temperature anomalies

They found that the temperature anomalies – extremes of heat and cold – increased more than the overall average temperature of the whole planet. They  also found that cold anomalies – unexpected ice storms, blizzards and big freezes − increased more than the warm anomalies until about 30 years ago. Since then, the heat waves have started to outpace the cold snaps.

The study offers a new way to consider the much-debated “pause” in global warming since 1998. It could be that warming continued over most of the planet, but was offset by strong cooling in the winter months in the northern hemisphere.

Professor Robeson says: “There really hasn’t been a pause in global warming. There has been a pause in northern hemisphere winter warming.

“Arguably, these cold extremes and warm extremes are the most important factors for human society”

“Average temperatures don’t tell us everything we need to know about climate change. Arguably, these cold extremes and warm extremes are the most important factors for human society.”

Robeson and his colleagues are not the first to identify the importance of extremes of temperature in the pattern of global averages. Nor is this the first time that UK Met Office scientists – this time led by Nikos Christidis – have forecast more, and more severe, heat waves, not just in Europe but in many regions.

In 2004, Met Office researchers looked at statistics since 1990 and decided that the 2003 European heat wave − estimated to have claimed at least 20,000 lives, and possibly many more − had been made more than twice as likely because of human influence on the climate.

Pattern of warming

In a paper in Nature Climate Change, they look at the pattern of warming between 2003 and 2012. In that period, summers on average warmed by 0.81°C.

This warming means, they say, that heat waves − and extreme heat waves such as the lethal event in 2003 − have become 10 times more likely.

“Extremely warm summers that would occur twice in a century in the early 2000s are now expected to happen twice a decade,” Dr Christidis says.

“Moreover, the chances of heat waves as extreme as seen in 2003 have increased from about one in a thousand to about one in a hundred years, and are projected to occur once every other year by the 2030-40s under continuing greenhouse gas emissions.” – Climate News Network

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Sea urchins refine survival instincts as oceans change

Sea urchins refine survival instincts as oceans change

As climate change adds to the threat of extinction faced by many species, new research shows how sea urchins can adapt to the increasing temperature and levels of acidity in Antarctic waters.

LONDON, 17 December, 2014 − The sea urchins of the Southern Ocean could be safe from the threat of extinction. They may not enjoy global warming and the increasingly acid oceans, but new research indicates that they can adapt to climate change.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Bangor University in Wales − in what they describe as the largest study of its kind − collected 288 urchins of the species Sterechinus neumayeri from waters off the Antarctic Peninsula, carried them to Cambridge in the UK, and tested them in aquarium tanks over a two-year span, covering two full reproductive cycles.

During this time, they report in the Journal of Animal Ecology, they changed the water chemistry and turned up the temperature. The environment was made less alkaline and the thermometer notched up another 2°C − which are the conditions sea creatures could expect by 2100 if the world goes on burning fossil fuels and pumping greenhouse gases under the notorious business-as-usual scenario.

Intricate network

Research like this matters because it helps scientists to better understand the intricate network of environmental conditions that underwrite life on the planet, and because it provides answers to one of the big questions of climate change: how will it affect the estimated seven million species with whom humans share the planet?

According to the journal Nature, the lowest estimate is that 10 species become extinct every week, and the number could be as high as 690 a week. The uncertainty is an indicator of how little is known about the diversity of life on the planet.

The oceans, in particular, have been hard hit by human action. Other marine survival studies have not been encouraging: ocean acidification promises to be very bad news for corals, and therefore for the rich and diverse communities that depend on coral reefs. It also offers a survival threat to bivalves that exploit ocean chemistry to build protective shells.

Other experiments have shown that it can affect the survival behaviour of fish, and can even affect the lugworms that anglers favour as bait for fish.

But the news from the laboratory aquarium in Cambridge is encouraging. It took the sea urchins six to eight months to acclimatise and adjust to the new acidity levels and temperature − but they survived.

Artificial insemination experiments suggested that the urchins could spawn successfully under the new conditions, but to be sure of this, the researchers need more time. Antarctic invertebrates mature very slowly and sea urchins could live for 40 years or more.

“With predictions of warmer, more acidic waters in the future, this work shows how resilient these animals are to climate change,” said Melody Clark, project leader for the Adaptations and Physiology Group at the British Antarctic Survey.

“It also emphasises the importance of conducting long-term experiments in making accurate predictions. These animals live a long time, and so they do everything really slowly. They take around eight months to get used to new conditions, and two years to produce gonads (sexual organs). If we had stopped this experiment at three or even six months, we would have got very different results.”

Change habitat

Sea urchins cannot easily change their habitat: they must adapt or perish. But four-legged, warm-blooded terrestrial creatures have another option. In another instance of long-term research, scientists have established that small mountain mammals are prepared to move uphill as the climate warms.

Karen Rowe, biodiversity research fellow at Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues report in Proceedings of the Royal Society that they looked at records of observations of small mammals, made between 1911 and 1934 at 166 sites in the Californian mountains. Then, between 2003 and 2010, they surveyed the same species in the same locations.

Warmer winters are bad for hibernating mammals such as the chipmunk. Image: Vlad Lazarenko via Wikimedia Commons

Warmer winters are bad for hibernating mammals such as the chipmunk.
Image: Vlad Lazarenko via Wikimedia Commons

Altogether, they looked at 30,000 observations that recorded the foraging and breeding ranges of 34 species of chipmunk, gopher, pika, shrew, deer mouse, woodrat and squirrel at altitudes that varied from sea level to about 4,000 metres.

Moving uphill

Since the first, historic set of systematic measurements, the average temperatures in the region have climbed by 0.6°C, and many mammals have shifted their range accordingly – by moving uphill.

The pattern wasn’t consistent, but the researchers identified a problem for those animals that normally hibernate: warmer winters could be very bad news for creatures adapted to the chillier mountain slopes. And those animals that live at the highest altitudes might soon have nowhere to go.

“While mammals can avoid heat stress by behavioural means (such as shifting daily activity), warming winters lead to increased energy expenditures for hibernators and reduce the snow layer, which acts as insulation for non-hibernators,” they conclude.

“Global climate projections suggest that disappearing climates will be an increasing challenge for predicting future species’ responses.” – Climate News Network

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Australia heading in wrong direction on emissions targets

Australia heading in wrong direction on emissions targets

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

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

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

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

Emissions calculations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst performing

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

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

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

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

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Deep concern over invisible threat to Antarctic glaciers

Deep concern over invisible threat to Antarctic glaciers

As ocean temperatures rise, warmer currents are attacking the Antarctic ice sheet from below and adding to the threats posed by a melting rate that has trebled in the last two decades.

LONDON, 13 December, 2014 − The Antarctic ice shelf is under threat from a silent, invisible agency – and the rate of melting of glaciers has trebled in the last two decades.

The ocean waters of the deep circumpolar current that swirl around the continent have been getting measurably warmer and nearer the ocean surface over the last 40 years, and now they could be accelerating glacier flow by melting the ice from underneath, according to new research.

And a separate study reports that the melting of the West Antarctic glaciers has accelerated threefold in the last 21 years.

Calamitous consequences

If the West Antarctic ice sheet were to melt altogether – something that is not likely to happen this century – the world’s sea levels would rise by 4.8 metres, with calamitous consequences for seaboard cities and communities everywhere.

Researchers from Germany, Britain, Japan and the US report in Science journal that they base their research on long-term studies of seawater temperature and salinity sampled from the Antarctic continental shelf.

This continued intrusion of warmer waters has accelerated the melting of glaciers in West Antarctica, and there is no indication that the trend is likely to reverse.

Other parts of the continent so far are stable – but they could start melting for the first time.

“The Antarctic ice sheet is a giant water reservoir,” said Karen Heywood, professor of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, UK. “The ice cap on the southern continent is on average 2,100 metres thick and contains 70% of the world’s fresh water. If this ice mass were to melt completely, it could raise global sea level by 60 metres. That is not going to happen, but it gives you an idea of how much water is stored there.”

“These waters have warmed . . . and  are significantly shallower than 50 years ago”

Temperatures in the warmest waters in the Bellinghausen Sea in West Antarctica have risen from 0.8°C in the 1970s to about 1.2°C in the last few years.

“This might not sound much, but it is a large amount of extra heat available to melt the ice,” said Sunke Schmidtko, an oceanographer at the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, who led the study. “These waters have warmed in West Antarctica over 50 years. And they are significantly shallower than 50 years ago.”

The apparent rise of warm water, and the observed melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf, could be linked to long-term changes in wind patterns in the southern ocean. Although melting has not yet been observed in other parts of the continent, there could be serious consequences for other ice shelves.

The shelf areas are where the Antarctic krill – the little shrimp that plays a vital role in the Antarctic ocean food chain – are getting warmer, with unpredictable consequences for spawning cycles, and then for ocean biodiversity.

Meanwhile, according to US scientists writing in Geophysical Research Letters, the glaciers of the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica are shedding ice faster than any other part of the region.

Tyler Sutterley, a climate researcher at the University of California Irvine, and NASA space agency colleagues used four sets of observations to confirm the threefold acceleration.

They took their data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, from a NASA airborne project called Operation IceBridge, from an earlier satellite called ICESat, and from readings by the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite.

Loss calculated

The observations spanned the period 1992 to 2013 and enabled the researchers to calculate the total loss of ice, and also the rate of change of that loss.

In all, during that period the continent lost 83 gigatonnes, or 83 billion metric tonnes, of ice per year on average. Since Mount Everest weighs an estimated 161 billion tonnes, this is as if the ice cap lost an Everest’s worth of ice every two years.

After 1992, the rate of loss accelerated by 6.1 billion tonnes a year, and between 2003 and 2009 the melt rate increased by 16.3 gigatonnes a year on average. So the increasing rate of loss is now nearly three times the original figure.

“The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate,” said Isabella Velicogna, Earth system scientist at both UC Irvine and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. – Climate News Network

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Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Brazilian climate expert proposes five-point “battle plan” in a war against the Amazon deforestation that is having increasingly dire impacts on the regional and global climate.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2014 − The relentless destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest will endanger the global climate unless it can be stopped and restored, says a new report by a leading climate scientist.

In an eloquent, hard-hitting scientific assessment report entitled The Future Climate of Amazonia, Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, a researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), traces the climatic potential of the world’s greatest remaining rainforest.

He looks at its critical functions for human society, its destruction through deforestation and fire, and he discusses what needs to be done “to stop the runaway train that the climate has become since human occupation in forest areas”.

The report talks of the Achilles’ heel of Amazonia − the danger that the invincible hero will fall – and warns that its future climate has already arrived. Approximately 20% of Brazil’s Amazon forest has been clear cut, while forest degradation has disturbed the remaining forest to varying degrees − directly affecting an additional 20% or so of the original area.

Forest degradation

Dr Nobre says there are clear indications that a reduction of approximately 40% of the rainforest may trigger a large-scale transition to a savanna landscape over time. “There is no doubt,” he says, “that deforestation, forest degradation and associated impacts have already affected the climate both near and far from the Amazon.”

He spells out the sheer scale of the devastation: the total deforested area is greater than the size of two Germanys or two Japans. It is equal to 184 million football fields – which means that, over the last 40 years, the equivalent of 12,635 football fields have been deforested per day.

Dr Nobre is critical of the Brazilian government’s recent claims that deforestation is falling. He says: “There is no reason whatsoever to celebrate the relatively lower rates of clear-cutting in recent years, especially since − after the adoption of the new Forest Code (2011), with its wide amnesty for those who deforested − a distinct tendency towards further increases in the annual rates has already been observed.”

“We must regenerate, as widely as possible,
all that has been changed and destroyed”

So concerned is Dr Nobre about what is happening that he believes only a virtual war effort can save the rainforest. His battle plan – with ignorance the first enemy to overcome − has five steps:

1.Popularising forest science: On the basis that knowledge is power, scientific facts about the role of the forest in creating a friendly climate, and the effect of deforestation in leading to an inhospitable climate, must become common knowledge.

2. Zero deforestation: The harm deforestation does to human beings and the economic losses it causes should be compared with that of tobacco, Dr Nobre argues. When Brazil introduced a new Forest code that scaled back protection, the consequences of changed land use on the climate were never discussed by the politicians. While economic growth and market demand create pressures that leads to deforestation, planning weaknesses foster the invasion and occupation of forested areas − and all these loopholes must be sealed urgently.

3. An end to fires, smoke and soot: Using fire as a tool for clearing land is a deeply ingrained habit that must be stopped. The fewer sources there are of smoke and soot, the less damage will be done to the formation of clouds and rain, resulting in less damage to the green-ocean rainforest.

4. Recover and regenerate forest: Stopping deforestation is not enough to reverse threatening climate trends. “We must regenerate, as widely as possible, all that has been changed and destroyed,” Dr Nobre says. Reforestation on such a scale implies a reversal of land use in vast areas that are now occupied − difficult in the current scenario − and land zoning technologies will be needed.

5. Governments and society need to wake up: In 2008, when the global financial bubble burst, governments around the world took just 15 days to decide to use trillions of dollars of public funds to save private banks and avoid what threatened to become a collapse of the financial system. The climate crisis has the potential to be immeasurably worse than any financial crash, yet still there is procrastination − despite the abundance of scientific evidence and of viable, creative and appealing solutions.

Unavoidable reality

In a final warning, Dr Nobre’s report predicts that climate chaos “has the potential to be immeasurably more damaging than World War II. What is unthinkable today may become an unavoidable reality sooner than expected.

“China, with all its serious environmental problems, has already understood this and has become the country with the most ongoing reforestation activities.

“Restoring native forests is the best bet we can make against climate chaos, and is the only true insurance policy we can buy.” – Climate News Network

* The Future Climate of Amazonia: Scientific Assessment Report by Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, CCST Earth System Science Centre, Ministry of Science and Technology/National Institute for Space Research.

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New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

Climate change analysts say latest commitments by China, the US and Europe on emissions cuts could mean significant progress towards ensuring that global average temperatures this century will rise less than predicted.

LIMA, 11 December 2014 − This really does appear to be a good news story about climate change − and even the not-so-good qualification that accompanies it still leaves something to celebrate.

Researchers say the post-2020 plans announced recently by China and the US and the European Union mean projected warming during this century is likely to be less than expected. The downside is that, even then, the world will still not be doing enough to limit the increase in average temperatures to below 2˚C.

The research, released at the UN climate change conference currently being held in Lima, comes from the Climate Action Tracker, an independent science-based assessment that tracks countries’ emission commitments and actions. It comes in the form of an assessment by four organisations: Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

International goal

Together, the four groups measured government pledges and actions against what will be needed to limit warming below the agreed international goal of a maximum 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperature levels, and against the goal of bringing warming below 1.5°C by 2100.

China − which recently announced a cap on coal consumption from 2020 − and the US and EU together contribute around 53% of global emissions. If they fully implement their new, post-2020 plans, they would limit global temperature rise to around 3˚C by 2100, which is between 0.2˚C and 0.4˚C lower than it would have been.

Their plans are more ambitious than earlier commitments, and represent what the researchers call “significant progress“. But they won’t limit warming to below 2˚C.

“In the context of increasing momentum towards a global agreement to be adopted in Paris in 2015, this represents a very important first step towards what is needed,” said Bill Hare, executive director of Climate Analytics.

“Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century”

“Tempering this optimism is the large gap that remains between the policies that governments have put in place that will lead to warming of 3.9°C by 2100, compared to the improvements they’ve made in their promises. These new developments indicate an increasing political will to meet the long-term goals.”

Niklas Höhne, founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, said: “We estimate that China will likely achieve its 2020 pledge and the objectives stated for 2030, reaching 20% share of non-fossil fuels in a manner that is consistent with peaking COemissions by 2030. Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century.

“China’s post-2020 emissions levels remain unclear and difficult to quantify. Its peak by 2030 falls somewhat short of a 2°C pathway. However, if emissions peak just five years earlier, this could make a very big difference and move them very close to a 2°C pathway.”

Höhne said that the US, with full implementation of its proposed policies, appears likely to meet its 2020 goal of 17%. But further measures would be needed to meet its newly-proposed 2025 goals.

Ambitious target

The researchers say the EU’s current policies put it on a good trajectory towards meeting its 2020 target. But, with current policies, it is not on track to meet its more ambitious conditional target of a 30% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, and the 40% reduction target by 2030.

They say that governments in countries such as India could do more. Recent discussions indicate that India could be considering putting forward next month a peak year for emissions between 2035 and 2050, which − depending on the level at which this peak occurred − could be consistent with a 2°C pathway.

“We only have a very limited amount of carbon that can be burned by 2050, and we calculate that current policies would exceed this budget by over 60% by that time,” Hare said. “We clearly have a lot of work to do.” − Climate News Network

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India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

While the political spotlight focused on the  world’s two biggest polluters − China and the US − in the run-up to the Lima climate talks, pressure is mounting on India to set emissions targets to help prevent the planet overheating.

NEW DELHI, 10 December, 2014 − India’s contribution to global carbon emissions was only 7% last year, yet there are fears being expressed in the western world that rapid population growth and development will mean this vast country will soon be a major polluter − like its neighbour, China.

For the world, it is a continued worry that if the country soon to have the largest population in the world develops − as China has − by burning coal, climate change will surely get out of control.

No commitments on climate change have so far been made by India, as it waits to see what the developed countries offer to prove they are serious about aid, technology transfer, and targets to reduce their own emissions.

Carbon tax

But while priority in India has been given to development − particularly providing electricity for the millions who live without it − and tackling poverty, the newly-elected government has made a promising start on recognising the importance of climate change.

It has a new energy policy centred on an ambitious increase in solar power capacity − from the current 20,000 megawatts to 100,000 MW in five years. There is a Rupees 5 billion ($80 million) budget this year alone for “ultra mega” solar projects. And a carbon tax on coal has also been doubled for the purpose of subsidising solar and other renewables.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Environment, Forests and Climate Change minister, said before heading for the UN climate change conference being held in Lima, Peru: “This game-changer energy mix will give us enhanced energy efficiency and save 50 million tonnes of coal. That’s a huge contribution to the world, and will affect our emissions. We will walk the clean water, clean air, clean power path.”

“Both solar and coal power will increase,
but that is our energy mix”

There have been reports about a possible announcement next month – when US president Barack Obama visits New Delhi − of the year in which India intends its greenhouse gas emissions to peak.

However, Javadekar refused to set a timeline, despite the apparent pressure after the US-China joint declaration that the US will reduce emissions by 2025 and China’s will peak by 2030. All countries are supposed to inform the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by March 2015 of their action plans for emission reductions.

Javadekar said India is putting in place several action plans for achieving the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions as part of the 2015 agreement. But he made clear that the “peaking year” will not be the benchmark set at Lima; it will be “India’s contribution” − and will be much more than expected.

India, which is expected to surpass China’s current 1.3 billion population by 2030, has always defended its position, as its emissions are less than 2 tonnes per capita, compared with about 7.2 tonnes in China and 16.4 tonnes in the US.

“Our growth cannot be compromised,” Javadekar said. “We have the right to develop, and our priority is to eliminate poverty and meet the aspirations.”

Objections raised

Asked how India will address objections raised by developed countries to it digging more dirty coal, despite its ambitious solar programme, Javadekar insisted: “We are not going on the ‘business as usual’ path − although we are entitled to it. Both solar and coal power will increase, but that is our energy mix. We are doing our own actions under domestic legislations.”

There is a rift at the Lima talks between the developed and the developing countries on the issue of capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund under the 2015 Paris agreement, and this has already seen the G77 group of nations banding together.

Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment thinktank, referred to this in talking about the “politics of climate change”, and how the global south is being short-changed by the global north.

She said climate change talks are about achieving clean economic growth, but, 25 years after talks began, the world is “still procrastinating and finding excuses not to act”. – Climate News Network

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

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Debate heats up on risk of frozen fossil fuel assets

Debate heats up on risk of frozen fossil fuel assets

Investors are wondering whether putting money into fossil fuels makes sense – and the same question is now being asked by heavy hitters in the banking industry.

LONDON, 9 December, 2014 − In a move that’s likely to cause consternation in some of the world’s most powerful corporate boardrooms, the Bank of England has disclosed that it is launching an inquiry into the risks fossil fuel companies pose to overall financial stability.

Mark Carney, governor of the UK’s central bank, has written to British Members of Parliament telling them that his officials have been discussing whether or not coal, oil and gas reserves held by the fossil fuel industry are, in fact, unburnable.

“In light of these discussions, we will be deepening and widening our inquiry into the topic,” Carney says.

The burning of fossil fuels releases hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Catastrophic change

The idea is that if global warming is to be tackled and catastrophic climate change averted, such energy resources will have to be left where they are − under the ground. They will, in effect, become frozen or stranded financial assets.

Carney’s letter, written at the end of the October this year but only recently made public, is addressed to the British parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.

Carney tells the Committee – which has been carrying out its own investigation into the frozen assets question – that a special unit within the Bank of England responsible for identifying and reducing risks in the financial system, will also be considering the issue “as part of its regular horizon-scanning work on financial stability risks”.

Joan Walley, the head of the Audit Committee, told London’s Financial Times that investors should consider what effect regulatory action on climate change would have on their fossil fuel investments.

“Reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly”

“Policy makers and now central banks are waking up to the fact that much of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly,” Walley said.

A growing number of senior figures in the financial community – some of them controlling many millions of dollars worth of investment funds – have been pressing fossil fuel companies to disclose how investments would be affected if energy reserves became frozen or stranded by regulatory moves associated with tackling climate change.

Carbon Tracker, a not-for-profit thinktank based in London, has been warning of what it sees as the dangers to investors and to the entire financial system of continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.

Vulnerability of assets

“The Bank of England has set a new standard for all central banks and financial regulators on climate risks by agreeing to examine, for the first time, the vulnerability that fossil fuel assets could pose to the stability of the financial system in a carbon constrained world,” Carbon Tracker says.

The question of stranded or frozen assets has been raised at the latest round of global negotiations on climate change taking place in Lima, Peru.

Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN’s Climate Change Secretariat, told the Reuters news agency that the long-term goal of negotiations must be the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2100 – a goal that could not be achieved unless most fossil fuels were left in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them,” Figueres said. –Climate News Network

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Plea for South Asia to unite in fight against climate risks

Plea for South Asia to unite in fight against climate risks

Saleem Shaikh

South Asia, one of the world’s most populous and disaster-prone regions, faces dire impacts from climate change. So why are its nations not working together to tackle the many shared threats they face?

LIMA, 8 December, 2014 − The countries of South Asia need to stand together in their efforts to push for more finance from the developed world to help them adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change,  a prominent regional expert says.

Saleemul Huq, from Bangladesh, a lead negotiator for the group of Least Developed Countries told a fringe meeting at the UN climate change conference in Lima, Peru, that South Asia countries face a range of climate-related events.

“Countries in the region must co-ordinate climate action to cope with adverse climate impacts, such as flash floods, forest fires, cyclones, migration and sea-level rise.” said Huq, senior fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The South Asia region is home to more than one-fifth of the globe’s population, but is also regarded as one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, Huq told delegates.

Substantial rise

Temperature projections for the region for the 21st century indicate a substantial rise in warming, with recent modelling showing that the warming would be particularly significant in the high Himalayas, on the Tibetan Plateau, and across arid regions of Asia.

“Extreme weather events are also forecast across the region” said Huq. “This is likely to include an increase in the interannual variability of precipitation during the Asian summer monsoon period.”

In turn, Huq said, this will negatively impact on crop yields throughout the region, as already crops in many areas are already being grown at close to their temperature tolerance threshold.

In its latest assessment, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified the South Asia region as one of the areas most vulnerable to warming.

“Developing states have to have technical support in order to hammer out their climate adaptation plans”

In the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau, rates of glacial melting are increasing. The incidence of flooding is likely to grow, although there is the possibility, over the long term, of drought affecting billions of people in one of the most densely-populated areas on Earth.

Co-operation between the region’s countries on climate change is minimal. Pakistan and India, for example, remain deeply suspicious of each other, and data on such key issues as river flows and erosion rates are classified as state secrets.

China and India are competing for water resources, and large-scale dam building programmes in both countries are creating environmental tensions in the region.

Competing interests

Less powerful countries in the area – such as Bangladesh and Nepal – are squeezed between the competing interests of their powerful neighbours.

Harjeet Singh, a New Delhi-based representative of the Action Aid  charity, told delegates that South Asian countries must use their combined influence to pressure world leaders to reach a legally-binding climate agreement in 2015.

Singh told the Climate News Network that a new agreement was a matter of urgency, and  that developed countries must also fulfill their commitments to help developing countries with adaptation measures.

Manjeet Dhakal, a director of the Clean Energy Nepal research organisation, said a new agreement must address the needs of the vulnerable. “The regional countries and other developing states,” he said, “have to have technical support in order to hammer out their climate adaptation plans. They also need the financial support to put those plans into action.” – Climate News Network

  • Saleem Shaikh is a freelance climate change and science journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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