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Water Shortages To Be Key Environmental Challenge Of The Century, NASA Warns

21 May, 2018 - 19:38
The Guardian

Freshwater supplies have already seriously declined in 19 global hotspots – from China to the Caspian Sea – due to overuse, groundbreaking study shows
The Theewaterskloof Dam, a key source of water supply to Cape Town, South Africa ahead of the current water crisis. Photograph: Halden Krog/AP Water shortages are likely to be the key environmental challenge of this century, scientists from NASA have warned, as new data has revealed a drying-out of swaths of the globe between the tropics and the high latitudes, with 19 hotspots where water depletion has been dramatic.
Areas in northern and eastern India, the Middle East, California and Australia are among the hotspots where overuse of water resources has caused a serious decline in the availability of freshwater that is already causing problems. Without strong action by governments to preserve water the situation in these areas is likely to worsen.
Some of these hotspots were previously undocumented or poorly understood: a region in north-western China, in Xinjiang province, has suffered dramatic declines despite receiving normal amounts of rainfall, owing to groundwater depletion from industry and irrigation.

NASA has identified more than 30 hotspots where freshwater is in particular danger
Guardian graphic. Source: NASAThe Caspian Sea was also found to be showing strong declines owing to similar forces, which is resulting in a shrinking shoreline. Previously, this change had been attributed to natural variability, but the new report demonstrates it was caused in large part by the diversion and extraction of water from rivers that feed it, for agriculture and industry. This depletion mirrors the well-known fate of the disappearing Aral Sea in the same region: because the Caspian Sea is much bigger it would take millennia to disappear altogether, but its shrinking shoreline and pollution will cause major problems throughout its borderlands.

Shrinking Aral Sea 2000-2017. The shoreline had already greatly receded in 2000.Credits: Modis/Terra/NASAThe comprehensive study, the first of its kind, took data from the NASA Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite mission to track trends in freshwater from 2002 to 2016 across the globe.
“What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change. We see for the first time a very distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter, in the high latitudes and the tropics, and the dry areas in between getting drier,” said James Famiglietti, of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and co-author of the paper published today in Nature. “Within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”
Climate scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have predicted such a global trend. The new paper’s authors said it was too soon to confirm whether their observations were definitely the result of global warming, but said their results showed a “clear human fingerprint” on the global water cycle.
The study is unprecedented, as the Grace data allowed the scientists to see in detail the changes in freshwater resources around the world, even where locally amassed data has been scarce or unavailable. By linking the satellite data with local monitoring, they added another crucial dimension.
Marc Stutter, of the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, who was not involved with the study, said: “Such new data add insight into how we manage both obvious surface waters and hidden subsurface water stores [as] the satellite techniques see vital hidden water reserves under our feet, much like an x-ray to see the health of our unseen water reserves.”
He said it provided an early warning that could allow better management of water resources across the world, which was needed.
In northern India, groundwater extraction for irrigation of crops such as wheat and rice have caused a rapid decline in available water, despite rainfall being normal throughout the period studied. “The fact that extractions already exceed recharge during normal precipitation does not bode well for the availability of groundwater during future droughts,” the authors said, adding that the much-discussed melting of Himalayan glaciers was of only minor significance in the period studied.
In Iraq and Syria, widespread over-reliance on groundwater has resulted from the construction by Turkey of 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, over the last three decades. This has made the area the biggest hotspot identified by the study, outside of sparsely or uninhabited regions such as Antarctica and Greenland, with water resources nearly a third below their normal state.
A boy walks through a dried up irrigation dyke in the village of Sayyed Dakhil in southern Iraq where drought threatens agriculture and livelihoods. Photograph: Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty ImagesJonathan Farr, senior policy analyst at the charity WaterAid, said governments must take note of the findings and increase their role in preserving water resources and providing freshwater to people in a sustainable manner. “This report is a warning and an insight into a future threat. We need to ensure that investment in water keeps pace with industrialisation and farming. Governments need to get to grips with this,” he said, pointing to estimates that between $30bn and $100bn of investment was needed per year to provide freshwater where needed.
Sustainable solutions were available, he said. “We have been solving the problem of getting access to water resources since civilisation began. We know how to do it. We just need to manage it, and that has to be done at a local level.”
Providing access to clean water provides knock-on benefits to health, education, equity and the economy, he added, so investment in water assets yields both economic and social dividends.

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Adapt Or Die: Can Evolution Outrun Climate Change?

21 May, 2018 - 12:22
CBS News



Across the planet, animal and plant species are on the run. A rapidly changing climate is shifting when and where plants blossom, and forcing creatures big and small to migrate and learn new tactics for survival.
It's a trend that's likely to accelerate as scientists expect to see more extreme weather events — intensifying storms and droughts, and greater temperature fluctuations on land and sea. To understand the impact, researchers are flocking to a unique, living lab: the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos, a remote, rocky archipelago 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, are home to animals that don't exist anywhere else in the world — animals so unique that they inspired Charles Darwin to formulate the theory of evolution after his famous voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in the 1830s.
Species like giant tortoises, marine iguanas, flightless cormorants and finches with finely-tuned beaks evolved in isolation here over millions of years — since long before humans walked the Earth. But today, those that fail to adapt to their changing environment within the space of a few brief generations may face the prospect of extinction.
An iguana perches on the Galapagos' rocky coast. CBS NewsCBSN Originals traveled to the Galapagos to see firsthand how the effects of both climate change and adaptation are playing out right now.

The coral detective
Marine biologist Jon Witman from Brown University comes to the Galapagos regularly to monitor the effects of climate change on the evolutionary process.
"It's been stated that the Galapagos is the natural laboratory for evolution. And we're saying that it's a natural laboratory for studying climate change and evolutionary responses to climate change," Witman told CBS News' Adam Yamaguchi.
He said evolutionary changes that once unfolded over hundreds of thousands of years are now happening before our eyes.
"It's a major new perspective in evolutionary biology and ecology, because it's forcing ecologists like me to think about adaptation and natural selection on the period of ten years or so," he said.
Witman's team is focused on understanding the impact underwater, diving to inspect the health of coral reefs and see how changes in water temperature may be shaping changes in marine species.
Part of what they're looking for is the impact of repeated El Niño systems, which he calls "the greatest modulator of climate on the planet." El Niño is a complex weather phenomenon that results in a warming of Pacific Ocean waters, which can devastate marine populations. Its counterpart, La Niña, cools the water and helps foster growth and recovery in the ecosystem.
These warming and cooling cycles test the resilience of species to withstand opposite extremes.
Coral will bleach and eventually die if the water becomes too warm or too cold. And since 90 percent of marine species — from algae all the way up the food chain — rely on the habitat of coral reefs, the consequences are far-reaching.

Creatures that could disappear with the Great Barrier Reef 1/16
Pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus Bargibanti)This minute master of camouflage survives by adapting its body to closely resemble sea fans, the soft coral it calls home.It's just one of the many creatures that could disappear along with the Great Barrier Reef because of global warming. Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Witman is concerned about evidence that climate change may make the naturally-occurring El Niño and La Niña cycles more frequent and more extreme — pushing nature's resilience to a breaking point. Will animals be able to cope?
"That's the $64 million question that we want to answer," he said. "Yes and no. I think the no part is that the El Niño stress may recur so frequently that the species that are stressed don't have enough time to recover before the next El Niño comes.
"There's no doubt we are in an unprecedented period of global stress in terms of climate impacts. And basically  the natural world is being hit by what I call the big three. Certainly climate change is up there. Habitat destruction by humans is absolutely key. And we're also adding pollution to the ecosystem. It sounds pretty grim, and it is grim."

The penguin wrangler
There are fewer than 1,000 Galapagos penguins on the islands, and Gustavo Jimenez is on a mission to capture every last one of them. The researcher and his team work day and night to chase down and scoop up the birds so that they can be measured and studied, then released back into the wild.
"We're worried what happening in the planet. The planet is just — is one, just one house for everybody, for every species. So we know we need to protect them," Jimenez said.
He's tracking the health of the penguins and whether they're having babies. The data he gathers on this endangered species will be critical to understanding how the changing climate may affect their feeding and breeding patterns — and may help find clues to evolutionary changes the species is undergoing.
Their survival is not assured. The planet is currently experiencing one of the greatest extinction events since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. While extinction is a natural phenomenon, with one to five species historically being lost each year, these days it's occurring at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. Dozens of species worldwide are being lost forever every single day.
The Galapagos Islands are home to many unique bird species. CBS NewsIt's a threat potentially facing the flightless cormorant, a bird Yamaguchi calls an "oddity of evolution." Somewhere around two million years ago, its evolutionary path diverged from other cormorants and it lost the ability to fly. The Galapagos cormorants didn't need to fly; they could find all the food they needed in the waters off the islands' jagged rocks, so they developed powerful legs and webbed feet to help them become strong swimmers instead.
Penguins share those rocks, nesting in pairs in the cave-like crevices. Jimenez said climate change is having a noticeable impact on them, forcing penguins to move their nests to higher ground. The researchers keep a record of each location.
The penguins' ability to adapt — which helped this species thrive near the equator while most penguins chill in Antarctica — offers their best hope for the future. But this time around, they may not have millions of years to figure it out.
"Maybe the time is smaller than before, and the problem is how they could adapt … in that short time," Jimenez said.

Darwin's finches today
Researcher Jaime Chaves is a self-described "bird geek" who's taken an interest in studying Darwin's finches — the very species that helped inspire Charles Darwin's landmark book, "The Origin of Species," in 1859.
Darwin documented how the beaks of these small birds varied from island to island to take advantage of available food sources. Those with sharp beaks feasted on insects while others with short, stout beaks plucked seeds from the ground. Natural selection meant those best suited to their environments thrived and multiplied, while others struggled and died out. Eventually they developed into 14 distinct species.
Chaves and his team string up very fine netting between the trees to capture finches for study.
"We're gonna analyze and collect the data on their morphology, that is, how different their beaks are," he explained. "The beak shape is one of those traits in birds that is so key because it will determine the fate of that group."
Chaves and his students track minute changes, year to year, in the shapes and sizes of the finches' beaks as the flocks adapt to the varieties of food available. Those with inadequate beaks don't survive. And because the finches breed two or three generations every year, "in so little time, you can see evolution in action," he said.
These rapid adaptations may give it an advantage for survival in a changing world. In 2017, researchers discovered that an entirely new species had been formed when a wayward bird mated with another finch species and produced offspring. Chaves expects to see more of that happening globally as various species migrate.
But it won't always work. "Many species will not be able to make it," he said, echoing the concerns Jimenez expressed for the penguins and Witman for the coral ecosystem. "For many species in which you have this limitation of time, you might be too late."
It may be the ultimate test of the survival of the fittest, and many species — even our own — could lose out.
"I think the issue right now that we have is that the changes are happening in such a short period of time. The same amount of change that you've seen happening in a couple of millions of years has happened in the last 40 years," Chaves said. "From our perspective of humans, we have understand that it's our responsibility that these changes are happening because [of] our own mishandling of the planet."
It's no longer enough for animals to evolve. They have to adapt now, adapt fast — or die.

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The EU's Plan To Set A Goal Of Zero-Emissions By 2050 Could Be A Big Deal For Climate Action

21 May, 2018 - 09:17
Quartz - Akshat Rathi

Reuters/Maxim ShemetovWhen the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015, it was a milestone in taking action against climate change. It set a clear goal—to keep global average temperatures from rising above 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels—and got every country on board (including the US, which can’t leave the accord till 2020).
And, yet, despite the progress, in 2017, the United Nations said that most countries are far behind on emissions reductions. When the world set a new record high for greenhouse-gas emissions in the same year, it lent support to the belief that if more ambitious targets are not set soon, then we will cross the crucial 2°C and face climate catastrophe.
Now the EU, the third largest emitter in the world, is standing up to the challenge. Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU climate head, announced in a blog post that the bloc is aiming to cut emissions to zero by 2050. The goal already has the backing of the European Parliament, and the EU will be launching public consultations within the next few weeks.
If the EU succeeds in binding itself to the target, it could be a big deal for climate action. Though smaller countries both within the EU and outside have committed to a zero-emissions goal— the EU would be the largest emitter to commit to it. It would set a benchmark for other countries to shape their policies for such a goal. As Quartz reported previously:
The zero-emissions goal is acknowledged in Article 4 of the text of the Paris climate agreement, though it doesn’t set a date for when the world should reach that target (it does say that rich countries need to get there sooner than poor ones). Most scientists agree that the zero-emissions target date for the world as a whole should likely be early in the second half of the century.Previously, the EU had committed to cutting emissions by up to 95% of 1990 levels by 2050. It may seem like the previous goal is quite close to zero emissions, but the task of cutting emissions gets much harder the closer you try to get to zero.
That’s because it would mean cutting all emissions in sectors that currently don’t have effective technological means to achieve it. Take aviation—we currently don’t have any viable zero-emissions planes for passenger travel. In other cases, if we do have technology to cut emissions, then it is quite expensive. Take the cement industry—it produces carbon dioxide because of the use of its raw materials (beyond fossil fuels), and the only way to reduce its emissions are through capturing the carbon dioxide and storing it underground. There are only a handful of small cement plants testing the technology and hoping they can find ways to make it cheaper for larger scale deployment.
To be sure, it’s important to clarify that the EU’s goal is to get to “net-zero” emissions. It means that, by 2050, there may still be some permissible greenhouse-gas emissions for industries or sectors that haven’t found a viable alternative. But those emissions will have to be offset through negative-emissions technology, which will require capturing carbon dioxide from the air. Unlike an electric airplane, negative-emissions technology is not fantasy. There are three companies that boast of its commercial use, but it does come at a high cost.

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Scholar: Dumping Fossil Fuels By 2050 Needed To Save Climate

20 May, 2018 - 14:17
Washington PostMenelaos Hadjicostis Associated Press



NICOSIA, Cyprus — Getting rid of fossil fuels by mid-century and making the switch to large-scale renewable energy sources and nuclear power offers the best chance of meeting the climate change targets set out by the Paris accord, a prominent American economist said Friday.
Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs said the world’s ways of producing and using energy need to change “much faster, much more dramatically” than political leaders looking to tap hydrocarbon reserves understand.
“So, if we want to move to zero emissions we better get the idea to move away from fossil fuels faster than Shell oil company thinks we can,” Sachs told a conference in the Cypriot capital on the climate change challenges faced by Mediterranean countries and the Middle East.
Sachs said climate change bringing desertification, drought, crop failures and rising sea levels are putting the region’s agriculture “in dire threat.”
“It’s worked well for the last 8,000 years and we’re going to ruin it in this generation, and that’s crazy,” said Sachs, who also serves as an adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on sustainable development.
“This is the tinder of conflict, of mass migration, or all the things we don’t handle decently,” he added.
Sachs says the best approach is to set up interconnected power grids where emissions-free electricity from renewable energy sources in one region could be transmitted elsewhere.
For instance, an interconnected grid would enable North African and the Middle Eastern countries harnessing their ample solar power potential to transmit generated electricity to colder and less sunny northern Europe.
Sachs hailed China as the current world leader in the energy interconnection project and urged Europe to draw up similar plans.
Although opposing exploitation of east Mediterranean gas deposits, he urged countries moving ahead with such projects to take steps and steeply curb carbon emissions while preparing their economies for carbon-free electricity generation to fire up everything from cars, to ships and factories.
Sachs, who also heads Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said Mediterranean countries could work together to draw up proposals on mitigating the challenges they face and submit them to a high-level U.N. climate summit set for September, 2019.

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'Going Backwards': A Third Of Protected Land At Risk As Australia Lags

20 May, 2018 - 12:09
FairfaxPeter Hannam

Almost a third of the world's protected lands face intense pressure from humans with even rich nations such as Australia failing to conserve key biodiversity, a new study by Australian scientists has found.
The research, published in Science on Friday, found that while declared protected zones had quadrupled in size in the past quarter century, much of that land enjoyed little protection from farming, logging or other human intervention.
“One third of that land is in a terrible state, doing nothing for biodiversity conservation," said James Watson, interim director of the University of Queensland's Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science and an author of the report.
"Nations across the world are exaggerating in an incredible way their contribution to solving the biodiversity crisis.”
Threats from expanding slash and burn agriculture are placing pressure on many national parks around the world, even the better managed ones such as Niassa Reserve in Mozambique. Photo: World Conservation Society/UQThe study claims to be first to examine in high resolution - using satellite imagery and other data - the world's 202,000 protected areas that account for almost 15 per cent of land.
"We couldn't have done this study 10 years ago," Professor Watson said. "Nations need to realise they're going to be held more and more to account."

Search for funds
Among the examples are the Tsavo east and west national parks in Kenya.
The reserve was established in 1948 and now has a railway built through it, with plans to establish a six-lane highway to parallel it. Animals at risk include the eastern black rhinoceros and Tsavo lions, whose adult males often lack manes.
The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras had lost about 300 square kilometres to illegal agriculture and infrastructure. The area includes some of Central America's last surviving areas of undisturbed rainforest, and is home to king vultures, jaguar and mantled howler and spider monkeys.
Nations should address rising human pressures - including from climate change - not by defunding national parks but stepping up support for regions that were important for economic and social wellbeing, and the natural capital they contain, the paper said.
"Funding could also be increased through mechanisms that allow nations to trade or offset conservation funding and commitments, so wealthy nations can support conservation in poorer nations," it said.

'Massively degraded'
Australia's track record was notably poor, with mining permitted in national parks - such as Kakadu - and cattle allowed into conservation areas in places such as the Carnarvon Gorge in Western Australia and alpine reserves in Victoria.
"At least 15 per cent of Australia’s protected areas are massively degraded," Professor Watson said.
“Australia, unless a miracle occurs, will always be going backwards, because there’s no injection of cash to get the objectives we need.”
Recent federal budgets have included deep cuts to conservation spending with at least 60 officers involved in biodiversity cut in the 2017 budget, said James Trezise, healthy ecosystems policy co-ordinator for Australian Conservation Foundation.
"Some places that we think are safe and free from development are quite clearly at significant exposure," Mr Trezise said.
Australia's track record on biodiversity conservation is poor, even in some protected areas. Photo: Goongerah Environment Centre, GippslandThose cutbacks extend to marine areas too, with the Turnbull government responsible for the largest reversal of such protections in the world in changes announced in April, he said.
The Murray Valley National Park in NSW is also at risk of being de-gazetted, with the local Nationals MP Austin Evans campaigning to turn the area into a state forest open to logging.
Oisin Sweeney, science officer for the National Parks Association, said that as a wealthy nation, Australia "could be doing a hell of a lot better" in preserving its rich biodiversity.
"Massive" budget cuts to the National Reserve System had also weakened "the biggest single tool to acquire national park land", while states such as NSW had deliberately been reducing the numbers of experienced park rangers, Dr Sweeney said.
Mr Trezise said NSW, Victoria and Tasmania had also been accelerating efforts to open up national parks to development such as resorts and projects such as a cable car up Mt Wellington near Hobart.

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What Is Climate Change? The Definition, Causes And Effects

20 May, 2018 - 11:43
Wired

Climate change is one of the biggest crises facing humanity. Let's all get a grip on exactly what it is
Getty Images / David McNew / StringerClimate change is the catch-all term for the shift in worldwide weather phenomena associated with an increase in global average temperatures. It's real and temperatures have been going up around the world for many decades.
Reliable temperature records began in 1850 and our world is now about one degree Celcius hotter than it was in the period between 1850 and 1900 – commonly referred to as the "pre-industrial" average.
The change is even more visible over a shorter time period – compared to average temperatures between 1961 and 1990, 2017 was 0.68 degrees warmer, while 2016 was 0.8 degrees warmer, thanks to an extra boost from the naturally-occurring El Niño weather system.
While this temperature increase is more specifically referred to as global warming, climate change is the term currently favoured by science communicators, as it explicitly includes not only Earth's increasing global average temperature, but also the climate effects caused by this increase.
Global efforts are now focussed on keeping temperatures from increasing more than two degrees above that pre-industrial average, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees. That goal may still be possible if the international community pulls together.

What are the effects of climate change?
Worsening drought conditions are having a major impact on farmers in South Africa's Western Cape region. Morgana Wingard/Getty ImagesThe effects of anthropogenic – human-caused – climate change range from more frequent and severe droughts to snowstorms and extreme winter weather in temperate regions as a result of warming Arctic weather fronts.
It's not only humans that are affected. Warming ocean temperatures are increasing the frequency of coral reef bleaching; warmer, drier weather means that forests in some regions are no longer recovering from wildfires and wildlife habitats around the world are becoming less hospitable to animals.
Climate change is having economic and socio-political effects, too. Food security is already being impacted in a number of African countries and researchers are studying suggestive links between climate change and an increased likelihood of military conflict.
We're already seeing the first climate refugees as people are displaced by rising sea levels, melting Arctic permafrost and other extreme weather.

What are the causes of climate change?
We are. While a wide range of natural phenomena can radically affect the climate, publishing climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that global warming and resultant climate effects that we're witnessing are the result of human activity.
Life on Earth is dependent on an atmospheric "greenhouse" – a layer of gasses, primarily water vapour, in the lower atmosphere that trap heat from the sun as it's reflected back from the Earth, radiating it back and keeping our planet at a temperature capable of supporting life.
Human activity is currently generating an excess of long-lived greenhouse gasses that – unlike water vapour – don't dissipate in response to temperature increases, resulting in a continuing buildup of heat.
Key greenhouse gasses include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide is the best-known, with natural sources including decomposition and animal respiration. The main source of excess carbon dioxide emissions is the burning of fossil fuels, while deforestation has reduced the amount of plant life available to turn CO2 into oxygen.
Methane, a more potent but less abundant greenhouse gas, enters the atmosphere from farming – both from animals such as cattle and arable farming methods including traditional rice paddies – and from fossil fuel exploration and abandoned oil and gas wells.
Chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons – once widely used in industrial applications and home appliances such as refrigerators – were key greenhouse gasses released during the 20th century, but are now heavily regulated due to their severe impact on the atmosphere, which includes ozone depletion, as well as trapping heat in the lower atmosphere.
Our warming climate is also creating a feedback loop as greenhouse gasses trapped in Arctic permafrost are released.

Why is climate denial a thing?
August 29 2017: People wade along a flooded street as cars become stuck during heavy rain in Mumbai. Imtiyaz Shaikh /Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesFor many years, oil companies were heavily invested in pushing the narrative that fossil fuels did not have an impact on climate change. To this end, they bought advertising and funded organisations to cast doubt on climate change, even while their own research conclusively showed that fossil fuels are a major contributing cause of climate change.
This is still playing out in ongoing lawsuits against oil companies, but even giants such as Chevron now publicly acknowledge the role that fossil fuel use has played in changing our climate. Now, their key defence is that it's the fault of fossil fuel consumers for using it, rather than of the companies that extracted, marketed and profited from oil.

Definition of Climate Change
Nasa defines climate change as: "a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea level rise; ice mass loss in Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic and mountain glaciers worldwide; shifts in flower/plant blooming; and extreme weather events."

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Earth Just Had Its 400th Straight Warmer-Than-Average Month Thanks To Global Warming

19 May, 2018 - 13:49
USA TODAY


NOAA climate scientists say April 2018 marked the planet's 400th consecutive month with above-average temperatures. USA TODAY

It was December 1984, and President Reagan had just been elected to his second term, Dynasty was the top show on TV and Madonna's Like a Virgin topped the musical charts.
It was also the last time the Earth had a cooler-than-average month.
Last month marked the planet's 400th consecutive month with above-average temperatures, federal scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday.
The cause for the streak? Unquestionably, it’s climate change, caused by humanity's burning of fossil fuels.
"We live in and share a world that is unequivocally, appreciably and consequentially warmer than just a few decades ago, and our world continues to warm," said NOAA climate scientist Deke Arndt. "Speeding by a '400' sign only underscores that, but it does not prove anything new."
Climate scientists use the 20th-century average as a benchmark for global temperature measurements. That's because it's fixed in time, allowing for consistent "goal posts" when reviewing climate data. It's also a sufficiently long period to include several cycles of climate variability.
"The thing that really matters is that, by whatever metric, we've spent every month for several decades on the warm side of any reasonable baseline," Arndt said.
NOAA's analysis found last month was the 3rd-warmest April on record globally. The unusual heat was most noteworthy in Europe, which had its warmest April on record, and Australia, which had its second-warmest.
Photo: Rajat Gupta, EPA-EFEPortions of Asia also experienced some extreme heat: In southern Pakistan, the town of Nawabshah soared to a scalding 122.4 degrees on April 30, which may have been the warmest April temperature on record for the globe, according to Meteo France.
Argentina also had its warmest April since national records began there in 1961.
North America was the one part of the world that didn't get in on the heat parade. Last month, the average U.S. temperature was 48.9 degrees, 2.2 degrees below average, "making it the 13th-coldest April on record and the coldest since 1997," NOAA said.
For the year-to-date, the Earth is seeing its 5th-warmest start to the year.
A separate analysis of global temperature data from NASA also found last month was the third-warmest April on record.
Another milestone was reached in April, also related to the number "400": Carbon dioxide — the gas scientists say is most responsible for global warming — reached its highest level in recorded history at 410 parts per million.
This amount is highest in at least the past 800,000 years, according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
The Earth had its 3rd-warmest April on record, both NOAA and NASA said. Red areas are warmer-than-average. North America was the one part of the world that saw unusually cool temperatures in April. (Photo: NASA)Links
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Population Control, The Environmental Fix No One Wants To Talk About

19 May, 2018 - 05:27
Les Echos (translation WORLDCRUNCH) - Gérard Maarek

Climate change is a real and alarming problem. But there's another — and intimately related — ticking time bomb threatening our planet: overpopulation. 
Rickshaws in Dhaka, Bangladesh Suvra Kanti Das/ZUMA

PARIS — More than 250 years ago — on Nov. 1, 1755 — a high-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami and fire ravaged the city of Lisbon, killing some 60,000 people. It also prompted a passionate, philosophical debate between two of Europe's leading thinkers of the time: Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
To Voltaire, the catastrophe represented the cruel hand of fate and the unfathomable decree of Providence — further evidence of just how miserable the human condition really is. Rousseau, on the other hand, saw urban expansion and population density as playing a key role in the death and destruction. It stemmed from an overall excess of civilization and separation from nature, he reasoned.
It's easy, nowadays, to dismiss the position taken by the author of Zadig. And yet, people are still reluctant to side with Rousseau and to endorse the radical criticisms of the Reveries of a Solitary Walker. Perhaps they should reconsider though. Have they not noticed the consistent increase in the frequency of natural disasters, their explosive costs — a record $306 billion dollars in 2017 — and the growing number of victims to mourn?
Contemporary thinkers are satisfied instead with the unambiguous explanation that human activity generates greenhouse gas, which causes global warming. With a few modifications, the thinking holds, we can arrange everything just so and solve the problem. But this all-too-casual chain of thought is questionable in more ways than one.
The human species has taken over the entire animal kingdom.First, not all natural disasters can be attributed to the climate. Consider the Asian tsunami in 2004 that took 250,000 lives, or the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
Second, if these cataclysms are causing more and more damage, it's also because they reach denser population centers and ruin more expensive infrastructure and equipment.
Third, the extinction of numerous animal species is less linked to global warming and more to mankind's direct impact on our ecosystems (urbanization, overfishing, hunting, chemical pollution, etc.). The human species has taken over the entire animal kingdom.
Demographics is the "blind spot" of environmental politics. While the right side of the brain debates the maximum temperature threshold the world can handle, the left side of the brain contemplates the skyrocketing projection of population increase.
For example, between 1990 and 2014, global CO2 emissions increased by 58%, but only by 15% per capita. The increase in the population thus contributed nearly three-quarters of the growth. And yet, the Climate Change Conference in Paris (or COP21) completely ignored the issue.
Train station in Beijing  Photo: Pan Kanjun/Xinhua/ZUMAThe reasons behind this attitude are multiple and profoundly rooted in our collective unconscious. For one thing, a numerous population used to be a synonym of power. It meant a workforce for agriculture, a reservoir of manpower for the industry, and a way of expanding the ranks of the army. And some of that thinking still holds sway. Why would one country try to limit its rate of population growth if its neighbors practice the opposite?
Demography is all about externalities. For a while those externalities were positive: More people gathering in cities and working in factories led to greater production and even more jobs. But there are negatives as well.
The birth of a child affects the future of every other person on the planet. Once a baby is born, we feel compelled to stand in solidarity with that child no matter what happens. Then, when she becomes an adult, she'll contribute to the increasing anthropic pressure, not only in her neighborhood but the entire planet as well.
These questions may not be politically correct, but they need to be asked. Today, we are without a doubt at the inflection point at which the negative externalities prevail. To combat this, there are two possible strategies: A ban that threatens penalties or promises incentives. China wasted no time enacting the first strategy with the one-child policy, which promoted economic growth. India also tried this is the 1970s with limited success. Today, 1.35 billion people live in India, triple what it was 50 years ago.
Elsewhere in the world, we just wait for quality-of-life improvements to dissuade couples from having multiple children. This strategy has worked quite well in the West, vastly lowering the fertility rate, and has also taken effect, more recently, in Asia and the Middle East. But the inertia of the demographic phenomenon is great.
Africa is lagging behind, contributing to nearly 60% of the expected global population increase by 2050 (+1.3 billion people). Family planning policies remain principally ineffective.
Is procreation an unequivocal human right? The Universal Declaration does not explicitly say so. It is limited instead to the vague statement of the right to marriage and the foundation of a family (Article 16). Should we leave it to individual states to decide their own familial policies? These questions may not be politically correct, but they need to be asked.
Developed countries — the biggest polluters — are ready to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. A wedge formula shows that if each country were to stabilize its CO2 emissions per capita today, the global volume would still increase 16% by 2050 as a result of population increase. Conversely, to maintain the volume at the level it is at today, developing countries could maintain their emission levels if developed countries agreed to decrease their emissions by 40%.
This shows that the challenge is large and that we should welcome more control over population growth.
The solution must be tailored to accommodate developing countries, especially those in Africa (Article 7 of the Paris Accord). Will such an incentive system suffice? Will more coercive measures be necessary to avoid the explosion of the "demographic bomb" and its fallout in terms of wars and uncontrollable migratory movements?
What does seem clear is that if we fail to meet this challenge, future generations will realize, sooner rather than later, that the real "mother of all disasters" isn't climate change, per se, but overpopulation.

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Corporations To Lead Charge Into Wind, Solar And Storage

18 May, 2018 - 19:17
RenewEconomy


Renewable energy production from Australian businesses has more than doubled over the last two years, and nearly half are making the switch to wind and/or solar to take control over their electricity bills and to help reduce emissions.
A new survey from the Climate Council says the massive shift to wind and solar is happening because electricity bills are soaring and wind and solar and storage offer an affordable and reliable solution.
In Australia, 46 per cent of businesses are looking to turn to wind and solar, many are looking for those technologies to provide the bulk of their power needs, and they are also looking at storage and electric vehicles.
“This report shows that the rising cost of energy is the number one concern for Australian businesses over the next decade,” says the Climate Council’s Greg Bourne, a former chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
“So it’s no surprise that a variety of businesses from bakeries to breweries, and tech agencies to chilli and chicken farms, are all turning to affordable renewable energy and storage solutions.
“These businesses are actively investing in renewable energy in a bid to cut costs and take control of their power bills, while also playing a crucial role in transitioning the nation away from ageing, polluting and unreliable fossil fuels.”
The role of corporations is expected to be one of the key factors in the future of large-scale and distributed renewable energy projects over the coming decade, particularly if the federal government fails to lift its emissions reduction targets for 2030.
Right now, the government is seeking to lock in a 26 per cent cut in electricity emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, through its National Energy Guarantee.
But most independent analysis say this target will be largely met by the renewable energy target by 2020 – meaning little incentive for further construction in the following 10 years.
That leaves only state-based targets such as Victoria, Queensland, and the Northern Territory, and the underlying push from households and businesses turning to renewables and storage to address their electricity bills.
A total of 46,000 Australian businesses have already installed solar energy, and this has mostly been in relatively small-scale rooftop arrays, although the pace of this uptake has accelerated dramatically in the last 12-18 months, as this graph below illustrates.

According to the Clean Energy Regulator, the amount of rooftop solar installed by businesses (arrays of up to 1MW) will increase five fold in 2018 to around 100MW.
The other more recent phenomenon is the decision by very large businesses and energy users to turn to large-scale wind and solar project to lower their bills in response to the doubling of electricity prices and soaring gas bills.
Some companies, such as Nectar  Farms, have chosen to electrify their businesses so they can use cheaper wind energy and battery storage, rather than expensive gas.
Nectar Farms will build the country’s largest vegetable greenhouse, powered by wind and solar, on an old gold mine in Stawell in Victoria, as part of a $550 million project with Neoen and Tesla.
In South Australia, Sundrop Farms turned to solar towers and solar thermal to provide power, heat and desalinated water for their tomato growing operations (pictured top).
In Queensland, Sun Metals will soon become Australia’s first major refiner to go solar with the imminent opening of its 124MW solar farm, which will help underpin a $300 million expansion of the refinery by locking in low electricity costs.
Other major corporations that have signed contracts for large-scale solar or wind farms include Telstra, CUB, Westpac, Foster’s, ANZ, and CC Amatil. There are many others in the pipeline.
The Climate Council quoted a recent Baker and McKenzie survey of business intentions which shows that 40 per cent of its respondents are looking at renewables, and 40 per cent are also considering some form of storage.
Other key factors include changing business models to align with renewables and storage, and also preparing for the widely anticipated uptake of electric vehicles, and infrastructure such as charging networks.
One-third of businesses said they were considering using renewables as their main source of energy in the next 18 months – that’s a big development from businesses putting on small amounts of rooftop solar to support their “green messaging”.
A total of 138 global corporations have made a commitment to go ‘100% renewable’, including food producers, car manufacturers, data centre operators, breweries, real estate companies, banks and fashion brands .
These 100 per cent renewable companies include Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Wells Fargo, Johnson and Johnson and Amazon. They also include Anheuser-Busch, the owner of Australia’s Carlton and United Breweries, which is also going 100 per cent renewable.
In the US, nearly two-thirds of Fortune 100 and nearly half of Fortune 500 companies have set ambitious renewable or sustainability targets.
“This is a world-wide transition, with businesses around the globe taking advantage of the investment opportunities associated with renewable energy,” Bourne says.
Climate Council Energy and Climate Solutions Analyst Petra Stock said businesses were naturally transitioning to renewable energy and battery storage, with wind and solar now the cheapest forms of new-build energy generation, far cheaper than a new coal power station.
“This transition is good for the pockets of business owners and good for our climate, it really is a win-win.”
“This report showcases a range of Aussie businesses who are benefiting from making the switch to solar and wind, including eight New South Wales chicken farms that are saving an astonishing $2,000 a day,” said Stock.
“It simply makes good economic sense for businesses to make the switch to clean, affordable and reliable renewable energy and battery storage. Renewables are taking care of Aussie businesses facing high electricity prices.”

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Urgent Climate Action Required To Protect Tens Of Thousands Of Species Worldwide, New Research Shows

18 May, 2018 - 18:35
InsideClimate NewsJohn H. Cushman Jr. | Neela Banerjee

Limiting global warming to 2 degrees and not the more ambitious 1.5 degrees would put far more species at risk of extinction. Insects are especially vulnerable.
A mere half degree of extra global warming could mean profound risks for tens of thousands of the planet's species, scientists have found. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty ImagesHumanity can powerfully improve the survival odds of tens of thousands of species, but only if nations dramatically raise their ambitions in the fight against climate change, according to new research published on Thursday in the journal Science.
One key to salvaging plant and vertebrate habitat and protecting the world's biodiversity is to limit warming to the most challenging benchmark established under the 2015 Paris treaty—1.5 degrees Celsius of warming—not to the treaty's less stringent 2 degree guardrail, the study found.
The study assessed, in more detail than ever before, a key measure of extinction risk: the shrinking size of each species' current geographical range, or natural habitat. It projected that for an alarming number of species, their range size would shrink by at least half as temperatures rise past the Paris goals.
If nations do no more than they have pledged so far to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions—and warming consequently shoots past 3 degrees by the end of this century—6 percent of all vertebrates would be at risk. So would 44 percent of plants and a whopping 49 percent of insects.
But the dangers would be greatly reduced if warming can be limited to 1.5 degrees. That might protect the overwhelming majority of the 115,000 species assessed by the researchers. Just 4 percent of vertebrates would lose more than half of their current range. Only 8 percent of plants and 6 percent of insects would face that risk.
Keeping warming to 2 degrees is not nearly as effective, they found. The additional half degree of warming would double the impact on plants and vertebrate species, and triple the impact on insects.

First-of-Its-Kind Biodiversity Study
Conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and James Cook University in Australia, the study builds on their earlier work. For the first time, it examines insects and explores how effectively the extinction risks can be addressed by increasing ambition.
"If warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, then more species can keep up or even gain in range," said Rachel Warren, the study's lead researcher, "whereas if warming reached 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, many species cannot keep up and far more species lose large parts of their range."
The new research adds a compelling layer of evidence to the mounting risks of rising temperatures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently revising a comprehensive draft report on the science behind the 1.5 degree target. This new report on endangered species was written in time to be reflected in the IPCC review, to be published in the fall.
A leaked copy of the latest IPCC draft, circulated for expert comment in the winter, noted in its summary that "local extinction (extirpation) risks are higher in a 2 degrees Celsius warmer world, compared to  1.5 degrees Celsius."

Race to Bolster Paris Treaty's Call for Action
At Paris, everyone recognized that the pledges to cut emissions would fall short of meeting the 2 degree target. Even so, the world's nations decided to shoot for 1.5 degrees, where the dangers become pronounced for small island states and other highly vulnerable people. Since then, talks about increasing ambition have made relatively little headway, and President Donald Trump has renounced the pledges of the Obama administration.
Whether the goal is 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees, scientists say it can only be met by bringing net emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels to zero later in this century. The main difference is that with the more ambitious goal, emissions must be reduced much faster; some say it's already too late.
This urgency has been highlighted by one peer-reviewed study after another, as scientists explore the consequences of falling short. Hundreds of scientists have filed thousands of comments to the IPCC as it races to bolster the treaty's call for rapid action.

115,000 Species Studied; Insects Particularly Vulnerable
Since lost species never come back, and since many species perform vital ecosystem services, the growing risks of extinction are an especially profound aspect of climate change.
Until now, these problems have been studied in relatively few species, notably tropical coral reefs, which are already dying off under the approximately 1 degree of warming that's been observed so far. They may be partly saved if emissions are reduced aggressively enough to stay below 1.5 degrees.
This time, the researchers examined 115,000 species, including 34,000 insects and other invertebrates that previously have not been included in global studies of climate and biodiversity. (Roughly a million species of insects have been named, and there may be many more.)
Insects, it turned out, are particularly sensitive to temperature increases, and these findings are particularly alarming.
They focus attention on pollinators essential to agriculture and insects that serve as food for birds and animals. The researchers found that three groups of pollinators are especially vulnerable to climate risks—true flies, beetles, and moths and butterflies.
The study's authors concluded that meeting the most aggressive temperature target would most benefit species in Europe, Australia, the Amazon and southern Africa.
The study also looked at the ability of different species to migrate outside their normal ranges.
Birds, mammals and butterflies have better chances of relocating than other species as temperatures rise, the researchers found.

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Climate Change On Track To Cause Major Insect Wipeout, Scientists Warn

18 May, 2018 - 09:34
The Guardian

Insects are vital to ecosystems but will lose almost half their habitat under current climate projections
The famous migration of the North American monarch butterfly is one of the most well-documented examples of an insect species affected by climate change. Photograph: Joel Sartore/NG/Getty Images Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis.
Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread collapse would cause extremely far-reaching disruption to life on Earth, the scientists warn. Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected.
However, if climate change could be limited to a temperature rise of 1.5C - the very ambitious goal included in the global Paris agreement - the losses of insects are far lower.
The new research is the most comprehensive to date, analysing the impact of different levels of climate change on the ranges of 115,000 species. It found plants are also heavily affected but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, suffered less.
“We showed insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the new work. “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.”
“The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she said. “People should be concerned - humans depend on ecosystems functioning.” Pollination, fertile soils, clean water and more all depend on healthy ecosystems, Warren said.
In October, scientists warned of “ecological Armageddon” after discovering that the number of flying insects had plunged by three-quarters in the past 25 years in Germany and very likely elsewhere.
“We know that many insects are in rapid decline due to factors such as habitat loss and intensive farming methods,” said Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK, and not part of the new analysis. “This new study shows that, in the future, these declines would be hugely accelerated by the impacts of climate change, under realistic climate projections. When we add in all the other adverse factors affecting wildlife, all likely to increase as the human population grows, the future for biodiversity on planet Earth looks bleak.”
A dragonfly lands on a stalk of wheat. Many insects are in rapid decline due to factors such as habitat loss and intensive farming methods. Photograph: Todd Korol/Reuters In the new analysis, published in the journal Science, the researchers gathered data on the geographic ranges and current climate conditions of 31,000 insect species, 8,000 birds, 1,700 mammals, 1,800 reptiles, 1,000 amphibians and 71,000 plants.
They then calculated how the ranges change when global warming means some regions can no longer support particular species. For the first time in this type of study, they included the 1.5C Paris target, as well as 2C, the longstanding international target, and 3.2C, which is the rise the world will experience by 2100 unless action is taken beyond that already pledged.
Insect ranges could be seriously cut by climate change
Percentage of species losing more than half their range by 2100

Guardian Graphic | Source: Warren et al, ScienceThe researchers measured the results in two ways. First, they counted the number of species that lose more than half their range and this was 49% of insect species at 3.2C, falling to 18% at 2C and 6% at 1.5C. Second, they combined the losses for each species group into a type of average measure.
“If you are a typical insect, you would be likely to lose 43% of your range at 3.2C,” Warren said. “We also found that the three major groups of insects responsible for pollination are particularly sensitive to warming.”
Guy Midgley, at University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and not part of the research team, said the new work built on previous studies but is far more comprehensive. He said major impacts on wildlife would be expected given the potential scale of climate change: “Global average surface temperatures in the past two million years have rarely approached the levels projected over the next few decades.”
A bee forages in a garden. The UK bee population has seen a severe decline over the past 20 years. Photograph: Ian Jacobs/AlamyWarren said the new work had taken account of the ability of species to migrate, but had not been able to include the impact of lost interactions between species as ranges contract, or of the impacts of more extreme weather events on wildlife. As both of those would increase the losses of range, Warren said the estimates of losses made were likely to be underestimates.
Warren said that the world’s nations were aware that more action on climate change is needed: “The question is to what extent greater reductions can be made and on what timescale. That is a decision society has to make.”
Another study published in Science on Thursday found that one third of the world’s protected areas, which cover 15% of all land, are now highly degraded by intense human pressure including road building, grazing, and urbanisation.
Kendall Jones, at the University of Queensland, Australia, who led the work, said: “A well-run protected area network is essential in saving species. If we allow our protected area network to be degraded there is a no doubt biodiversity losses will be exacerbated.”

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Climate Change An 'Existential Security Risk' To Australia, Senate Inquiry Says

18 May, 2018 - 08:58
The Guardian

Threat is not a possible future one but one endangering Australia now, parliament told
The Senate report says climate change threatens Australians’ health, businesses and the economy. Photograph: The Washington Post/Washington Post/Getty Images Climate change is a “current and existential national security risk” to Australia, a Senate inquiry has told parliament, one that could inflame regional conflicts over food, water and land, and even imperil life on Earth.
The Senate committee inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security recommended an increase in foreign aid to be dedicated to climate change mitigation and adaptation in the region, as well as a government white paper on climate security, Department of Defence emissions targets and a dedicated climate security post within the Department of Home Affairs.
The inquiry, which released its report on Thursday afternoon, heard that the security risk of climate change was not a possible future threat but one that endangers Australia and its region now. The Asia-Pacific was the region “most vulnerable” to the security and humanitarian impacts of climate change, the committee heard, and faced an “existential threat”.
An existential threat was defined as “one that threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development”.
The committee report said climate change threatened Australians’ health, and the viability of communities, businesses and the economy. Climate change was heightening the severity of natural hazards, increasing the spread of infectious diseases and increasing water insecurity, and threatening agriculture.
Sherri Goodman, a former US deputy undersecretary of defence in the Clinton administration and founder of the CNA Military Advisory Board, told the committee climate change was a “threat multiplier”, exacerbating existing conflicts over water and other resources, and that it posed “a direct threat to the national security of Australia”.
“The problem also is not a distant one in the future but it’s now. We are experiencing this in regular sunny-day flooding at military bases in the United States and in changes in the Arctic, forcing the first wave of displaced persons from villages in the Arctic.”
The Climate Council told the committee climate change was “already contributing to increases in the forced migration of people within and between nations, as well as playing a role in heightening social and political tensions, flowing onto conflict and violence”.
The Australian government has recognised the security implications posed by climate change. Its seventh national communication on climate change to the United Nations in December highlighted that Australia was “already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate, particularly changes associated with increases in temperature, the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, extreme fire weather and drought”.
It noted “communities in the Torres Strait are already being impacted by rising sea levels and many of the region’s coral reefs have been severely impacted by increased sea surface temperatures”.
And the Department of Defence agreed climate change had the potential to worsen existing conflicts.
“When climate impacts are combined with ethnic or other social grievances, they can contribute to increased migration, internal instability or intrastate insurgencies, often over greater competition for natural resources. These developments may foster terrorism or cross-border conflict.”
The Senate committee heard that acute climate disruption – in particular long-running and severe droughts – exacerbated conflicts in Mali and Syria, contributing to the destabilisation of fragile states.
In Australia’s region, the Australian Council for International Development said: “For Pacific nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Micronesia, climate change is already a genuine existential threat with the capacity to diminish their livelihoods and even erase their states’ territorial footprints.”
The Senate committee noted Australia does not have an overarching climate security strategy.
Research Director for Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration David Spratt said there was a disconnect between the evidence presented to the inquiry and the recommendations that emerged from it.
“Existential risk management requires brutally honest articulation of the risks, opportunities and the response time frame. At the moment we are knowingly locking in an existential disaster without being prepared to articulate that fact … at least this Senate inquiry report is significant for having broken the ice, but it should be so much more.”
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the defence personnel who appeared before the committee “engaged deeply with climate change science and were in no doubt that a warming world is a more dangerous world”.
“What this inquiry has brought home to me is that when people choose to engage with the climate science, without any partisan or ideological blinkers, they quickly understand the seriousness of the challenge and decide to act. We have seen that the Australian Defence Force is changing how it does things because it is taking climate change seriously, but we have a government that is doing nothing to reduce emissions to actually reduce the threat of climate change itself.”

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'This Is An Eye-Opener’: Changes In Global Water Supply Hint At Future Conflicts And Crises

17 May, 2018 - 14:59
Globe and Mail

Dry, cracked Earth that used to be under Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, illustrates how water resources are shifting due to climate change and human activity. A new analysis using satellite data has identified more than 30 regions on Earth where the amount of stored water on the landscape has increased or decreased by an amount greater than the 32 billion ton storage capacity of Lake Mead. Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGESBy combining 14 years’ worth of satellite data, scientists have captured a startling portrait of the world’s water supply undergoing rapid transformation. The new analysis points to areas where there is increasing potential for conflict as a growing demand for water collides with the impacts of climate change. In Canada, the maps shows shifting water supplies that include wetter, more flood-prone regions in many areas of the country but a general drying out in the western sub-Arctic. “This is an eye-opener,” said Roy Brouwer, an economist and executive director of the University of Waterloo’s Water Institute who was not involved in the analysis. “It raises awareness that things are changing and that in some areas something has to happen to counter and anticipate some of the catastrophes that may be waiting for us in the not-so-far future.”The analysis is based on data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, a NASA-led mission launched in 2002 that involved two satellites circling the globe in tandem about 220 kilometres apart. A microwave link between the two satellites allowed scientists to precisely monitor minuscule changes in their separation down to a distance of 10 microns, or about one-tenth the width of a human hair. The setup created a sort of flying weight scale that mean the satellites could be used to measure slight regional variations in Earth’s gravitational pull. Many of those variations are due to geological features, such as mountain ranges, that do not vary over time. But by taking measurements over many years, the satellite also picked up changes that are largely due to the movement of massive amounts of water at or near Earth’s surface.Researchers have published many results based on GRACE data but the new analysis, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, marks the first time all available observations from the mission, from April, 2002, to March, 2016, have been analyzed and assembled to provide a comprehensive map of water trends around the world. Those trends encompass changes in where water is stored across Earth’s surface, including groundwater, soil moisture, glaciers, snow cover and surface water. The result suggests a water landscape that is changing fast on a global scale, in large part due to human activity and climate change. “The human fingerprint is all over what we see in the map,” said Jay Famiglietti, a water-resource expert affiliated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the incoming director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Water Security.Dr. Famiglietti, a co-author on the Nature study, has played a central role in interpreting data from the GRACE mission over its lifetime. He added that the new analysis pointed to profound changes in the Earth’s water resources that should serve as a wake-up call for policy makers.“There are implications in that map for food security, for water security and for human security in terms of things like conflict and climate refugees,” he said.In total, Dr. Famiglietti and his colleagues identified 34 regional trends in water storage observed by GRACE. Some are likely due to natural variations over the time that the observations were taken. For example, the Amazon basin looks like it’s getting wetter because the area has been recovering from a drought. The same is likely the case for a region centred on the Canadian Prairies and parts of the United States. Over the long term, those trends may fade away.The most obvious changes are clearly due to climate change and relate to ice loss in the polar regions and in some mountainous areas such as Alaska and the southern portions of the Andes in South America. Others show places where humans have directly affected water storage.One example is a large swatch of diminishing water supply across parts of the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq. The shortage is related to dam building in Turkey and overuse of groundwater, both of which have exacerbated an already complex and volatile political situation in the region.Similar shortfalls in India reflect the impact of subsidized electricity, which has created a “perverse incentive” that makes it inexpensive to pump out more groundwater than can be replenished, said Dr. Brouwer.Overall, the map shows how the world’s water is increasingly moving from natural storehouses such as glaciers to human-built reservoirs, a change that comes with plenty of political fallout when that water crosses international boundaries, said Aaron Wolf, an expert in water-related conflict at Oregon State University.“This kind of data really helps us identify hot spots in advance of real crises,” he said.Support for the GRACE mission officially ended last fall and the last of the satellites burned up as its orbit decayed in mid-March. A follow-up mission with two new satellites that will continue the gravity measurements is currently set for launch this Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Watching The Water FlowSatellite data accumulated over a 14-year period reveals dramatic changes in the world’s water supply, partly due to natural variation but also because of human activity and climate change
Global Water Storage TrendsIvan Semeniuk, John Sopinski And Murat Yükselir/The Globe And MailSource: Emerging Trends In Global Freshwater Availability, doi.orgLinks
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Extinction vs. Collapse: Does It Matter?

17 May, 2018 - 14:03
Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere - Samuel Miller McDonald*

Venus - May 18 2016  Kevin Gill | Flickr | CC BY 2.0Climate twitter – the most fun twitter – has recently been relitigating the debate between human extinction and mere civilizational collapse, between doom and gloom, despair and (kind of) hope.
It was sparked by an interview in The Guardian with acclaimed scientist Mayer Hillman. He argues that we’re probably doomed, and confronting the likelihood that we’re rushing toward collective death may be necessary to save us.
The headline alone provoked a lot of reactions, many angered by the ostensible defeatism embedded in Hillman’s comments. His stated view represents one defined camp that is mostly convinced of looming human extinction.
It stands in contrast to another group that believes human extinction is highly unlikely, maybe impossible, and certainly will not occur due to climate change in our lifetimes. Collapse maybe, but not extinction.
Who’s more right? Let’s take a closer look.
First, the question of human extinction is totally bounded by uncertainty. There’s uncertainty in climate data, uncertainty in models and projections, and even more uncertainty in the behavior of human systems. We don’t know how we’ll respond to the myriad impacts climate change is beginning to spark, and we don’t know how sensitive industrial civilization will be to those impacts.
We don’t really know if humans are like other apex predators highly sensitive to ecological collapse, or are among the most adaptable mammals to ever walk the earth.
One may be inclined to lean toward the latter given that humans have colonized every ecological niche on the planet except Antarctica. That bands of people can survive in and around deserts as well as the Arctic as well as equatorial rainforests speaks to the resilience of small social groups. It’s why The Road is so disturbingly plausible; there could be a scenario in which basically everything is dead but people, lingering in the last grey waste of the world. On the other hand, we’ve never lived outside of the very favorable conditions of the Holocene, and past civilizational and population collapses suggest humans are in fact quite sensitive to climatic shifts.
Famed climate scientist James Hansen has discussed the possibility of “Venus syndrome,” for instance, which sits at the far end of worst case scenarios. While a frightening thought experiment, it is easily dismissed as it’s based on so many uncertainties and doesn’t carry the weight of anything near consensus.
What’s more frightening than potentially implausible uncertainties are the currently existing certainties.
For example:

Ecology
Energy
  • Energy transition is essential to mitigating 1.5+°C warming. Energy is the single greatest contributor to anthro-GHG. And, by some estimates, transition is happening 400 years too slowly to avoid catastrophic warming.
  • Incumbent energy industries (that is, oil & gas) dominate governments all over the world. We live in an oil oligarchy – a petrostate, but for the globe. Every facet of the global economy is dependent on fossil fuels, and every sector – from construction to supply chains to transport to electricity to extraction to agriculture and on and on – is built around FF consumption. There’s good reason to believe FF will remain subsidized by governments beholden to their interests even if they become less economically viable than renewables, and so will maintain their dominance.
  • We are living in history’s largest oil and gas boom.
  • Kilocalorie to kilocalorie, FF is extremely dense and extremely cheap. Despite reports about solar getting cheaper than FF in some places, non-hydro/-carbon renewables are still a tiny minority (~2%) of global energy consumption and will simply always, by their nature, be less dense kcal to kcal than FF, and so will always be calorically more expensive.
  • Energy demand probably has to decrease globally to avoid 1.5°C, and it’s projected to dramatically increase. Getting people to consume less is practically impossible, and efficiency measures have almost always resulted in increased consumption.
  • We’re still setting FF emissions records.
Politics
  • Conditions today resemble those prior to the 20th century’s world wars: extreme wealth inequality, rampant economic insecurity, growing fascist parties/sentiment, and precarious geopolitical relations, and the Thucydides trap suggests war between Western hegemons and a rising China could be likely. These two factors could disrupt any kind of global cooperation on decarbonization and, to the contrary, will probably mean increased emissions (the US military is one of the world’s single largest consumers/emitters of FF).
  • Neoliberal ideology is so thoroughly embedded in our academic, political, and cultural institutions, and so endemic to discourse today, that the idea of degrowth – probably necessary to avoid collapse – and solidarity economics isn’t even close to discussion, much less realization, and, for self-evident reasons, probably never will be.
  • Living in a neoliberal culture also means we’ve all been trained not to sacrifice for the common good. But solving climate change, like paying more to achieve energy transition or voluntarily consuming less, will all entail sacrificing for the greater good. Humans sometimes are great at that; but the market fundamentalist ideology that pervades all social, commercial, and even self relations today stands against acting for the common good or in collective action.
  • There’s basically no government in the world today taking climate change seriously. There are many governments posturing and pretending to take it seriously, but none have substantially committed to a full decarbonization of their economies. (Iceland may be an exception, but Iceland is about 24 times smaller than NYC, so…)
  • Twenty-five years of governments knowing about climate change has resulted in essentially nothing being done about it, no emissions reductions, no substantive moves to decarbonize the economy. Politics have proven too strong for common sense, and there’s no good reason to suspect this will change anytime soon.
  • Wealth inequality is embedded in our economy so thoroughly – and so indigenously to FF economies – that it will probably continue either causing perpetual strife, as it has so far, or eventually cement a permanent underclass ruled by a small elite, similar to agrarian serfdom. There is a prominent view in left politics that greater wealth equality, some kind of ecosocialism, is a necessary ingredient in averting the kind of ecological collapse the economy is currently driving, given that global FF capitalism by its nature consumes beyond carrying capacities. At least according to one study [1], the combination of inequality and ecological collapse is a likely cause for civilizational collapse.
Even with this perfect storm of issues, it’s impossible to know how likely extinction is, and it’s impossible to judge how likely or extensive civilizational collapse may be. We just can’t predict how human beings and human systems will respond to the shocks that are already underway.
We can make some good guesses based on history, but they’re no more than guesses. Maybe there’s a miracle energy source lurking in a hangar somewhere waiting to accelerate non-carbon transition. Maybe there’s a swelling political movement brewing under the surface that will soon build a more just, ecologically sane order into the world.
Community energy programs are one reason to retain a shred of optimism; but also they’re still a tiny fraction of energy production and they are not growing fast, but they could accelerate any moment. We just don’t know how fast energy transition can happen, and we just don’t know how fast the world could descend into climate-driven chaos – either by human strife or physical storms.
What we do know is that, given everything above, we are living through a confluence of events that will shake the foundations of civilization, and jeopardize our capacity to sustain large populations of humans. There is enough certainty around these issues to justify being existentially alarmed.
At this point, whether we go extinct or all but a thousand of us go extinct (again), maybe that shouldn’t make much difference. Maybe the destruction of a few billion or 5 billion people is morally equivalent to the destruction of all 7 billion of us, and so should provoke equal degrees of urgency. Maybe this debate about whether we’ll go completely extinct rather than just mostly extinct is absurd. Or maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know is that, regardless of the answer, there’s no excuse to stop fighting for a world that sustains life.

*Samuel Miller McDonald: Born and raised in Northern Michigan, Sam is currently pursuing a PhD at University of Oxford in political geography and energy.

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More Than 100 Organizations Call On Oil And Gas Industries, Banks To Opt Out Of Arctic Drilling

17 May, 2018 - 08:43
ThinkProgress -  E.A. Crunden

Indigenous groups and institutional investors representing more than $2 trillion call for industries to keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a "natural wonder."
A young polar bear stands on its hind legs on the barrier island of Bernard Spit, along the eastern arctic coast of Alaska. CREDIT: Steven Kazlowski / Barcroft Medi via Getty ImagesEnvironmental advocates and organizations are calling on major industries to move against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The groups behind the push to keep oil and gas extraction out of the wildlife refuge include indigenous representatives, national environmental activists, and institutional investors representing more than $2.5 trillion.
In a sweeping effort unveiled Monday, representatives from the Gwich’in Nation joined nearly 120 signatories opposing oil and gas drilling in the nation’s largest national wildlife refuge. Through two separate letters, advocates lobbied oil and gas companies along with major banks with potential interest in ANWR drilling.
Writing from its headquarters in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Gwich’in Steering Committee emphasized that the community opposes “any efforts to develop oil and gas” in the area.
The Gwich’in Nation considers ANWR’s coastal plain sacred and has fought against efforts to open the area up for drilling.
“As the world rapidly shifts towards clean energy sources, we are also gravely concerned about the climate, financial and reputational risks associated with pursuing a speculative fossil fuel source that will likely become uneconomical,” the steering committee wrote.
“It is both deeply unethical and unwise to permanently destroy lands vital to the culture and existence of the Gwich’in to pursue this high-risk gamble.”
In a separate letter, investors representing some $2.52 trillion similarly asserted opposition to any ANWR oil and gas development.
Citing “financial” and “reputational” risks along with “ecological” and “human rights” impacts, the signatories urged banks and industries to “honor their fiduciary duty to investors” and pledge to opt out of drilling.
“We, as investors, encourage expanding support for the wide range of clean energy solutions and sustainable industries in Alaska, instead of helping to destroy this natural wonder,” the letter concludes.
Signatories include BNP Paribas Asset Management and the David Rockefeller Fund.
Drilling in the Arctic has been a source of controversy for years.
Advocates for oil and gas drilling have pushed to allow industries to drill in the area, often referred to as “the last great wilderness” in the United States.
ANWR spans nearly 20 million acres and the refuge is home to many threatened and endangered species, including migratory birds, polar bears, and Porcupine caribou.
As head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) has increasingly fought to allow drilling in ANWR’s coastal plain, known as the “1002 area”, which encompasses some 1.5 million acres of land.
That site is home to a caribou calving area with deep cultural significance for the Gwich’in people, who also rely on the region for nutritional purposes and food access.
Lawmakers like Murkowski, who has received significant contributions from the oil and gas industry, have used instructions from the Republican-led Senate to the Energy Committee to find $1 billion in order to reconcile the 2018 budget as an excuse to move forward with drilling.
Their efforts have found an ally in the White House: President Trump took an aggressive first step towards opening ANWR up for drilling in April when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a notice of intent exploring the potential environmental impact of oil exploration in the area.
That announcement sparked a 60-day comment period, set to end mid-June, during which the public can weigh in on the decision.
At the time, Bernadette Dementieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, slammed the move and said the Trump administration’s efforts came “at the expense of human rights”.
Studies have found that pregnant and nursing members of the caribou herds on which the Gwich’in rely for food are prone to avoiding infrastructure like the kind drilling would introduce.
That will mean fewer caribou for the community to hunt, forcing them to look elsewhere for sustenance in a break with cultural norms.
“The administration has made my people a target,” said Dementieff in a statement. “We will not stand down. We will fight to protect the porcupine caribou herd … every step of the way.”
Trump’s support seems to have been motivated more by industry ties than anything else.
In February, the president said that he “didn’t really care” about drilling in ANWR until a friend “who’s in that world and in that [oil and gas] business” asked him to ensure a provision in the upcoming tax bill touched on the issue.
But drilling in the area has been met with some surprising opposition.
In December, a dozen House Republicans penned a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arguing against opening ANWR up to drilling and calling the area “a symbol of our nation’s strong and enduring national legacy.” The representatives said such efforts would endanger multiple species and were not necessary to national interests.
“The fate of the Arctic Refuge and its sensitive Coastal Plain lies in the hands of Congress and we must ensure robust debate on this highly-controversial issue,” read the letter.
The separate letters sent Monday indicate the issue is likely to remain heated, with repercussions for industries and funders eyeing drilling.
“Any oil company or bank that supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge faces enormous reputational risk and public backlash,” wrote the Gwich’in Steering Committee.
“Their brands would be associated with trampling on human rights, destroying one of the world’s last remaining intact wild places, and contributing to the climate crisis.”

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Worst-Case Climate Change Scenario Could Be More Extreme Than Thought, Scientists Warn

16 May, 2018 - 14:54
The IndependentHarry Cockburn

Economic growth could prompt greater greenhouse gas emissions than previously forecast, study says
Even our best efforts at limiting emissions may not be enough to avert disaster ShutterstockScientists may have to recalibrate their projections of what a “worst case” climate change scenario is, as new studies take into account greater global economic growth than previously forecast.
Climate scientists forecasting how the earth’s climate will change over time examine trends in greenhouse gas emissions, which are largely dependent on how the global economy behaves.
As countries get richer, the amount they consume goes up, and so too do greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists use four scenarios called representative concentration pathways (RCPs) that attempt to depict possible futures for our planet.
The standard worst case scenario, RCP 8.5, assumes rapid and unrestricted economic growth which will see rampant burning of fossil fuels. In addition, it also assumes no further action will be taken to limit warming than the policies countries are already pursuing.
However, scientists at the University of Illinois say there is a one-in-three chance that by the end of the century emissions will have exceeded those estimated in the RCP 8.5 scenario.
“Our estimates indicate that, due to higher than assumed economic growth rates, there is a greater than 35 per cent probability that year 2100 emissions concentrations will exceed those given by RCP8.5,” Peter Christensen told the New Scientist.
Glen Peters of the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway points to the rise in carbon emissions in Europe over the past four years as economic growth has sped up. In 2017, EU emissions rose by 1.8 per cent.
However, the worst case scenario remains unlikely as economic growth does not rule out environmentally-beneficial policy.
“We’ve already locked in a certain amount of climate policy,” Mr Peters said.
Nonetheless, the latest research also means higher levels of emissions may now have to be factored in to the other climate scenarios.
A group of emperor penguins face a crack in the sea ice, near McMurdo Station, Antarctica Kira MorrisNumerous climate models have previously predicted an apocalyptic future for existence on earth. From rapid icecap melt and catastrophic sea level rise, to rising temperatures making some areas uninhabitable, and mass extinctions of species in affected areas.
But even our best efforts may not be enough to avert disaster.
The Paris climate agreement commits the world’s countries to preventing global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century.
However, even if all countries meet their non-binding targets, some projections estimate global temperatures could still rise by more than 3C, and possibly by over 4C.
This would have a devastating effect on the planet, raising sea levels as much as 1.5 metres, putting cities like Amsterdam and New York under water and causing widespread famine.

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Climate Change Is A Security Threat – So Where Is The UN Security Council?

16 May, 2018 - 12:03
The Conversation

Piyaset / shutterstockClimate change is one of the great security challenges of the 21st century.
As the world warms, conflicts over water, food or energy will become more common and many people will be forced from their homes.
 Scientists, think-tanks, NGOs, militaries and even the White House (albeit under President Obama) all agree that climate change threatens human safety and well-being. Yet the organisation charged with global security has remained relatively silent.
The UN Security Council, responsible for maintaining international peace and security, is comprised of 15 countries.
Five seats are reserved for permanent members with veto powers (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US) while the other ten members are elected to represent their region (“Africa”, “Asia-Pacific” etc) for two year terms.
The ten current elected members (Italy and the Netherlands split one two year term between them). wiki, CC BY-SATogether, this semi-rotating group of 15 takes binding decisions for all 193 UN members. This alone makes the Security Council a very powerful institution, but combined with its capacity to sanction, and intervene in the affairs of states it has an influence far exceeding that of any other international body. It is, in many respects, the executive of the international system.
For this reason the council has considered contemporary security challenges such as international terrorism, nuclear weapon proliferation, and transnational crime. Positive results include an international crackdown on the financing of terrorism, the sharing of information to tackle various criminal problems, stronger border controls for nuclear materials, and the global mobilisation of experts to address a health epidemic.
The fact the Security Council has helped combat these varied and largely unrelated challenges shows its potential to do good. Yet these interventions also pose the critical question of why it has yet to engage climate change in any meaningful way. Article 41 sanctions would be available to the council in the event of states not meeting their Paris Agreement obligations. Economic sanctions could also be placed upon corporations, that currently operate with relatively little international scrutiny. What the council brings is an ability to coerce – something that is currently lacking throughout international climate law.

Global challenge vs state sovereignty
The council hasn’t entirely ignored climate change, of course. In 2007 the first open debate on the matter took place, though this was based on the unofficial proviso that no binding output would follow. Similar discussions were held in 2011 and 2013 but again stark divides among the members prevented any meaningful outputs.
The Security Council, like the UN itself, was formed after World War II. Golden Brown / shutterstockWhat this represents is a lack of unity over whether climate change really belongs on the agenda. While most states now agree climate change is a priority – as exhibited by the success of the Paris conference in 2015 – there is no consensus on what role, if any, the Security Council should play.
From one perspective, countries like New Zealand and Germany view climate change as a security issue of immense proportions and worthy of the council’s attention. On the other hand, states such as China and South Africa argue that if the council engages with climate change it will undermine the sovereignty of states, fracturing the international system.
These positions are entrenched, reflecting vastly opposing ideologies in relation to both climate change and international relations, thus precluding any meaningful intervention. Yet this does not necessarily mean that the Security Council is frozen indefinitely.

Climate change slowly moving onto the agenda
The council has a history of taking tentative steps when moving into new territory, and climate change will not be an exception. In 2011 a statement made by then-president of the Security Council (a position that rotates between member states each month) loosely linked climate change and traditional security challenges. In 2017, the council unanimously adopted Resolution 2349, which hinted that climate change had contributed to conflict and instability around Lake Chad and the wider Sahel region. And in January 2018 a second presidential statement twice referenced climate change in the context of instability in the Sahel region.
Drought and desertification worsened conflict around Lake Chad, Security Council resolution suggested. Deji Yako / EPAThese statements fall short of finding climate change an explicit security threat, but do they show the council is steadily becoming more comfortable with the subject. And without that degree of comfort we would likely not have seen the passing of Resolution 2408 on March 27, 2018.
This resolution, again adopted unanimously, extended the mandate of the UN mission in Somalia for another year and became the latest council resolution to include reference to climate change. The language remains speculative and the council is careful to only recall its 2011 statement instead of making a bolder standalone declaration on climate security.
However, inclusion of the expression “grave concern” in regard to the drought and famine engulfing Somalia is proof that the council is experiencing a change of perspective. It is beginning to make discursive links between environmental realities and security, using the language often reserved for terrorism or nuclear weapon proliferation.
The resolution fails to indict climate change as the cause of these problems yet it is nonetheless progress. After years of dispute council members are starting to agree on the inclusion of the words “climate change” in a resolution – a big step forward for the world’s most powerful but politically polarised body.
So where are we? The Security Council has access to the tools the world so desperately needs to enforce state and private action on climate change, and although it is taking its time there is some advancement. That does not mean climate change is about to be recognised as a security concern in its own right, but each step taken is valuable and the council is certainly on the right path to identifying climate change as the security threat it so clearly is.

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It's No Surprise Emissions Keep Going Up. There's No Price On Carbon

16 May, 2018 - 05:25
The Guardian

The only thing close to climate change policy is the national energy guarantee. It’s not enough.
‘Emissions from electricity have actually fallen but they haven’t fallen enough.’ Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images Late last Friday, the government quietly released the latest data on greenhouse gas emissions and, as has been the case since the ending of the carbon price, they show emissions are increasing.
But the figures also highlight that the government’s current plan to focus almost exclusively on electricity, through its national energy guarantee, means Australia will be unable to meet its commitment to reduce economy-wide emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The government is never all that excited about releasing the quarterly update on greenhouse gas emissions.
In December it released them the week before Christmas, and this time it released it late Friday afternoon – the end of budget week.
The minster for environment and energy, Josh Frydenberg, didn’t bother to even put out a media release which, given the importance of the figures to his portfolio, would be like the treasurer not bothering to note the release of the quarterly GDP figures.
The budget last week was not exactly replete with money and news about action on climate change.
There was $500m to go towards mitigating the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef, which is often the government’s favoured way with climate change – do bugger all to prevent the harm, and then spend money to make it seem like they care after the damage has been done.
But as for actual efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, for now the only thing close to a policy is related to electricity via the national energy guarantee.
​The latest emissions data, however, shows that will in no way be enough.
In 2017, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to have been 533.7 Mt CO2 -e.
The report notes that this is 2.4% below emissions in 2000 and 11.7% below emissions in 2005.
But that rosiness is really a bit of a figleaf as it refers to total emissions including the emissions from the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sectors, which were very high in the early 2000s but which have been reduced due to less forest reduction and planting more trees.
Such activity was included in our Paris emissions targets because doing so made the cuts easier to achieve.
But the measurement of the LULUCF sector is subject to a fair degree of error, and if you really want to look at actual greenhouse gas emissions you exclude it – but doing so makes the job of reducing our emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2030 much harder:

Even including LULUCF, there was a 1.5% increase in emissions in 2017 compared with 2016.
The report notes that a big reason for this was “the expansion in LNG exports, which saw a 41.4% increase in LNG production in 2017 and a forecast increase in LNG production for 2018 of a further 18.1%.”
And certainly the report puts to bed any claims that we have some sort of a gas-supply crisis – production is at record levels – but most of the increase is going towards LNG exports rather than domestic gas:

Natural gas production
Chart: Greg Jericho Source: Dept of EnvironmnetBut let’s not be coy about the cause of these emissions.
There is one reason Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased, and it is the same one that has been in place since July 2014 – we no longer have a carbon price:

In the three and half years since the carbon price was removed, total greenhouse gas emissions (excluding LULUCF) have grown on average by 1.3% each year – compared with an average annual fall of 1.1% during the carbon price period.
The somewhat good news is that since the end of the carbon price, emissions in the electricity sector, which accounts for just over a third of total emissions, have actually fallen:

The reason, however, is not due to any great work by the government in crafting an energy policy designed to encourage renewables or cleaner energy, but because the extremely dirty and inefficient Hazelwood power station has closed.
This has seen the use of brown coal to generate electricity in the national energy market fall from accounting for 25% in 2009 to now just 18%:

But while emissions from electricity have fallen, they have not fallen anywhere near enough to counter the rises in emissions in other sectors: And with a focus on electricity set to remain, that means our ability to meet our emissions targets looks set to be impossible.
Consider that since June 2016, the increase in emissions from transport and stationary energy (emissions that come via manufacturing, mining and other commercial activities) have almost cancelled out the fall in electricity emissions in that period:

A one-sector-only approach to emissions reduction is not going to cut it (literally).
The government’s own projections last year for our path to 26% or 28% below 2005 levels highlight just how far we have to go, and how unlikely it is to be achieved with the current policy:

No one ever really believed Direct Action would work, and it clearly has not.
The data shows unequivocally that the government’s climate change policy has been a complete failure.And so long as this government remains beholden to climate change deniers within the partyroom and cabinet, who break out into spasms of lunacy at the mere suggestion of an emissions trading scheme or price on carbon, it will continue to be a failure and our emissions will continue to rise.

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'Glaring inconsistency': National emissions jump may be underestimated

16 May, 2018 - 05:08
FairfaxPeter Hannam

Environmental groups, however, say the true emissions figure may be under – estimated because large-scale land clearing – particularly in Queensland and lately in NSW – is not being accurately represented.
The National Greenhouse Gas inventory for last year, released without fanfare at the end of last week, showed emissions were up 1.5 per cent compared with 2016 to 533.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.
Land-clearing is on the increase in Queensland and NSW but national emissions are showing a decline, puzzling analysts. Photo: NSW Nature Conservation Council




After sinking during each year of the Labor-Gillard governments, emissions began to pick up with the end of the carbon price by the Abbott government in 2014.
Most economic sectors reported a rise in pollution in 2017, with so-called fugitive emissions – mostly from the liquefied gas industry – alone increasing 10.5 per cent, and transport 3.8 per cent.
The electricity industry was one sector to report an emissions reduction, cutting almost 6 million tonnes or 3.1 per cent. Hazelwood, Australia's most emissions-intensive coal-fired power plant closed last March.
Australia's emissions are "clearly going in the opposite direction" from what is needed to meet the Abbott-Turnbull government's Paris climate pledge, said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics. "To get to 2030 ... you need to be reducing emissions about 1.5 per cent a year."
Removing trees along the Newell Highway in the state's far north. Photo: Nick MoirChallenges
One challenge is government efforts are being curtailed. Outlays for climate action are due to shrink from $3 billion in 2017-18 to $1.25 billion by 2021-22, according the 2018 budget released last week.
Questions, too, remain about the treatment of emissions from land use changes and forestry, a sector that continues to be counted at the federal level as a carbon sink.
Last year, this category was reported as absorbing a net 22.7 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, little changed from a year earlier.That outcome, though, came despite as much as a five – fold increase in land-clearing in Queensland after Liberal Nationals' premier Campbell Newman loosened restrictions on native vegetation removal in late 2013.
In the most recent Queensland figures for 2015-16, the biggest land-clearing state was bulldozing at the rate of some 10-square-kilometres a day.
The 395,000 hectares cleared that year contributed 45 million tonnes of emissions, the Palaszczuk Labor government said last October.

'Question mark'
The result is a "glaring inconsistency" between federal and state land-use emissions figures, said Martin Taylor, a conservation scientist with WWF-Australia. "It puts a question mark over [carbon accounting] that we shouldn't have."
One issue is how to count forest change. The federal government uses grid analysis that doesn't treat land as being cleared if the forest canopy remains above 20 per cent, according to Glenn Walker, a campaigner for The Wilderness Society.
By contrast, the Queensland's Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) is more thoroughly ground-proofed with a team of eight staff, and likely more accurate, he said.
Fairfax Media sought comment from Josh Frydenberg, the environment and energy minister.
"Each year, we update land clearing estimates based on latest satellite data," a spokesperson for the federal environment department told Fairfax Media last October. "Where applicable, we also revise estimates to reflect improvements in remote sensing and estimation methods."
Mark Butler, Labor's climate spokesman said the government’s land use emissions data "have for some time included seemingly inexplicable reductions in land sector emissions, and this is repeated in this last data release".
"It is crucially important that people have faith in government emission accounts, but the more I talk to the experts, the more questions are raised about the accuracy of the government’s land clearing data."
Adam Bandt, the Greens climate change spokesman, said the party would use Senate estimates "to find out why these unexpected figures are now cropping up in land use and forestry".

"The government appears to now be counting pollution in the land clearing and forestry sector differently, in ways that make it appear as if they’re cutting emissions," he said.

Emissions rise
National emissions in the last quarter of 2017 accelerated 0.8 per cent to 133.7 million tonnes – or about 2.5 per cent more than the equivalent quarter in 2013, just as the Abbott government came to power, according to the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Since the Coalition repealed the carbon prices at the end of June 2014, emissions have increased 3.6 per cent, reversing a fall of more than 11 per cent during the Rudd-Gillard Labor governments, ACF said.
The trajectory of rising emissions makes the 2030 target – of 435-441 million tonnes by that year – more difficult to reach, Gavan McFadzean, ACF's climate change program manager, said.
"We need a comprehensive national climate change plan that will rapidly cut pollution across our society and ensures Australia plays its fair role in halting global warming and ensuring we maintain our safe climate," he said.

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Worst-Case Climate Change Scenario Is Even Worse Than We Thought

15 May, 2018 - 13:26
New Scientist - Michael Le Page


These lignite-fired power plants are among the largest in Europe. Thomas Corzelius / iStock / Getty Images PlusThe phrase “worse than we thought” is a cliché when it comes to climate change. There are lots of studies suggesting we’re in for more warming and worse consequences than thought, and few saying it won’t be as bad. But guess what: it’s worse than we thought.
A study of the future global economy has concluded that the standard worst-case scenario used by climate scientists is actually not the worst case.
How much the climate will change depends on how much greenhouse gas we emit, which in turn depends on the choices we make as a society – including how the global economy behaves.
To handle this, climatologists use four scenarios called RCPs, each of which describes a different possible future.
The RCP8.5 scenario is the worst for the climate. It assumes rapid, unfettered economic growth and rampant burning of fossil fuels.
It now seems RCP8.5 may have underestimated the emissions that would result if we follow the economic path it describes.

More money, more emissions
“Our estimates indicate that, due to higher than assumed economic growth rates, there is a greater than 35 per cent probability that year 2100 emissions concentrations will exceed those given by RCP8.5,” says Peter Christensen of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
In one sense, it is not quite that bad. RCP8.5 assumes no action is taken to limit warming, which is unlikely.
“We’ve already locked in a certain amount of climate policy,” says Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate Research in Norway.
But the worrying implication is that emissions could be much higher than expected even if climate action continues and is ramped up.
“The results will also affect estimates of emissions pathways under a variety of policy scenarios,” says Christensen.
While some claim the link between economic growth and greenhouse emissions has been broken – or “decoupled” – it’s only been weakened.
 Carbon emissions have risen in the European Union over the past four years as economic growth has picked up, Peters points out. In 2017, EU emissions rose 1.8 per cent.

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