7-31-20 Changing how we make solar panels could reduce their carbon emissions
Changing the way we make solar panels could reduce their carbon footprint, providing a boost to green energy. Although solar panels are a source of renewable energy, making them has an environmental impact. Fengqi You at Cornell University in New York and his colleagues have analysed the overall environmental impact of two types of new solar panels, comparing these against panels made with crystalline silicon wafers – the current industry standard. The team found that a new type of solar panel made from two layers of a mineral called perovskite requires a smaller total energy input and results in fewer carbon emissions. The panel, called a perovskite-perovskite tandem, contains two layers of the material on top of each other, each optimised to absorb a section of the electromagnetic spectrum. Perovskite solar cells have only been around for the past decade, and perovskite-perovskite tandem cells are only a couple of years old and not yet widely commercially available, says You. His team analysed the carbon footprint and environmental impact of each solar panel over its lifespan, as well as how much time it would take for a panel to generate the amount of energy required to produce it – a measure known as energy payback time. The silicon panels had an average energy payback time of 1.52 years, while the time for perovskite-perovskite tandem panels is only 0.35 years. The group also calculated that in its lifespan, the perovskite tandem cell has an associated emission of about 10.69 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates, which is only 43.4 per cent of the emissions for silicon solar panels. Another advantage of the perovskite tandem cells is that they are flexible, so could be installed on a variety of surfaces, such as on cars or bicycles, says You. “Perovskite tandems are most likely going to be cheaper than silicon,” he says, particularly in future as production increases and benefits from economies of scale.
7-31-20 Many U.S. neighborhoods with the worst air 40 years ago remain the most polluted
Marginalized communities are still disproportionately affected despite improvements in air quality. Not all air is created equal. While air quality has improved across the United States in recent decades, significant disparities persist in terms of who breathes the worst air. Communities exposed to the most air pollution in the 1980s — often poor and with high proportions of Black and Hispanic residents — are largely in the same position today, researchers report in the July 31 Science. Lots of different pollutants can clog the air, but scientists are especially interested in particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter. Called PM2.5, the tiny particles are associated with myriad health problems, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, diabetes and neurological problems (SN: 9/19/17). Marginalized communities, often closer to factories or major roadways than whiter, wealthier communities, bear the brunt of PM2.5 pollution. That exposure contributes to stark racial health inequities in the United States. “There hasn’t been clear documentation of how these disparities have evolved over time,” says Jonathan Colmer, an economist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only began measuring PM2.5 in 1999. Addressing current inequities requires an understanding of the past, Colmer says. He and colleagues estimated annual average PM2.5 levels for each square kilometer in the country from 1981 to 2016 using published data derived from satellites and simulations of pollutant movement through space. The team then mapped those estimates onto about 65,000 census tracts to rank neighborhoods from most to least polluted annually, and noted how rankings changed over time. Whereas average PM2.5 concentrations decreased by 70 percent across the entire country, the relative ranking of neighborhoods hardly budged.
7-31-20 Climate change 'driving UK's extreme weather'
Climate change driven by industrial society is having an increasing impact on the UK’s weather, the Met Office says. Its annual UK report confirms that 2019 was the 12th warmest year in a series from 1884. Although it does not make the top 10, the report says 2019 was remarkable for high temperature records in the UK. There was also a severe swing in weather from the soaking winter to the sunny spring. The temperature extremes were: 1. A new UK maximum record (38.7° C) on 25 July, in Cambridge 2. A new winter maximum record (21.2° C) on 26 February, in Kew Gardens, London - the first time 20C has been reached in the UK in winter. 3. A new December maximum record (18.7° C) on 28 December, in Achfary, Sutherland. 4. A new February minimum record (13.9° C) on 23 February, in Achnagart, Highland. No national low temperature records were set in the State of the UK Climate report, published by the Royal Meteorological Society. It shows that UK temperatures in 2019 were 1.1° C above the 1961-1990 long-term average. Mike Kendon, lead author of the report, said: “Our report shows climate change is exerting an increasing impact on the UK. “This year was warmer than any other year in the UK between 1884 and 1990, and to find a year in the coldest 10 we have to go back to 1963.” The Central England Temperature series is the longest instrumental record of temperature in the world, stretching back to 1659. Dr Mark McCarthy, from the Met Office, added it was a particularly wet year across parts of central and northern England. He said Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Cheshire received between a quarter to one third more rainfall than normal. For northern England this was the ninth wettest year in a series from 1862. He said: "It’s worth noting that since 2009 the UK has now had its wettest February, April, June, November and December on record – five out of 12 months.
7-31-20 UK temperatures broke records in 2019 as climate change took hold
Last year saw a series of record high temperatures as climate change exerts “an increasing impact” on the UK, the Met Office has said. Its latest annual State of the UK Climate report shows how the country continues to warm, with 2019’s average temperature 1.1°C above long-term 1961-1990 levels. The most recent decade has been 0.9°C warmer across the UK than the 1961-1990 average, the report said. Last year was most notable for breaking records, with the UK recording its hottest temperature ever as the mercury soared to 38.7°C at Cambridge University Botanic Garden on 25 July. That wasn’t the only temperature high seen in 2019, with a new winter record of 21.2°C set on 26 February, at Kew Gardens in London, the first time 20°C has been reached in the UK in a winter month. No cold temperature records were set last year, the report said. The changing climate is also bringing other extremes, with flooding hitting parts of Lincolnshire in mid-June, parts of the Pennines and northern England in late July, and South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire in November 2019. All of the 10 warmest years in the UK in records dating back to 1884 have occurred since 2002, with 2019 coming in outside the top 10, in 12th place. And the Central England Temperature series, the longest continuous temperature record in the world, which has data for an area of central England stretching back to 1659, provides evidence that the 21st century so far has been warmer overall than the previous three centuries, the Met Office said.
7-31-20 European Sentinel satellites to map global CO2 emissions
German manufacturer OHB-System has signed a €445m (£400m) contract to begin construction of a satellite network to monitor carbon dioxide. The CO2M constellation will consist in the first instance of two spacecraft, but there is an option for a third. The platforms will track the greenhouse gas across the globe, helping nations assess the scale of their emissions. Under the Paris climate accord, countries must compile CO2 inventories. CO2M will provide supporting data. The aim is to launch the OHB spacecraft in 2025 so they can inform the international stocktake that will report in 2028. CO2M falls under the European Union's Copernicus Earth observation programme. This flies a series of satellite sensors called Sentinels, which monitor everything from damage wrought by earthquakes to the health of staple food crops. When the CO2M spacecraft go into orbit, they too will assume the Sentinel moniker. No-one draws a distinction between the importance of the different Sentinels but given the urgency of the climate crisis, "CO2M will be the beacon of Copernicus, its most visible mission", Marco Fuchs, the CEO of OHB-System, told BBC News. His company's contract is with the European Space Agency (Esa), which acts as the technical and procurement agent for the EU on Copernicus.The requirement is that CO2M track carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at a resolution of 2km by 2km across a minimum swath of 250km. The satellites will carry a CO2 instrument, obviously, but a range of secondary sensors also to help with the signal's retrieval and to differentiate the human-produced sources of the gas from those emitted by natural processes. Franco-Italian manufacturer Thales Alenia Space has been engaged as a key sub-contractor. Its French division will deliver a combined carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide spectrometer that operates in near- and shortwave-infrared bands. TAS's UK arm will build a multi-angle polarimeter; and the Belgian company OIP Sensors will make a cloud imager.
7-30-20 Extreme rising seas could wipe out assets worth $14 trillion by 2100
Coastal floods wrought by rising seas could affect tens of millions more people and cause trillions of dollars of harm by the end of the century if the world fails to prevent the worst-case climate change scenario, according to a new analysis. The area of land globally at risk from coastal flooding could increase by almost half by 2100 as sea level rises put more homes, roads and other infrastructure in the firing line. Asia and north-west Europe are anticipated to be hit hardest. However, this worst-case scenario assumes humanity pumps out high levels of carbon dioxide, implements no flood defences and takes no adaptation measures. In a less dire scenario, where global CO2 emissions peak within two decades, the area at risk of flooding increases by only a third. Global finances take a smaller hit too, with up to $12.7 trillion of assets exposed rather than up to $14.2 trillion. The costs were calculated using populations affected and GDP figures. “The global cost of flooding is increasing by 2100, regardless of the emissions scenarios. Adaptation is really the only way out,” says Ebru Kirezci at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who led the analysis. She says adaptation could include building sea walls, early warning systems for communities and relocating populations to safer areas, which one study said last year is inevitable. The analysis calculated future sea level rise at nearly 10,000 points on coastlines. The team then modelled the impact of future flooding on land area, population and assets in two different climate scenarios. Benjamin Strauss at the US non-profit Climate Central says the researchers admit they have made assumptions that would tend to overestimate the threat. They deliberately didn’t consider any existing or future defences or adaptations, partly because they wanted to show all areas potentially at risk and due to difficulty accessing data for defences globally. They also didn’t account for future changes in population or GDP. However, he says on balance the study underestimates the risk, as it based on a data that probably overstates coastal elevations by around 2 metres on average.
7-29-20 Climate change: Coastal erosion 'to threaten more Australian homes'
Recent storms on Australia's coast have caused major erosion beneath beachfront homes in New South Wales. Dr Hannah Power tells the BBC that erosion will be a worsening issue for coastal communities as sea levels rise.
7-28-20 Iter: World's largest nuclear fusion project begins assembly
The world's biggest nuclear fusion project has entered its five-year assembly phase. After this is finished, the facility will be able to start generating the super-hot "plasma" required for fusion power. The £18.2bn (€20bn; $23.5bn) facility has been under construction in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, southern France. Advocates say fusion could be a source of clean, unlimited power that would help tackle the climate crisis. Iter is a collaboration between China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. All members share in the cost of construction. Current nuclear energy relies on fission, where a heavy chemical element is split to produce lighter ones. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, works by combining two light elements to make a heavier one. This releases vast amounts of energy with very little radioactivity. Iter will confine hot plasma within a structure called a tokamak in order to control fusion reactions. The project will aim to help demonstrate whether fusion can be commercially viable. France's President Emmanuel Macron said the effort would unite countries around a common good. The facility could see plasma generated in the machine - a notional start to operations - shortly after the assembly phase ends in 2025. President Macron said: "Iter is clearly an act of confidence in the future. The greatest advances in history have always proceeded from daring bets, from journeys fraught with difficulty. "At the start it always seems that the obstacles will be greater than the will to create and progress. Iter belongs to this spirit of discovery, of ambition, with the idea that, thanks to science, tomorrow may indeed be better than yesterday." Prof Ian Chapman, chief executive of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), told BBC News: "It's a hugely exciting phase of the project to be in. Most of us came to fusion to change the world - to make a massive difference to how we provide clean energy to future generations. We all know that we need Iter to succeed."
7-28-20 Australia's fires 'killed or harmed three billion animals'
Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced during Australia's devastating bushfires of the past year, scientists say. The findings meant it was one of "worst wildlife disasters in modern history", said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which commissioned the report. Mega blazes swept across every Australian state last summer, scorching bush and killing at least 33 people. Mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs died in the flames or from loss of habitat. During the peak of the crisis in January, scientists had estimated that 1.25 billion animals had been killed in New South Wales and Victoria alone. But the new estimate takes in a larger area. About 11.46 million hectares - an area comparable to England - was scorched from September to February. "When you think about nearly three billion native animals being in the path of the fires, it is absolutely huge - it's a difficult number to comprehend," said Prof Chris Dickman, who oversaw the project by 10 scientists from Australian universities. He said they could not yet state an exact death toll, but noted the chances of animals escaping the blazes and surviving were "probably not that great" due to a lack of food and shelter. The numbers were based on population counts and estimates of animal density before the disaster. Limitations on data meant that some groups - such as invertebrates, fish and turtles - were not included in the estimates. In February, the Australian government identified 113 animal species which needed "urgent help" after the bushfires. Almost all on the list had lost at least 30% of their habitat in temperate forests and grasslands of Australia's south and east. Koalas and wallabies - as well as bird, fish and frog species - were among those needing the most help, said experts. The government pledged A$50m (£27m; $35m) to wildlife and habitat recovery, but environmentalists have called on Australia to strengthen its conservation laws. Australia is holding a royal commission inquiry into the fires, which is due to report findings in October.
7-27-20 France to ban heated terraces in cafes and bars
France's government has announced new environmental measures, including a ban on heated terraces for cafes and bars. Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili said outside heating or air conditioning was an "ecological aberration". The ban will not come into force until after the winter as restaurants have been hard hit by Covid-19, she added. All heated or air-conditioned buildings open to the public will also have to keep their doors closed to avoid wasting energy. Ms Pompili told reporters it was wrong for shops to "air-condition the streets" in summer by keeping their doors open just to spare customers from having to open them. "Neither should terraces be heated in winter so people can feel warm as they drink coffee," she said. Trade groups say more than 75% of restaurants and cafes in the Paris area have a heated terrace. Ms Pompili said officials would talks to owners about ways of implementing measure after the winter. She was appointed by new Prime Minister Jean Castex, who has pledged €20m ($23m; £18.2m) for climate-related investment, as part of a €100m stimulus plan aimed at helping the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The measures announced by Ms Pompili also include the creation of two natural parks and a national nature reserve.
7-27-20 What the heroin industry can teach us about solar power
If you have ever doubted whether solar power can be a transformative technology, read on. This is a story about how it has proved its worth in the toughest environment possible. The market I'm talking about is perhaps the purest example of capitalism on the planet. There are no subsidies here. Nobody is thinking about climate change - or any other ethical consideration, for that matter. This is about small-scale entrepreneurs trying to make a profit. It is the story of how Afghan opium growers have switched to solar power, and significantly increased the world supply of heroin. I was in a military helicopter thundering over the lush poppy fields of the Helmand valley in Afghanistan when I spotted the first solar panel. You've heard of Helmand. It is the most dangerous province in Afghanistan. Of the 454 British soldiers who died in the recent conflict in Afghanistan, all but five lost their lives in Helmand. The province is also at the heart of by far the most productive opium-growing region on the planet. Most opium will be refined into heroin, one of the most addictive drugs there is. According to the UN body responsible for tracking and tackling illegal drug production, the UNODC, almost 80% of all Afghan opium now comes from the south-west of the country, including Helmand. That means pretty much two-thirds of global supply. So, not the kind of place you would expect to be at the forefront of efforts to decarbonise the economy. But, once I had seen that first solar panel, I saw more. In fact there seemed to be a small array of solar panels in the corner of most farm compounds, and that was back in 2016. It is only now that the scale of the revolution in heroin production I was unwittingly witnessing has been quantified. Because I wasn't the only person to notice that Afghan farmers were taking an interest in low-carbon technologies.
7-24-20 COVID-19 lockdowns dramatically reduced seismic noise from humans
Small ground vibrations generated by everyday activities dropped up to 50 percent in places. Widespread global lockdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the amount of seismic noise produced by humans by up to 50 percent in some places, a new study finds. This 2020 seismic noise quiet period began in late January and hit its peak from March to May. It was the longest and most prominent reduction of seismic waves from human activities in recorded history, researchers report online July 23 in Science. Around the world, seismometers don’t just pick up loud echoes of earthquakes rumbling through the subsurface. The instruments also detect many subtle reverberations, such as the hum caused by ocean swells or groundwater circulating underground, as well as the periodic tremors that sometimes signal an impending volcanic eruption (SN: 9/29/04; SN: 6/18/20; SN: 5/14/20). Seismometers can even detect ground vibrations generated by everyday human activities, such as traffic, construction and parades or football games. The link between seismic vibrations and noise from human activity is more intuitive than it might seem, says seismologist Thomas Lecocq of the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, who led the study. “When we ask people if they heard an earthquake, we often ask, ‘Did it sound like a truck passing by?’ People associate the rolling sound of a truck with the vibration they feel.” But distinguishing the patterns indicating natural hazards from other seismic signals is tricky. Some patterns have historically stood out: Human-caused rumbles tend to rise and fall with the workweek and subside on holidays. Previous analyses of these signals have tended to be local. As a result, researchers haven’t ever mapped the global scope of human seismic noise, Lecocq says.
7-24-20 Coronavirus lockdowns reduced human 'rumble'
The rumble generated by humanity took a big dive during the Covid lockdowns. Everything we do - from driving our cars to operating our factories - produces ground motions that can be detected by seismometers. An international team of researchers says this noise fell by up to half when coronavirus restrictions were enforced. The period March-May represents "the longest and most prominent global anthropogenic seismic noise reduction on record", they tell Science journal. The group obtained their motion data from a global network of 268 seismic stations in 117 countries. Many of the stations were citizen science efforts incorporating Raspberry-Pi mini-computers. These instruments were sensitive to all types of vibrations but also that band of frequencies, in the region of 4-14 Hertz, where human activities show up. Their information reveals how the quieting started in January in China, the origin of the Covid crisis, and then spread like a wave to the rest of the globe. As people were ordered home, travel restrictions were imposed, and places of work came to a halt - the usual vibrations put into the ground were abruptly dialled down. The biggest reductions were recorded in the most densely populated areas, like Singapore and New York City, but drops were also observed in remote areas like Germany's Black Forest and Rundu in Namibia. And the phenomenon wasn't confined just to the surface; the quieting was evident even at stations placed in boreholes hundreds of metres underground. Seismometers have long recognised a drop in this shaking at nights, at weekends and during holiday periods - but this lull was far more pronounced and prolonged. "I think one of the most interesting things for me is that this is really our first look at what actually contributes to the human-caused field of noise," observed co-author Dr Steve Hicks from Imperial College London, UK. "And as populations get bigger, and as cities get bigger - particularly those in geologically hazardous areas - we need to work out how we're going to monitor those hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides. Because as time goes on, more and more important signals that tell us about these kinds of events are going to get concealed."
7-24-20 To prevent the next pandemic, we might need to cut down fewer trees
Study weighs costs of reducing virus spillover from animals against the toll of disease outbreak. Reducing tropical deforestation and limiting the wildlife trade might be cost-effective ways of stopping pandemics before they start, a new analysis finds. About once every two years, a virus jumps from animals to humans, raising the specter of a pandemic like COVID-19. These “spillover events” are becoming increasingly common as humans encroach further into the natural world and have originated some of the worst outbreaks in recent memory, including SARS, Ebola, HIV and likely the new coronavirus too. Whether a spillover explodes into a pandemic depends on many factors, including qualities of the virus itself and how humans respond to it. But some biologists argue that pandemic preparedness should start with reducing the likelihood of spillover events in the first place, by fighting deforestation, monitoring farmed animals and limiting the wildlife trade. Such interventions would cost roughly $20 billion to $30 billion each year, according to an analysis in the July 24 Science. That price tag pales in comparison to the estimated global cost of COVID-19, which tops $5 trillion U.S. dollars in lost gross domestic product for this year alone. “COVID has killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused massive disruption to the economy,” says coauthor Stuart Pimm, a conservation biologist at Duke University. “We’ve shown that there are lots of smart, relatively cheap things we can do now to reduce the risk of another catastrophe like this one.” Forest edges represent a major front line for spillover events. As humans clear swaths of forest for agriculture or roads, forest edges multiply, increasing spillover risk from once-isolated wildlife to humans and livestock. While such forest loss is accelerating in many places, some countries have taken action. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil implemented land-use zoning and paid people not to chop down forests, reducing deforestation by 70 percent.
7-23-20 Big drop in Earth’s surface vibrations seen during covid-19 lockdowns
Lockdowns to contain the coronavirus led to drastic reductions in the vibrations of Earth’s surface, as people significantly curtailed their activity. Seismologists measure vibrations from earthquakes that travel through Earth’s surface. Their instruments also pick up vibrations from noisy human activities, like heavy footfall in crowded pedestrian areas, vehicle traffic, industrial operations and rowdy stadium crowds causing “football quakes”. A few days after Belgium introduced stay-at-home orders to help contain covid-19 in March, Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, noticed that his instruments were detecting far less noise than normal. He contacted colleagues in other countries and found they were observing similar things. They analysed records from 268 seismometer stations around the world and found a sudden quietening of seismic noise that began in China in late January, then spread to Europe and the rest of the world in March and April, in line with lockdown implementations. This makes sense, since most noisy human activities were curtailed during lockdowns, says Kasper van Wijk at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who was involved in the study. “But we were still surprised by the magnitude of the impact,” he says. A seismic station in Sri Lanka, for example, recorded a 50 per cent drop in seismic noise after the country enforced strict stay-at-home orders. A station in Barbados recorded a 45 per cent drop and another in New York recorded a 10 per cent drop following lockdowns. Seismologists have used this unusual quiet period to conduct studies that aren’t normally possible and may assist with earthquake forecasting, says van Wijk. “Basically, we can record cleaner seismic signals from the Earth,” he says.
7-23-20 Earth faces plastic pollution disaster unless we take drastic action
Plastic pollution is ubiquitous and growing, but knowing the best way to stop it has largely been a guessing game so far. Now, a study has found that if the world undertook every feasible action to cut plastic pollution, we would still only manage to get rid of 78 per cent of it by 2040, compared with a business-as-usual scenario. This momentous effort would still leave us with an extra 710 million metric tonnes of pollution. Does that make the whole thing hopeless? No, says Richard Bailey at the University of Oxford, who worked on the study. While a complete ban on plastics is unrealistic, there is still much we can do, he says. “The idea we would sit by and do nothing as this problem doubles on an annual basis – just imagine how much that means cumulatively in the ocean. It’s unimaginable we wouldn’t try to do something.” Pollution aside, a war on plastic makes financial sense. The team found that its ambitious scenario would be about a fifth cheaper than business-as-usual, as the cost of more waste and recycling facilities would be offset by lower plastic production and selling recycled material. Yet no single silver bullet, such as mass recycling, is enough. “Before our study, we still had uncertainty about maybe we can recycle our way out of this. What we found was there isn’t a single thing that we can say we can, ‘let’s just do loads of X’. We’ve got to do it all,” says Bailey. Though it varies by region, the biggest savings at a global level come from curbing plastic use and substituting it for other materials, rather than from better recycling and disposal or from improving mismanagement of waste, though they are essential too. All the approaches and technologies covered by the study exist. “We are not asking for something new to be created,” says Winnie Lau at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington DC, who was part of the research team.
7-23-20 Plastic pollution to weigh 1.3 billion tonnes by 2040
An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic is destined for our environment - both on land and in the ocean - by 2040, unless worldwide action is taken. That's according to a global model of the scale of the plastic problem over the next 20 years. Dr Costas Velis from the University of Leeds said the number was "staggering" but that we had "the technology and the opportunity to stem the tide". The report is published in the journal Science. "This is the first comprehensive assessment of what the picture could be in 20 years' time," Dr Velis explained. "It's difficult to picture an amount that large, but if you could imagine laying out all that plastic across a flat surface, it would cover the area of the UK 1.5 times. "It's complex [to calculate] becayse plastic is everywhere and, in every part of the world, it's different in terms of how it's used and dealt with." To turn this complex problem into numbers, the researchers tracked the production, use and disposal of plastic around the world. The team then created a model to forecast future plastic pollution. What they called a "business as usual" scenario - based on the current trend of increasing plastic production and no significant change in the amount of reuse and recycling - produced the 1.3 billion tonne estimate. By adjusting their model, the researchers were able to project how much different interventions would affect that number; they tweaked their model to increase recycling, reduce production and replace plastic with other available materials. Winnie Lau from the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts, which funded the research, told BBC News that it was vital to put in place every possible solution. "If we do that," she said, "we can reduce the amount of plastic that goes into the ocean - by 2040 - by 80%." But even if "all feasible action" was taken, Dr Velis explained, the model showed there would be 710 million extra tonnes of plastic waste in the environment in the next two decades.
7-22-20 Recent decades of European floods are among the worst in 500 years
The years 1990-2016 rank among the worst periods of flooding in Europe in five centuries, according to an assessment of historical letters, annals and legal records. The period has seen intense floods such as those in England in 2009 and 2002’s devastating flooding in Dresden in Germany, Prague in the Czech Republic and across central Europe. However, a lack of detailed data beyond the past 50 years has left it unclear whether we are living through a particularly flood-rich period. Günter Blöschl at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria says we are. Over seven years, his team built an unparalleled database of 103 rivers across Europe by scouring chronicles and other written records. Legal records proved reliable sources, including those from annual “beating the bounds” in England and Wales, where a church leader walked around a parish to record boundaries and often noted floods. “We’ve almost exclusively used original sources. Second-hand information is much more accessible but it’s also less accurate,” says Blöschl. The descriptions were used to class 9576 floods as notable, great or extraordinary, in order to measure flood-rich periods – when floods were bigger in extent and frequency than average – since 1500. The database revealed that 1990 to 2016 was the third most flood-rich period, behind 1840 to 1880 and 1750 to 1800, which was at number one. Blöschl says each one could move up or down a position in the rankings if the analysis was tweaked, due to patchier records in some years and places. Data is relatively scant for Scandinavia, for example, and the team ended their analysis at 2016. The most recent period is markedly different to older ones. Most of the past flood-rich periods were associated with cooler temperatures, but the current one comes amid a backdrop of climate change-driven warmth. Blöschl believes storms shifting northwards are to blame. More of the recent floods have also been in summer than past flood spells – 55 per cent versus 41 to 42 per cent – driven largely by more summer floods in central Europe.
7-22-20 Friederike Otto interview: Can we sue oil giants for extreme weather?
We can now rapidly and reliably link heatwaves, droughts and hurricanes to human-induced global warming, says climate scientist Friederike Otto. The science could soon be used as evidence in legal cases brought against fossil fuel companies. THE bush fires that engulfed parts of Australia earlier this year were nothing short of apocalyptic. More recently, a record-breaking heatwave has hit Siberia, causing a thaw in the permafrost that contributed to one of Russia’s worst ever oil spills. But were these disasters caused by climate change? For a long time, scientists have said that we can’t pin any single extreme weather event on our greenhouse gas emissions. That is still true, but in recent years, researchers have become far better at estimating how much more probable any given “natural” disaster was made by human-caused global warming. This work is called extreme event attribution, and it involves comparisons between real observations of weather events and computer simulations of a world with and without the roughly 1°C hike in temperatures caused by humanity so far. Run the simulations thousands of times and you can calculate the odds of the event occurring in both scenarios. So you can say, for example, that the drought conditions that were responsible for the Australian bush fires were made at least 30 per cent more likely by climate change. Or that human-induced global warming made the rise in temperatures that have been seen in Siberia over the past few months at least 600 times more likely. Friederike Otto at the University of Oxford, who led the team behind the rapid-response studies that made both of these estimations, is at the vanguard of the field. As co-founder of the World Weather Attribution project, she has been pivotal in recent work that has significantly sped up the process. Attribution already occurs in a matter of weeks, but soon it could happen within days. And Otto thinks that a change of this sort could have a profound effect on efforts to strong-arm governments into tougher action on carbon emissions. What’s more, attribution could even soon be used as evidence in legal cases in which people affected by extreme weather make claims for damages against governments or fossil fuel companies.
7-22-20 Student files climate change lawsuit against Australian government
An Australian student has filed a lawsuit against her government for failing to make clear climate change-related risks to investors in government bonds. It is thought to be the first such case in the world. Katta O'Donnell, 23, filed the civil action in the Federal Court on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Australian Treasury said it was aware of the case, but could not comment on the specifics. Government bonds are an investment where you lend money to the government. In return, it promises to pay back a certain sum of money in the future, as well as interest in the meantime. The suit comes after wildfires killed at least 33 people and millions of animals last year. "Australia is materially exposed and susceptible" to climate change risks, according to the statement filed with the Federal Court of Australia in Victoria state. It alleges that the country's economy and the national reputation in international financial markets will be significantly affected by the Australian government's response to climate change. The risks are crucial to an investor's decision to trade in government bonds and an investor is entitled to be informed of those risks, it adds. The student is seeking a declaration that the government breached its duty of disclosure and an injunction pausing further promotion of such bonds until it complies. "O'Donnell v The Commonwealth is the first case in the world dealing with climate as a material risk to the sovereign bond market," her lawyers say on their website. The fifth-year law student, who owns Australian government bonds, studies at La Trobe University and grew up in Healesville in the Central Highlands in Victoria. The area's forests are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly higher temperatures and reduced rainfall. "I want the Australian government to tell the truth about the risks posed by climate change," she told the Financial Times. "I don't want to look towards a future where these types of bushfires are a common occurrence."
7-21-20 Greta Thunberg to donate one-million-euro humanitarian prize
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environment campaigner, has been awarded a new humanitarian prize worth one million euros. The 17-year-old founder of School Strike for Climate, won the inaugural Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity. Judges described her as "one of the most remarkable figures of our days". Ms Thunberg said she will be donating the prize money to charitable projects that are combating "the climate and ecological crisis". As well as being awarded Time Magazine's Person of the Year in 2019, Ms Thunberg has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. Responding to the news, she said: "I am extremely honoured to receive the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity. "We're in a climate emergency, and my foundation will as quickly as possible donate all the prize money of one million euros to support organisations and projects that are fighting for a sustainable world." The prize, awarded each year, aims to "recognise people, groups of people and/or organisations from all over the world whose contributions to mitigation and adaptation to climate change stand out for its novelty, innovation and impact". Chairman of the prize's grand jury Jorge Sampaio applauded the teenagers ability to mobilise the younger generation, adding: "her tenacious struggle to alter a status quo that persists, makes her one of the most remarkable figures of our days". The jury also highlighted her "charismatic and inspiring personality". The prize is part of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which was established in 1956. It is a Portuguese philanthropic institute "dedicated to the promotion of arts, charity, science, and education".
7-21-20 Apple's 2030 carbon-neutral pledge covers itself and suppliers
Apple has announced a target of becoming carbon neutral across its entire business and manufacturing supply chain by 2030. The company says the commitment means its devices will have had "zero climate impact" at point of sale. It told BBC News any company hoping to become a supplier would have to commit to "be 100% renewable for their Apple production" within 10 years. It follows climate-focused pledges by other technology giants. Microsoft arguably has gone further, by promising: to be carbon negative by 2030, by 2050, to have removed the same amount of carbon as it has ever emitted from the environment. It has also just announced the creation of a consortium involving Nike, Starbucks and Mercedes-Benz among others to share information on carbon-reducing technologies. Amazon has set a 2040 target to go carbon neutral, reflecting the challenges it faces in converting its home-delivery vehicles to more eco-friendly energy sources. And Google has said it also intends to extend the carbon-neutral status it claims for its own operations to encompass its supply chain but has yet to set a deadline. The companies often note their goals are years ahead of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change's 2050 target for net-zero carbon-dioxide emissions, which the IPCC says is necessary to limit global warming. But the environmental campaign group Greenpeace told BBC News the technology giants were among the most profitable companies in the world and therefore had a responsibility to act quickly. "I am happy to see that Apple has worked with suppliers to source actual renewable energy and that it has not relied on low-impact solutions like offsetting or renewable energy credits," said Greenpeace USA's senior corporate campaigner, Elizabeth Jardim. "But I will want to see how the company is further phasing out reliance on fossil fuels throughout its operations on a near-term timeline. "At present, the company has matched data-centre energy demand with renewables and committed to do the same for its supply chain. "But this is not the same as phasing out fossil fuel use altogether."
7-21-20 River Thames 'severely polluted with plastic'
The River Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics for any river in the world. Scientists have estimated that 94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in places. The quantity exceeds that measured in other European rivers, such as the Danube and Rhine. Tiny bits of plastic have been found inside the bodies of crabs living in the Thames. And wet wipes flushed down the toilet are accumulating in large numbers on the shoreline. Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, are calling for stricter regulations on the labelling and disposal of plastic products. They warn that careless disposal of plastic gloves and masks during the coronavirus pandemic might make the problem of plastic pollution worse. "Taken together these studies show how many different types of plastic, from microplastics in the water through to larger items of debris physically altering the foreshore, can potentially affect a wide range of organisms in the River Thames," said Prof Dave Morritt from Royal Holloway. "The increased use of single-use plastic items, and the inappropriate disposal of such items, including masks and gloves, along with plastic-containing cleaning products, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, may well exacerbate this problem." The scientists point out that the Thames is cleaner than it used to be with respect to some pollutants, such as trace metals. Many forms of microplastics were found in the Thames, including glitter, microbeads from cosmetics and plastic fragments from larger items. The bulk of the microplastics came from the break-down of large plastics, with food packaging thought to be a significant source. "Flushable" wet wipes were found in high abundance on the shoreline forming "wet wipe reefs". Study researcher, Katherine McCoy, said, "Our study shows that stricter regulations are needed for the labelling and disposal of these products. There is great scope to further research the impacts of microplastics and indeed microfibres on Thames organisms."
7-20-20 Climate change may kill off nearly all polar bears by 2100
Unchecked climate change will doom all but one of the world’s populations of polar bears before the end of the century, as vanishing sea ice increases their annual fasts beyond their limits. The bears’ reliance on sea ice to hunt seals means that the last 26,000 are being pushed towards physiological thresholds for how long they can fast each year as the Arctic warms. However, a lack of data on the demographics of the 19 sub-populations of polar bear has made it hard to give accurate timelines of how long each group will be able to continue in the future. To bridge the gap, Péter Molnár at the University of Toronto and his colleagues emulated the approach taken by climate scientists to model future temperatures. For each of the 19 bear groups, they combined estimates of the extent of sea ice for their part of the Arctic with how much energy they need daily and how fat they are before each fasting season to build an “energy budget” computer model. This projected how long they will be able to keep reproducing and surviving. “The bottom line is very simple. If we continue greenhouse gas emissions the way we are doing, it is highly likely we are going to lose every polar bear population in the world before the end of the century, except perhaps in the very high north of the Arctic, in the Queen Elizabeth Islands,” says Molnár of a high-emissions scenario where temperatures rise by almost 4°C globally by 2100. Even if emissions are cut dramatically and warming is held to just under 2°C, most of the bear groups will still be pushed beyond their physical limits – though some will probably survive this century. The researchers tested their model with “hindcasting”, comparing its projections for the past with actual historical observations. For example, it neatly matched the waxing and waning of the bears in western areas of Hudson Bay, Canada, in the 1980s and 1990s.
7-20-20 Climate change: Polar bears could be lost by 2100
Polar bears will be wiped out by the end of the century unless more is done to tackle climate change, a study predicts. Scientists say some populations have already reached their survival limits as the Arctic sea ice shrinks. The carnivores rely on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean to hunt for seals. As the ice breaks up, the animals are forced to roam for long distances or on to shore, where they struggle to find food and feed their cubs. The bear has become the "poster child of climate change", said Dr Peter Molnar of the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. "Polar bears are already sitting at the top of the world; if the ice goes, they have no place to go," he said. Polar bears are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with climate change a key factor in their decline. Studies show that declining sea ice is likely to decrease polar bear numbers, perhaps substantially. The new study, published in Nature Climate Change, puts a timeline on when that might happen. By modelling the energy use of polar bears, the researchers were able to calculate their endurance limits. Dr Steven Amstrup, chief scientist of Polar Bears International, who was also involved in the study, told BBC News: "What we've shown is that, first, we'll lose the survival of cubs, so cubs will be born but the females won't have enough body fat to produce milk to bring them along through the ice-free season. "Any of us know that we can only go without food for so long," he added, "that's a biological reality for all species". The researchers were also able to predict when these thresholds will be reached in different parts of the Arctic. This may have already happened in some areas where polar bears live, they said. "Showing how imminent the threat is for different polar bear populations is another reminder that we must act now to head off the worst of future problems faced by us all," said Dr Amstrup. "The trajectory we're on now is not a good one, but if society gets its act together, we have time to save polar bears. And if we do, we will benefit the rest of life on Earth, including ourselves." Under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, it's likely that all but a few polar bear populations will collapse by 2100, the study found. And even if moderate emissions reduction targets are achieved, several populations will disappear. The findings match previous projections that polar bears are likely to persist to 2100 only in a few populations very far north if climate change continues unabated.
7-20-20 Beetle larvae that eat polystyrene may help solve plastic waste crisis
Beetles with larvae that can digest polystyrene may help to solve the world’s mounting plastic waste crisis. Expanded polystyrene, which is used to make cups and boxes, is increasingly clogging up landfill and polluting oceans because it doesn’t biodegrade. Until recently, no organisms were known to be able to break down polystyrene. But Hyung Joon Cha at Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea and his colleagues have discovered that the larvae of a north-east Asian beetle called Plesiophthalmus davidis can do the job. When the researchers gave the larvae nothing but expanded polystyrene boxes to eat for two weeks, they consumed about 34 milligrams of the plastic each. The bacteria in their guts converted the long polystyrene molecules into carbon dioxide gas and small chemical fragments that were excreted as droppings. The larvae are probably able to degrade the plastic because they normally feed on rotten wood, which contains cellulose and lignin molecules that have similar structures to polystyrene, says Cha. P. davidis is related to three other wood-eating beetles whose larvae have also recently been shown to degrade polystyrene: Tenebrio molitor, Tenebrio obscurus and Zophobas atratus. The four types of larvae could potentially be used to break down some of the millions of tonnes of polystyrene waste that are produced each year, says Wei-Min Wu at Stanford University in California, who led the work studying the other larvae. However, they probably couldn’t chew through the whole lot, since each larva only decomposes a few milligrams per day, he says. Wu and his team are now studying whether gut bacteria or digestive enzymes extracted from the larvae can break down polystyrene more efficiently than the insects themselves.
7-18-20 Amazon soya and beef exports 'linked to deforestation'
Up to one-fifth of Brazil's soya exports to the European Union may be "contaminated" by illegal deforestation, a study has found. Researchers used freely available maps and data to identify the specific farms and ranches clearing forests to produce soya and beef destined for Europe. They found 2% of properties were responsible for 62% of illegal deforestation. These "bad apples" have global environmental consequences, they said. Prof Raoni Rajão, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, said it was up to the country's political and economic leaders to root out "the bad apples in the soy and beef sectors". "Brazil has the information it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free," he said. Reports from non-governmental organisations and journalistic investigations have previously revealed cases of soya and beef being produced in areas of deforestation and exported. But this is the first study to link property-level illegal deforestation with export data. The research, published in the journal Science, found that 2% of properties in the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado grasslands are responsible for 62% of all potentially illegal deforestation. Roughly 20% of soya exports and at least 17% of beef exports to the EU may be "contaminated with illegal deforestation", the researchers said. According to their analysis, two million tons of soya grown on properties with illegal deforestation may have reached EU markets annually during the period of analysis, 500,000 of which came from the Amazon. As the soya is fed mainly to livestock, customers can't be sure whether the meat they buy is "deforestation-free". Duncan Brack, of the Chatham House think tank, said the study strengthened the argument for government measures to end UK consumers' contribution to deforestation, such as a due-diligence or duty-of-care obligation on companies importing products such as beef or soya.
7-16-20 Fifth of Brazilian beef exports to EU linked to illegal deforestation
Around one-fifth of the beef and soya the European Union imports from Brazil each year has been linked to illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado savanna. The extent of European consumers’ role in the destruction of two globally important biodiversity hotspots is revealed as Brazil faces a bleak year for deforestation because of an anticipated drought and the activities of emboldened loggers. European politicians have also warned a major trade deal is at risk if climate change-fuelling deforestation in Brazil isn’t tackled. Past investigations have uncovered the links between individual Brazilian cattle ranches and European food firms. Bigger picture efforts to show the size of the problem have suffered from not being granular enough, with data drawn from a municipality level, allowing agribusiness to say it wasn’t to blame for illegal logging. An international team has now connected the dots using Brazilian government records, including maps of land use, deforestation and permits issued when cattle is moved between the properties and abattoirs ahead of international trade. Ruling out legal forest clearance, the team found 20 per cent of soya and at least 17 per cent of beef exports to the EU were associated with illegal deforestation. “Is that too much, too little? It’s probably disappointing to critics of agribusiness. On the other hand, it’s not zero. We are talking about millions of tonnes [of exports to the EU], and we estimate 58 million tonnes of CO2 related to those exports between 2009 and 2017, so it is substantial,” says Raoni Rajão at Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. Just 2 per cent of ranches are responsible for 62 per cent of the illegal deforestation, suggesting a potentially easy fix. “What we found to our surprise is how concentrated is the deforestation in a few farms. The government or farmers say ‘yeah the Amazon is too big to monitor, it’s impossible’. No, it is possible, it’s here, you have to focus on those super sites,” says Rajão.
7-16-20 Summers could become 'too hot for humans'
Millions of people around the world could be exposed to dangerous levels of heat stress as temperatures rise. Many live in developing countries, and do jobs that expose them to potentially life threatening conditions. These include being out in the open on farms and building sites or indoors in factories and hospitals. Climate scientists say global warming will increase the chances of summertime conditions that may be literally "too hot for humans" to work in. When we caught up with Dr Jimmy Lee, his goggles were steamed up and there was sweat trickling off his neck. An emergency medic, he's labouring in the stifling heat of tropical Singapore to care for patients with Covid-19. There's no air conditioning - a deliberate choice, to prevent the virus being blown around - and he notices that he and his colleagues become "more irritable, more short with each other". And his personal protective equipment, essential for avoiding infection, makes things worse by creating a sweltering 'micro-climate' under the multiple layers of plastic. "It really hits you when you first go in there," Dr Lee says, "and it's really uncomfortable over a whole shift of eight hours - it affects morale." One danger, he realises, is that overheating can slow down their ability to do something that's vital for medical staff - make quick decisions. Another is that they may ignore the warning signs of what's called heat stress - such as faintness and nausea - and keep on working till they collapse. strong>What is heat stress?It's when the body is unable to cool down properly so its core temperature keeps rising to dangerous levels and key organs can shut down. It happens when the main technique for getting rid of excess heat - the evaporation of sweat on the skin - can't take place because the air is too humid. And as Dr Lee and other medics have found, the impermeable layers of personal protection equipment (PPE) - designed to keep the virus out - have the effect of preventing the sweat from evaporating. According to Dr Rebecca Lucas, who researches physiology at the University of Birmingham, the symptoms can escalate from fainting and disorientation to cramps and failure of the guts and kidneys. "It can become very serious as you overheat, and in all areas of the body."
7-15-20 Siberian heatwave was 'impossible' without human-made climate change
The record-breaking heatwave that has baked Siberia for the past six months was made at least 600 times more likely because of climate change, which researchers say mean it is “effectively impossible” for it to have occurred without the warming driven by human activities. Temperatures in the region have been around 8°C above average since the start of the year, triggering wildfires that released record amounts of carbon dioxide in June and a permafrost thaw that contributed to one of Russia’s worst ever oil spills. Now, a rapid assessment by an international team of climate scientists, which ran computer models of a world with and without the 1°C of warming that has occurred over the past two centuries, has found that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions were almost certainly the culprit. The researchers estimated that the temperature anomalies across the region between January and June could have been made up to 99,000 times more likely because of climate change. However, Friederike Otto at the University of Oxford says the team has more confidence on the lower bound of at least 600 times more likely. The increased probability is one of the clearest signals of human-caused global warming so far in the field of attribution science, which assesses whether heatwaves and other extreme weather can be plausibly linked to climate change. “This is actually among the strongest results of any attribution study so far,” says Sarah Kew at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. Even for a part of the world marked by big natural swings in temperatures, Siberia’s recent heat has been striking. The team found that the area would have been at least 2°C cooler without humanity’s influence. While confident about the temperature anomalies across Siberia as a whole, the researchers didn’t have enough certainty to say the extent to which the record-breaking high of 38°C recorded in the town of Verkhoyansk on one day in June was linked to climate change.
7-15-20 Trump weakens environmental law to speed up infrastructure projects
US President Donald Trump has announced alterations to a landmark environmental law, in a controversial move to allow projects to go ahead with less oversight. Mr Trump touted changes to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) as a "historic breakthrough". He said they would speed up reviews of major infrastructure projects. But critics say the changes amount to the dismantling of the 50-year-old law and are a giveaway to polluters. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, the NEPA is considered to be the bedrock of environmental safeguards in the US. Under the law, federal agencies are required to be transparent and consult with the public before embarking on infrastructure projects that could impact the environment. But under the changes unveiled by President Trump, the time window for the review process will be shortened. This will speed up approval for projects such as mines, roads, pipelines and power plants. "This is a historical breakthrough that means better roads and highways," Mr Trump said, announcing the changes at a hub for delivery firm UPS in Atlanta, Georgia. "We are reclaiming America's proud heritage as a nation that gets things done." Mr Trump's choice of venue was symbolic, because the changes will expedite the expansion of the I-75, a major road for lorry drivers in Georgia. Speaking in Atlanta, Mr Trump said his administration was "completely modernising the environmental review process" for infrastructure projects. Mr Trump, a property magnate before he became president, said he had personally been frustrated by the "ridiculous process", which was "the single biggest obstacle to infrastructure projects". As part of the changes to the NEPA, the review time frame will be cut "down to two years or less", Mr Trump said. "What we're doing, the two years won't be the exception, it will be the rule. This will reduce approval time for highways alone by 70%," Mr Trump said.
7-15-20 Is Joe Biden taking climate change seriously?
He's moving in the right direction, but his plan is still short of what is needed. oe Biden has upgraded his climate change plan. After consultation with Sen. Bernie Sanders and his progressive allies, the Biden campaign agreed to a compromise program that would be considerably faster and bigger than what he had previously called for. His plan would "mobilize millions of jobs by building sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future," he said in a speech Tuesday afternoon. On one level, it is an encouraging development. Biden's plan, if implemented, would be orders of magnitude more significant than anything the Obama administration did. And as Eric Levitz writes at New York, now that Biden has sewn up the Democratic primary he is moving to the left on climate rather than to the right. However, there is still little sign that Biden or the rest of the Democratic establishment have fully grasped the colossal scale of the challenge that climate change poses. They are moving in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go. First, the good. Biden has increased his proposed green investment from $1.7 trillion to $2 trillion. More importantly, he has accelerated the time frame — moving from a 10-year window to just four years. That, no doubt, is a recognition of the fact that the economy will still be in terrible shape in January should he take office. If the pandemic can be contained, then the U.S. will need an enormous fiscal stimulus to recover to full employment and production. That should unquestionably come in the form of green investment to cut greenhouse emissions. Biden has also moved up his targets. Instead of aiming for a zero-emission economy in 2050, he now proposes to completely decarbonize electricity production by 2035. He would provide funds for an expansion of public transit in all cities with 100,000 or more residents, efficiency upgrades for 4 million buildings and 2 million homes, 1.5 million new efficient homes and public housing, subsidies for electric car production, and $400 billion for green technology research. The plan also includes some welcome social justice elements. Biden would direct 40 percent of the investment into disadvantaged communities, and would stand up a "climate conservation corps" to provide jobs cutting emissions and protecting the environment. If actually passed — a tall order indeed, though at least Biden recently acknowledged it may be necessary to get rid of the Senate filibuster, which is a precondition for passing virtually anything — this would be a gigantic upgrade on President Obama's horrible climate record. Obama implemented some regulations on vehicle efficiency and power plant emissions, and provided some subsidies for green power, but he also ushered in a fracking boom that made the U.S. the biggest producer of oil and gas on the planet. We've "built enough pipeline to wrap around the entire earth once," Obama boasted during a presidential debate with Mitt Romney in 2012. In effect, Biden's plan would be undoing much of the damage he participated in as vice president.
7-15-20 Agriculture and fossil fuels are driving record-high methane emissions
Africa and Asia have seen releases of the heat-trapping gas surge. Methane levels in the atmosphere are at an all-time high. But curbing emissions of that potent greenhouse gas requires knowing where methane is being released, and why. Now, a global inventory of methane sources reveals the major culprits behind rising methane pollution in the 21st century. Agriculture, landfill waste and fossil fuel use were the primary reasons that Earth’s atmosphere absorbed about 40 million metric tons more methane from human activities in 2017 than it did per year in the early 2000s. Expanding agriculture dominated methane release in places like Africa, South Asia and Oceania, while increasing fossil fuel use heightened emissions in China and the United States, researchers report online July 14 in Environmental Research Letters. Methane “is one of the most important greenhouse gases — arguably the second most important after CO2,” says Alexander Turner, an atmospheric scientist who will join the University of Washington in Seattle in 2021. Although there is far less methane than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, methane can trap about 30 times as much heat over a century as the same amount of CO2. Tallying methane sources “is really important if you want to understand how the climate is going to evolve,” says Turner, who wasn’t involved in the new study. It can also help prioritize strategies to quell pollution, like consuming less meat to cut down on emissions from cattle ranches and using aircraft or satellites to scout out leaky gas pipelines to fix (SN: 11/14/19). Marielle Saunois, an atmospheric scientist at the Pierre Simon Laplace Institute in Paris, and colleagues cataloged global methane pollution in 2017 — the most recent year with complete data — using atmospheric measurements from towers and aircraft around the world. The isotope, or type of carbon, in methane samples contained clues about its source — such as whether the methane was emitted by the oil and gas industry, or by microbes living in rice paddies, landfills or the guts of belching cattle (SN: 11/18/15). The team compared the 2017 observations with average annual emissions from 2000 to 2006.
7-15-20 Less than a third of Antarctica remains untouched by humans
Less than a third of Antarctica is still entirely pristine and free from direct human influence, according to an analysis that scientists say shows the need for greater environmental protections in the remote region. Scientific research on the continent ramped up in the 1950s, but in recent years human activity has accelerated further, with more researchers visiting to better understand the region’s impact on global sea level rise. Cruises to Antarctica are growing too: before the coronavirus pandemic, around 50,000 tourists had been expected to visit this year. To see if the existing legal protections for Antarctica are sufficient in the face of such pressure, Steven Chown at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues analysed 2.7 million records covering the past two centuries of human activity on the continent, including newly digitised books by explorers. Based on four accepted definitions of wilderness used globally, they found that between 99.57 and 100 per cent of Antarctica could be considered wilderness. However, when the team narrowed the definition to areas that have never been visited by humans, that figure dropped to around 32 per cent. Such untouched areas are considered important for the region’s biodiversity as a baseline to measure growing human impact, and because 12 countries have explicitly promised to protect them under the Antarctic Treaty, an agreement that promotes scientific cooperation in the region, among other aims. “If you trample through a moss bed, the mosses can take years to recover. If we really want to keep Antarctica pristine, which is what all the nations signed up to the treaty have said, are there any left for them to keep? It turns out not much,” says Chown. The results likely underestimate how much of the region has been touched by humans. Records of human activity miss some current research expeditions and data on Soviet-era activity can be patchy. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) once stumbled across an unrecorded Russian building dating back to the 1970s on the south-east Antarctic Peninsula, for example.
7-15-20 Extinction Rebellion were not veteran protesters, new analysis shows
Extinction Rebellion activists who occupied London twice last year were largely white, middle class and highly educated – but many were first-time or inexperienced protesters, a new analysis has found. In October 2019, UK prime minister Boris Johnson called Extinction Rebellion “nose-ringed climate change protesters” and “uncooperative crusties”, suggesting the protesters were veteran activists of the climate movement. Now, Graeme Hayes at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, and his colleagues have found that Extinction Rebellion seems to have succeeded in mobilising new people. The team conducted more than 300 face-to-face interviews and gathered more than 200 completed questionnaires with protesters, along with observing court hearings of campaigners who were charged by police. They found that at least 85 per cent had a university degree, more than twice the national average, while a third had a postgraduate degree. Two thirds of the activists self-identified as middle class and more than three quarters of those charged were from southern England. Most were politically on the left, with 34 per per cent voting Green in the 2017 general election, 47 per cent voting Labour and just two people voting Conservative. Criticism that the group wasn’t ethnically diverse seems to have been well-founded. Of 132 defendants observed in court by the researchers, only two weren’t white, and a freedom of information request revealed that 90 per cent of a thousand arrested activists were white. “In terms of being white, middle class, highly educated, in terms of how they vote, these aren’t people who are from outside the natural constituency of environmental movements,” says Hayes. However, Extinction Rebellion was successful in broadening its appeal in two key respects, the research suggests. Few protesters were veteran activists, with 10 per cent never having been on a protest and half having attended five or fewer protests of any kind in their lifetime.
7-10-20 Venice test brings up floodgates for first time
For the first time a system of 78 mobile floodgates has been tested in Venice, after years beset by delays and corruption. The 1.5km (one-mile) Mose system of yellow dams was a "powerful project that has taken years to complete", said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Venice was hit by the worst floods in half a century in November 2019. Environmental protesters took to the lagoon on Friday, saying the barriers would damage the area. Critics argue the sluice-gate system is 10 years too late. Work on the Mose project started in 2003, even though it was designed in the 1980s. It has gone three times over its original budget and resulted in the arrest of dozens of officials, the BBC's Quentin Sommerville reports from Rome. The coronavirus pandemic has brought tourism to a halt and stopped cruise ships from entering the lagoon but rising seas in the Adriatic continue to threaten Venice. Last autumn, more than 80% of the city was flooded. The prime minister and three government colleagues visited the control room on Venice Lido to see the 90-minute operation take place. "We are here for a test, not a parade," he told reporters. The four defensive barriers were raised and lowered at three inlets - two at the Lido, and at Malamocco and Chioggia. Under the Mose (Experimental Electromechanical Module) system, if there is a very high tide, compressed air enters the 78 sluice gates and empties them of water, so they rise up and block the tide entering the lagoon. Friday's test lasted 90 minutes and officials said at full capacity the barriers could rise in half an hour. Elisabetta Spitz, the commissioner supervising the project, said it was not ready yet and would need another 18 months of testing. Protesters from the No Mose group tried to disrupt the test but police stopped them. "They had everything in the water, from police jet skis to dinghies, speed boats and coast guard vessels," protest leader Tommaso Cacciari told Ansa news agency. "We tried to break the blockade but there was nothing we could do."
7-10-20 Climate change: Road plans will scupper CO2 targets, report says
The vast majority of emissions cuts from electric cars will be wiped out by new road-building, a report says. The government says vehicle emissions per mile will fall as zero-emissions cars take over Britain’s roads. But the report says the 80% of the CO2 savings from clean cars will be negated by the £27bn planned roads programme. It adds that if ministers want a “green recovery” the cash would be better spent on public transport, walking, cycling, and remote-working hubs. And they point out that the electric cars will continue to increase local air pollution through particles eroding from brakes and tyres. The calculations have been made by an environmental consultancy, Transport for Quality of Life, using data collected by Highways England. The paper estimates that a third of the predicted increase in emissions would come from construction - including energy for making steel, concrete and asphalt. A third would be created by increased vehicle speeds on faster roads. And a further third would be caused by extra traffic generated by new roads stimulating more car-dependent housing, retail parks and business parks. Its authors say history shows that building roads almost always generates more traffic. The report says even with the government’s most optimistic estimate of the adoption rate for electric vehicles, emissions from trunk roads and motorways in England are not on track to meet “net zero“ by 2050. A government spokesperson told BBC News the report is based on old data. “This assessment is wholly incorrect and doesn’t take into account the benefits from the massive surge in electric vehicles," he said. "The Road Investment Strategy is consistent with our ambition to improve air quality and decarbonise transport." The report’s lead author, Lynn Sloman, said the electric car revolution would happen too slowly for transport to achieve the UK's carbon-cutting goals. “If we are to meet the legally-binding carbon budgets, we need to make big cuts in carbon emissions over the next decade," she said. "That will require faster adoption of electric cars - but it will also require us to reduce vehicle mileage by existing cars. “Unfortunately, the Government’s £27 billion road programme will make things worse, not better.”
7-9-20 Clean energy future 'is vital' - UN chief
The UN Secretary-General has told a meeting of ministers it is "vital" the world moves towards clean energy. Antonio Guterres said decisions on recovery strategies must account for the need to transition to a more sustainable future. He was speaking at the International Energy Agency's (IEA) Clean Energy Transitions Summit. The virtual meeting is being billed as the year's largest global gathering on energy and climate. "Stop wasting money on fossil fuel subsidies and place a price on carbon", Mr Guterres urged. Representatives from the US, China, the EU, Japan and the UK were all in attendance. The UN chief told the meeting that new analysis of G20 recovery packages shows that twice as much recovery money has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy. Mr Guterres praised the EU, South Korea and Nigeria for their efforts to encourage the development of renewable energy but said pointedly that many countries had "still not got the message". "Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially," he said. "Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that don't make financial or environmental sense." His message was unambiguous: "Coal has no place in Covid-19 recovery plans." The Secretary-General did not mention any nations by name but, in the US, the White House has been cutting back environmental protections while China has given the green light to a slew of new coal plants. Mr Guterres outlined what he said were the three "vital reasons" to choose clean energy. He said air pollution is already causing close to nine million early deaths each year and shortening human lifespans by three years - a heavier toll than tobacco, the UN chief claimed. He said the ever-growing scientific evidence of the increasing toll of climate disruption was another reason. And finally, he said the world needs to transition from fossil fuels for economic reasons.
7-9-20 Climate change: 'Rising chance' of exceeding 1.5C global target
The World Meteorological Organisation says there's a growing chance that global temperatures will break the 1.5C threshold over the next five years, compared to pre-industrial levels. It says there's a 20% possibility the critical mark will be broken in any one year before 2024. But the assessment says there's a 70% chance it will be broken in one or more months in those five years. Scientists say that keeping below 1.5C will avoid the worst climate impacts. The target was agreed by world leaders in the 2015 Paris climate accord accord. They committed to pursue efforts to try to keep the world from warming by more than 1.5C this century. This new assessment, carried out by the UK's Met Office for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), says there's a growing chance that this level will be breached. Researchers say that the Earth's average annual temperature is already more than 1C higher than it was in the 1850s - and will probably stay around this level over the next five years. Previous studies had put the short-term chances of going above 1.5C at 10% - that's now doubled say the climate modellers, and it's increasing with time. Some parts of the world will feel this rising heat more than others, with the scientists saying that the Arctic will probably warm by twice the global average this year. They also predict that over the coming five years there will be more storms over western Europe thanks to rising sea levels. The assessment considers natural variability as well as the impact of carbon emissions from human activities - however the models don't take account of the fall-off in CO2 emissions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The WMO says this is unlikely to affect temperatures in the early 2020s. "The WMO has repeatedly stressed that the industrial and economic slowdown from Covid-19 is not a substitute for sustained and co-ordinated climate action," said Prof Petteri Taalas, the WMO's secretary general. "Due to the very long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, the impact of the drop in emissions this year is not expected to lead to a reduction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations which are driving global temperature increases.
7-8-20 A sprinkle of rock dust could help avoid catastrophic climate change
Spreading rock dust on cropland around the world could save around a tenth of humanity’s “carbon budget”, the amount of carbon dioxide we can afford to emit without triggering catastrophic levels of global warming. Earth’s three biggest CO2 emitters – China, the US and India – have the most to gain from the strategy, which is known as enhanced rock weathering (ERW). Rocks naturally absorb CO2, but ERW accelerates the process by grinding them up to increase their surface area. David Beerling at the University of Sheffield in the UK says his team’s modelling of ERW’s potential is the most realistic yet because it limits how much rock is available and the energy countries would be willing to use for grinding. Factoring in countries’ climate, cropland area and evolving energy systems, they found that rock dust could remove between 0.5 and 2 gigatonnes of CO2 annually by 2050. Humanity’s fossil fuel use emits around 35 gigatonnes of CO2 each year. “If you can extract a gigatonne a year, it’s significant. Two gigatonnes is the combined CO2 emissions of aviation and shipping, and those two are going to be very difficult to decarbonise. I would say it’s got very exciting potential for transforming how we manage the agricultural landscape,” says Beerling. His team calculated that if 2 gigatonnes of CO2 were removed annually over half a century, it would save up to 12 per cent of the world’s carbon budget. Rock dust may hold appeal over other CO2 removal options because it doesn’t require changes to land use – such as growing energy crops for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage – and there is growing evidence that it has the side effect of boosting crop yields too, says Beerling. “We need to clean up the [climate change] mess in sensible ways, over a time scale of decades to centuries,” says team member James Hansen at Columbia University in New York. “One of the ways with multiple benefits is rock dust farming. I particularly like it because it is more permanent than most CO2 draw-down schemes.”
7-8-20 Butterflies are showing us how wildlife will cope with climate change
As warm-weather species flutter further toward the poles, we will end up with far fewer kinds of butterfly. Here's what that means for biodiversity across the animal kingdom. THE long-tailed blue butterfly, named for the stringy “tails” on its wings and its iridescent azure colour, is common across Africa and southern Europe. It has rarely ventured as far north as the UK. In fact, for most of the time since one was first recorded on the south coast of England in 1859, only a few dozen more had been spotted there. But over the past decade or so, the long-tailed blue (pictured above) has been arriving in the country during the late summer in greater and greater numbers. Last year, eagle-eyed gardeners saw at least 50 adults and hundreds of eggs. The sight of such exotic visitors is a thrill for butterfly enthusiasts. For conservationists, it is something else entirely: a worrying confirmation that butterflies are already feeling the effects of human-induced global warming. “This isn’t something that’s 50 years ahead. This is happening right now,” says Dan Hoare, an ecologist and director at UK-based charity Butterfly Conservation. Although the long-tailed blue is taking advantage of rising temperatures by expanding its range, most wildlife won’t have it so good. “The long-tailed blue should make us think twice about how nature is going to be able to adapt,” says Hoare. As it happens, watching butterflies is one of the best ways to answer that question because these fragile, transient creatures are bellwethers. When it comes to understanding how climate change is affecting wildlife and ecosystems, their lifestyles and famous visibility make them uniquely revealing. So, as temperatures rise, what is becoming of butterflies? And what do their various fates tell us about how climate change will affect biodiversity in general? Butterflies aren’t facing global warming on a firm footing. Around the world, populations are experiencing steep downturns. In the UK, as the long-tailed blues have moved in, there have also been serious long-term declines in the majority of butterfly species. It is a similar story wherever there are reliable figures. Butterfly numbers in the Netherlands have dropped by more than 80 per cent since 1890, for instance, while all 26 species listed as threatened or endangered in the US have dwindled to the point of extinction.
7-8-20 How many house plants do you need to clean the air in a small flat?
There are lots of claims that house plants filter the air, but it turns out you need an awful lot of them to beat just opening the window, finds James Wong AS YOU may know from my bio, I cohabit my small flat in London with more than 500 plants. I am therefore fascinated by the promise of a plethora of health benefits from gardening in the great indoors. With the current flowering of interest in the hobby, the internet is awash with handy advice for the “10 best air-purifying plants for the home” and species marketed as “Air so pure”. Being a stats geek, I wanted to calculate exactly how much the concentration of plants in my apartment could clean the air. This turned out to be a rather deep rabbit hole… The seminal work on this subject came from NASA in 1989, after it investigated using plants as filters in space stations. In the study, researchers placed individual plants in tiny chambers filled with air contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This group of chemicals includes known carcinogens like the benzene in cigarette smoke and the formaldehyde in paints, and it has been consistently linked to poor health outcomes. NASA found that there was a significant improvement in the air quality in the chambers over a 24-hour period. Many headlines about how houseplants clean the air, including claims of a 90 per cent reduction in indoor air pollutants, have come from citing this three-decade-old paper. While the study was well designed, there are a few caveats. Firstly, the “90 per cent” claim isn’t for all plants, or even all pollutants, but a single stat for the ability of ivy to remove benzene from the air. Results for other plants and contaminants aren’t as impressive, coming in at less than 10 per cent in some cases. So the way this study has been reported – including by me, I regret to say – exaggerates the actual ability of plants to clean the air.
7-8-20 Coronavirus: 'The masks you throw away could end up killing a whale'
As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic, more and more protective equipment is ending up in the sea. We are putting 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves into the environment every month, according to Ocean Conservancy. Divers and observers are spotting more of this discarded waste floating underwater, causing problems for wildlife and washing up on shorelines all over the world.
7-8-20 Climate change may push Zika virus into southern and eastern Europe
Rising temperatures due to climate change may lead to the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus to currently cooler regions. Under the most drastic model of global warming, the risk of Zika transmission will increase over southern and eastern Europe, the northern US, northern China and southern Japan by 2080. DMarcus Blagrove at the University of Liverpool in the UK and his colleagues studied the temperatures at which mosquitoes can remain infectious while carrying the disease, and modelled changing temperatures to simulate the potential spread of Zika virus as a result of climate change. The researchers looked at two species of mosquitoes capable of spreading Zika virus that are already common in temperate regions: Aedes albopictus and Ochlerotatus detritus. Groups of these mosquitoes were exposed to temperatures between 17 and 31°C, and the team then studied their lifespans and Zika virus infectivity at different temperatures. The researchers found that Zika virus was present in the insects’ salivary glands – and that therefore they were infectious – at temperatures of 19°C and above. Mosquitoes are unable to regulate their own heat, so the temperature of their bodies is the same as the surrounding environment, says Blagrove. “The warmer the environment is, the warmer the mosquito, which allows the virus to replicate faster,” he says. “That tends to be why mosquito-borne viruses have major outbreaks in hot countries, particularly at hot times of year.” Outbreaks of Zika virus have previously occurred in South and Central America, south-east Asia and parts of Africa. In lower temperatures, the virus may take so long to replicate that the mosquito dies before it becomes infectious. Based on lifespan and infectivity, the researchers created risk maps of the rate of Zika virus spread over different regions globally. At present, only a few areas in Europe, such as along the Mediterranean coast, are warm enough for Zika virus to be potentially transmitted.
7-7-20 Esa and Nasa line up satellites to measure Antarctic sea-ice
US and European scientists are about to get a unique view of polar ice as their respective space agencies line up two satellites in the sky. Authorisation was given on Tuesday for Europe's Cryosat-2 spacecraft to raise its orbit by just under one kilometre. This will hugely increase the number of coincident observations it can make with the Americans' Icesat-2 mission. One outcome from this new strategy will be the first ever reliable maps of Antarctic sea-ice thickness. Currently, the floes in the far south befuddle efforts to measure their vertical dimension. Heavy snow can pile on top of the floating ice, hiding its true thickness. Indeed, significant loading can even push Antarctic sea-ice under the water. But researchers believe the different instruments on the two satellites working in tandem can help them tease apart this complexity. Nasa's Icesat-2, which orbits the globe at about 500km in altitude, uses a laser to measure the distance to the Earth's surface - and hence the height of objects. This light beam reflects directly off the top of the snow. Esa's Cryosat-2, on the other hand, at around 720km in altitude, uses radar as its height tool, and this penetrates much more deeply into the snow cover before bouncing back. At present, scientists use really quite old climatology models to gauge the likely depth of snow cover when observing sea-ice in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. And while these models still work reasonably well in the north, they are next to useless in the south. "Having Icesat and Cryosat work together will be like having this self-contained measurement system where we don't have to rely on outdated data-sets anymore," explained Nasa radar and laser altimetry scientist Dr Rachel Tilling. "In future, we will more accurately be able to estimate the snow cover and therefore more accurately estimate the sea-ice thickness. In the Arctic, it will reduce our errors. In the Antarctic, I don't think we really know yet just how cool this could be," she told BBC News. Antarctic sea-ice is highly variable in space and time.
7-7-20 Siberian Arctic 'up to 10 degrees warmer' in June
Temperatures in the Siberian Arctic reached record averages in June, with some areas seeing rises of as much as 10C (18F), according to EU data. Scientists say the heat has helped fan wildfires in the region, resulting in the unprecedented estimated release of 59m tonnes of carbon dioxide. Hot summer weather is not uncommon in the Arctic Circle, but recent months have seen abnormally high temperatures. The Arctic is believed to be warming twice as fast as the global average. Carlo Buontempo, director of the European Union's earth observation programme, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said the trend was "worrisome". Copernicus scientists say the region saw an average rise of 5C. That is more than a degree higher than the previous two warmest Junes on record - in 2018 and 2019. One Siberian town, Verkhoyansk, reached a high of 38C on 20 June - 18C higher than the average maximum daily temperature for the month. The record is still to be verified. Earlier in June, parts of Siberia recorded 30C, while in May, Khatanga in Russia - situated in the Arctic Circle at 72 degrees north - set a new May temperature record of 25.4C. Meanwhile, some 246 fires covering more than 1,400 sq km (540 sq miles) had been recorded in the region as of 6 July, according to the Russian forestry agency. The two issues are related, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at Copernicus. "Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area," he told news agency Reuters.
7-7-20 Dakota Access Pipeline: Judge suspends use of key oil link
The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been ordered to suspend production by a US judge, amid concerns over its environmental impact. The order is a major win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has led the fight against the pipeline. The ruling demands the pipeline is emptied within 30 days so another environmental review can take place. Separately, the Supreme Court blocked another controversial oil pipeline from continuing construction. Judges sided with environmental groups, requiring the Keystone XL Pipeline - which would stretch from the Canadian province of Alberta to Texas in the southern US - to undergo an arduous review before construction can resume. Both projects were backed by US President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election after they were blocked by his predecessor, Barack Obama. The $3.7bn (£2.8bn) 1,200 mile-(1,900km) long pipeline, completed in 2017, can transport some 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day across four states, from North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois, where it can be shipped to refineries. Supporters of the pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer, argue it provides a more cost-effective, efficient means of transporting crude, rather than shipping barrels by train. But the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters argued the project - which passed just north of the tribe's reservation - would contaminate drinking water and damage sacred burial sites. Federal judge James E Boasberg, sitting at the District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the construction of the pipeline had fallen short of environmental standards. It therefore needed to undergo a more thorough environmental review than had been conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers before it could be allowed to continue working, he said. The process is expected to take 13 months, according to the Financial Times.
7-7-20 Europe wants to use hydrogen to slow climate change - will it work?
Hydrogen is back. On 8 July, the European Commission will announce a new strategy to turn the universe’s most abundant element into a way “for the EU to achieve a higher climate ambition”. Past grand visions of a “hydrogen economy” have failed to be realised, so the EU is now taking a more targeted approach, pitching hydrogen as a crucial way to clean up industries that are hard to decarbonise, such as steel-making. Hydrogen trucks, trains and even ships could drive demand too, according to a recent draft of the commission’s hydrogen strategy seen by New Scientist. There is just one big problem. While the plan notes that using hydrogen doesn’t emit CO2, it also acknowledges that most of its production today is filthy. Globally, around 96 per cent is made from fossil fuels. Even much of the the remaining 4 per cent produced using water and electrolysers is powered by coal and gas power stations. The figures are similar in Europe, which makes about 10 million tonnes of hydrogen a year. That is why the strategy demands targets on what it calls “renewable hydrogen”, produced using electrolysers powered by renewable sources of electricity. It wants 4 gigawatts of electrolyser capacity by 2024, rising to 40 gigawatts by 2030, up from less than 1 gigawatt today. Most think that is a lot, though opinions differ. “Is it ambitious? Yes,” says Matthias Deutsch at consultancy Agora Energiewende in Germany. The 2024 target would be an “ambitious endeavour” while the 2030 one would be “monumental”, says Kobad Bhavnagri at BloombergNEF. The later goal is also precisely what many hydrogen lobbyists have called for. However, Mike Parr at energy consultancy PWR, who is setting up a lobbying group for renewable hydrogen, calls the targets “pathetic”. He argues there is plenty of unused energy supply for much more, especially given the drop in electricity demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The strategy, like Germany’s own hydrogen plan that was published last month, prioritises renewable hydrogen, often called green hydrogen. To the dismay of environmentalists, it also includes backing for blue hydrogen, made using fossil fuels, but with technology to capture and store the carbon. The step “risks handing a new lifeline to the failing fossil fuel industry,” according to Tara Connolly at Friends of the Earth Europe.
7-6-20 Meat and dairy production emit more nitrogen than Earth can cope with
The amount of nitrogen pollution emitted just by global livestock farming is more than the planet can cope with, prompting scientists to say we need to eat less meat and dairy produce. Fertilisers made for agriculture are high in nitrogen, but their use can contribute to air and water pollution, climate change and ozone depletion. Livestock waste is also a source of nitrogen pollution. Aimable Uwizeye at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and his colleagues found that the livestock sector accounts for about a third of all humanity’s nitrogen emissions, which are also released by burning fossil fuels and other activities. The emissions from livestock farming amount to about 65 teragrams (Tg) of nitrogen a year. That means meat and dairy production alone breaches the lower limit of the 62 to 82 Tg a year considered to be the “planetary boundary” for nitrogen emissions, or the safe global level beyond which humanity’s future prosperity is endangered. Nitrous oxide, for example, is exacerbating global warming. “The livestock sector contributes substantially to nitrogen emissions,” says Uwizeye. His team says that while there are technical fixes in agriculture, they may not be enough on their own to keep within planetary boundaries for nitrogen pollution, and some parts of the world will need to eat and produce less meat and dairy. The group has called for a global initiative to tackle the problem. Rich countries in Europe and North America, as well as middle-income ones including Brazil, are among those that should consume less, says Uwizeye. The overwhelming bulk of the emissions, 68 per cent, comes from crops grown to feed animals, followed by nitrogen released by the build-up and management of manure. Asia stands out as a hotspot for nitrogen emissions from livestock, at two-thirds of the global total. Uwizeye says that this is in large part down to China, where there is a growing consumer appetite for meat and dairy produce. Corn grown in the US but fed to pigs in China sees the nitrogen emissions related to this crop allocated to China in the analysis.
7-6-20 Arctic explorers find unusually thin ice as a result of climate change
The biggest ever science expedition to the Arctic encountered extremely thin sea ice, which could threaten future efforts to study the region. A team on board the Polarstern icebreaker began drifting last September until their vessel became locked in an ice floe. In the area where they started their journey, off the Russian continental shelf, the ice was exceptionally thin compared to what models predicted for the last two decades. The ice was around 50 centimetres thick compared to the 150-160cm found in three years of observations in the 1990s. “It was something we were expecting, that it was quite thin. However, that it was so thin and so weathered was surprising. We found 40-50cm of ice, but only half of it was frozen solid,” says team member Thomas Krumpen at the Alfred Wegener Institute. The cause was last year’s unusually warm summer, he says. Climate change has warmed the Arctic faster than the rest of the globe, and the team hopes to unravel the area’s secrets in winter, when it has been little-studied. The question of how fast sea ice is disappearing has major consequences for the global climate and the region’s unique wildlife, including polar bears. The fragility of the ice posed some logistical headaches for the 90 people aboard the icebreaker. It was so thin that an original plan to transport heavy gear across the ice to the Polarstern from another vessel had to be rethought. “This was completely unexpected,” says Krumpen. If such conditions are the new normal for the area it will make follow-up missions increasingly difficult, Krumpen and colleagues warn. The team were also surprised by the ice floe they were locked in. Analysis found a lot of pebbles and other sediment in the ice, suggesting it formed in shallow seas around the Siberian coast. Rising temperatures mean today it is relatively rare for such sea ice – which can also carry methane and nutrients – to make it as far as the central Arctic ocean.
7-4-20 A global push for racial justice in the climate movement
For years, mainstream environmental movements around the globe have excluded people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Today's activists are challenging that. For years, mainstream environmental movements around the globe have excluded people of color.Environmental sociologist Dorceta Taylor remembers being the only Black person in her environmental science class at Northeastern Illinois University in the early 1980s. When she asked her white professor why there weren't more Black students, he quickly told her that it was "because Blacks are not interested in the environment," she said. This assumption ran counter to everything she knew. She had grown up in Jamaica, where people from all backgrounds were passionate about the environment and loved nature. "We gardened, we hiked the mountains, we did all of those things," she said. Today's global Black Lives Matter protests have amplified calls for institutions of all kinds — including environmental groups — to challenge and dismantle centuries of systemic racism that have excluded people of color. Taylor, until recently a professor of environmental racism at the University of Michigan, found that underrepresentation exists at environmental organizations across the United States. In 2014, just under 16 percent of people of color were represented in a survey of hundreds of organizations, compared to about 35 percent of the population, she said. In the early 1990s, only about 2 percent of the staff of environmental nongovernmental organizations were people of color. In the U.K., the environmental sector is one of the least diverse sectors of the economy. Yet, people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation and climate change, and environmental organizations are being called to focus more than ever before on environmental justice. In the past few weeks, big international green groups including Greenpeace and 350.org have responded with statements, videos and op-eds supporting Black Lives Matter and calling for racial justice. But environmental activist Suzanne Dhaliwal is skeptical this will translate into real inclusion, particularly in the U.K., where she lives and works. Dhaliwal, who identifies as British Indian Canadian Sikh, grew up partly in Canada and spent much of her 20s working alongside big environmental nonprofits in the U.K. "We're in a very difficult moment where it looks diverse, you know, our pictures are used," she said. "But in terms of access to resources and having a say on the strategies that are used, and the support that we experience, I think it's an all-time low." She says she grew frustrated when she couldn't generate interest at her organizations to partner with Indigenous communities and focus on how environmental issues intersect with colonial legacies. So, Dhaliwal started her own environmental nonprofit, U.K. Tar Sands Network, which works alongside Indigenous communities and organizations to campaign against U.K. companies investing in oil extraction in Alberta, Canada. "Now, what I call for is direct funding of Black and Brown and Indigenous organizations and leadership training," said Dhaliwal. "We need research money so that we can research new strategies." Other environmentalists are trying to change environmental organizations from within. Samia Dumbuya just started a job with the European branch of international nonprofit Friends of the Earth, working on climate justice and energy issues. She lives in the U.K. As a Black person whose parents are refugees from Sierre Leone, talking about racial justice issues within the environmental movement is personal for her. She says she sees how climate change is affecting her parents' home country with increasingly bad flooding and landslides. "I like to talk to people about the role of colonialism and how the West exploits the lands of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and specific islands where they basically degraded the environments and those lands — and it left people with nothing," Dumbuya said. "And now, the West is saying we all need to be more environmentally conscious. And they look down on the 'Global South,' which is very hypocritical."
7-4-20 Greta Thunberg, the climate campaigner who doesn't like campaigning
It sounds like a year off made in heaven. How about you take Arnold Schwarzenegger's electric car on a road trip around America? Maybe stop off along the way to tell the world's most powerful people how they can put the world to rights. You might want to address hundreds of thousands of adoring admirers at a few giant rallies. And don't forget to schedule in some epic scenery. Oh, and while you are about it, why not sail across the Atlantic on one of the fastest racing yachts ever made? That is what Greta Thunberg has spent last year doing, but the teenage climate campaigner doesn't seem to have enjoyed it much. I don't think she is being a brat. I believe Greta knows how unique and special her life has been and how privileged she is. The world's most famous climate campaigner just doesn't actually like campaigning very much. "I am in this because I want to be," she tells me. "And that's not because I think it's fun. That's not because I enjoy the attention. It's because I want to make a difference." Think about her demeanour. She's not your usual public figure. She usually looks a bit tense and uncomfortable and rarely seems to be enjoying herself. Donald Trump was on to something when he teased her in a tweet saying, "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future." And ironically the fact she doesn't like all the attention makes her an even more curious and captivating figure for us all. I've now had two long conversations with the activist. We met in person on the deck of Malizia, the yacht that whisked her across the Atlantic. That was in September last year. Then a couple of weeks ago I had a virtual encounter with Greta for a television interview. She was in her flat in Stockholm, I was in a greenhouse in Kew Gardens. I asked her about that speech. You know, the "How dare you!" one. I'm sure you remember it. It was a coruscating attack on world leaders that echoed across the world in endless social media posts and newspaper headlines. "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," says Greta, her voice shaking with emotion, apparently on the verge of tears. "And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!" She describes taking the subway home from the UN that evening. She says she could see people watching the speech on their phones. "Some come forward to congratulate me, someone suggests we should celebrate," she recalls. "But I don't understand what their congratulations are for, and I understand even less what we're supposed to be celebrating," says Greta. "Yet another meeting is over. And all that is left is empty words."
7-2-20 Climate change will make world too hot for 60 per cent of fish species
Fish are at a far greater risk from climate change than previously thought, as researchers have shown that embryos and spawning adults are more susceptible to warming oceans. In a worst-case scenario of 5°C of global warming, up to 60 per cent of fish species around the world would be unable to cope with temperatures in their geographical range by 2100, when different stages of their lives are taken into consideration. Even if humanity meets the Paris deal’s tough goal of holding warming to 1.5°C, it would be too hot for 10 per cent of fish. Previously, we thought that just 5 per cent of fish species would struggle to cope with 5°C of global warming, but that was based on analysis of adult fish alone. “We can say 1.5°C is not paradise, there will be changes. But we can limit those changes if we manage to stop climate change. Fish are so important for human nutrition, so this study makes a strong case for protecting our ecosystems and natural environments,” says Hans-Otto Pörtner at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, part of the team behind the research. The researchers analysed existing scientific literature on the heat tolerance of 694 species of freshwater and marine fish species. Previous analysis has focused very little on life stages, but the team took into account differences between spawning and non-spawning adults, larvae and embryos. Spawners and embryos were found to cope with a much smaller gap between minimum and maximum temperatures, on average 7.2°C and 8.4°C respectively, than the 27.5°C range for adults. “This is casting light on a life phase that has been largely ignored,” says Pörtner. The greater vulnerability for embryos and reproductive adults is a “major cause for concern”, said Jennifer Sunday at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who wasn’t involved the study, in a commentary in the journal Science.
7-2-20 Amazon fires at 13-year high in June
Fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose by almost 20% in June - a 13-year high for the month, according to government data. With such an increase at the start of the dry season, there are concerns that this year's fires could surpass 2019's disastrous blazes. Activists say the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the problem. They believe arson is likely to be even less monitored while authorities are stretched. Many forest fires in the country are started deliberately by illegal loggers and farmers wanting to quickly clear ground. Brazil has the world's second-highest coronavirus death toll, after the US, and there are also concerns that increased smoke could have a damaging effect on the breathing of virus patients. In June, the country's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recorded 2,248 fires using satellite imagery, as opposed to 1,880 fires in June 2019. The burning usually increases throughout July, August and September. "We cannot allow the 2019 situation to repeat itself," Mauricio Voivodic, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund NGO in Brazil, told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, accusing the government of inaction. Last year's fires peaked in August, with 30,901 - threefold the number for the same period the previous year. The 2019 fires led to protests domestically and internationally, with threats of financial penalties from foreign governments, and broad condemnation of President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policies. The president has been criticised for slashing the Ministry of the Environment's funding, and encouraging business over conservation. BBC analysis in 2019 showed that a sharp drop in fines for environmental violations during his administration had coincided with the increase in fires. However, the president has consistently rejected criticism from abroad. "Certain countries, instead of helping ... behaved in a disrespectful manner and with a colonialist spirit," he said in September, rejecting the "misconception" that the Amazon is the lungs of the world. The Amazon - which spans multiple South American countries but is 60% in Brazil - is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is home to about three million species of plants and animals, as well as some one million indigenous people.
7-2-20 Earth’s annual e-waste could grow to 75 million metric tons by 2030
A record 53.6 million tons of electronics were discarded in 2019. The planet’s hefty pile of discarded electronics is getting a lot heavier, a new report finds. In 2014, the world collectively tossed an estimated 44.4 million metric tons of unwanted “e-waste” — battery-powered or plug-tethered devices such as laptops, smartphones and televisions. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to about 74.7 million tons, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2020. That’s roughly equivalent to eight times the weight of China’s Three Gorges Dam. The findings come from a partnership formed in 2017 between the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, the International Solid Waste Association and other groups to track the accumulation of electronic debris. The projected e-waste for 2020 and other future years doesn’t include any economic consequences that might be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher consumption rates of electronics, as well as shorter life cycles for many devices, are contributing to the rapid pileup. And most people also are not properly and safely recycling their devices, the report found. Of the 53.6 million tons of e-waste generated in 2019, only 9.3 million tons, or 17.4 percent, were recycled. Discarded electronics can contain hazardous materials — such as cadmium and mercury in laptops and smartphones, and refrigerant chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons — that can leach into the environment (SN: 8/7/19; SN: 5/22/19). E-waste is also a source of plastic waste (SN: 4/5/18). What’s more, not recycling e-waste can contribute to global warming, the report notes, because humans are mining and processing new materials rather than reusing existing materials. E-waste also contains so many valuable recoverable metals, such as iron, copper and gold, that it essentially represents an “urban mine,” the report states. The value of the raw materials in 2019’s e-waste could be as much as $57 billion — only about $10 billion of which was recovered through recycling.
7-1-20 Lake Victoria is at risk of dying from pollution and climate change
Wetlands usually filter water that makes its way into Africa's largest lake, but now untreated waste dumped into the lake risks killing off local wildlife. FORAGING in the swamps of Lake Victoria in East Africa, this man makes a living by selling old plastic bags to recyclers. Wetland areas usually purify the water in the lake and run-off by filtering it. However, a growing amount of pollution is disrupting this process. For instance, blue dye from these plastic bags will eventually seep into the water. This isn’t the only problem besetting Lake Victoria, which is more than 300 kilometres wide and the largest by area in Africa. Climate change is causing it to steadily dry up, while cities in the bordering nations of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are dumping untreated waste into its waters. One million tonnes of fish are harvested from the lake each year. The pressure on its stocks is being made worse due to poaching and overfishing. It is now down to governments to devise plans to preserve Lake Victoria while meeting the needs of the more than 30 million people whose livelihoods depend on its resources. “In the next 50 years, if nothing radical is done, Lake Victoria will be dead because of what we are pouring into it,” says Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, governor of Kenya’s Kisumu county.
7-1-20 We can fix the climate as we reboot the economy – here's how
The drop in carbon emissions due to coronavirus lockdowns won’t last. But as we rebuild, we have a unique opportunity to make the structural changes required to hit net-zero targets, says Corinne Le Quéré. THE lockdowns imposed in many countries in response to the coronavirus have caused a dramatic reduction in our carbon emissions. But there is already evidence that this won’t last. So how can governments build on this moment, as they plan for economic recovery, to make progress towards net-zero targets? Corinne Le Quéré has a few ideas. A French-Canadian climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, she is an expert on the policies required to meet those targets and an advisor to the UK and French governments, both of whom have committed to reach net zero by 2050. Le Quéré is also a leading authority on the carbon cycle, with a particular interest in what will become of natural carbon sinks, such as forests and oceans, in a warming world. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Dr. A. H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences, the Netherlands’s most prestigious international science award. Adam Vaughan: What do you expect will happen to global carbon dioxide emissions this year? Corinne Le Quéré: Over the past decade, emissions had been going up about 1 per cent per year. Since March, with the confinement and the restraints on travel, there has been a really big effect. Our estimates suggest a reduction in emissions of between 4 and 7 per cent this year. This is huge. What’s going to happen after that depends on how we’re going to approach the economic recovery. In 2009, during the financial crash, emissions dropped 1.4 per cent. They then grew more than 5 per cent in 2010, which brought us exactly back to where we were – square one – like nothing had happened. There is a big risk for that now as well. Which way do you think the post-coronavirus economic recovery will go? It could be that governments do exactly what they know best, like build roads and finance the big carbon-emitting industries. But there is an opportunity to invest in the green economy now because renewable energy is a lot cheaper than in 2010 and we have all the knowledge required to make the batteries that can store that energy. Will that happen? Possibly in the UK. I would say even probably in Europe. It’s not a given, but the signs are reasonably good. Whether it will happen worldwide is a bigger question. It’s a little bit early to say.
7-1-20 4 ways to put the 100-degree Arctic heat record in context
A remote Siberian town recently reported a temperature of 100.4° Fahrenheit. On June 20, a remote Siberian town called Verkhoyansk logged a temperature of 38° Celsius (100.4° Fahrenheit), likely setting a new high-temperature record for the Arctic Circle (SN: 6/23/20). But that new record didn’t occur in a vacuum: It’s part of a long-term trend of historically hot temperatures in Siberia linked to climate change, and a larger, even more worrisome trend of amplified warming over the last few decades throughout the Arctic region. Here are four things to know about this new Arctic record. Siberia has been sweltering under months of unprecedented warmth. Globally, May 2020 was the hottest May on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Much of that record-breaking heat is the result of warming in Siberia, where May temperatures were as much as 10 degrees C higher than average, says climate scientist Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen. This extreme event in Siberia would not have happened without human-caused climate change, Stendel says. “If we assume for a moment that we don’t have any climate change,” there is a 1 in 100,000 chance of such a hot May in the region, he says. “It’s virtually impossible.” In fact, Stendel says, Siberian temperatures during the entire six-month period from December 2019 through May 2020 were also “quite extraordinary.” These temperatures were the warmest on record going back to 1979, and likely unprecedented within the last 140 years, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. This particular high temperature probably isn’t unique within the rapidly warming Arctic. “We don’t have a whole lot of stations [in the region],” says Randall Cerveny, a meteorologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. “There are large portions that we are not monitoring. It is possible that there are higher temperatures in places [where] we don’t have instruments.”
7-1-20 Satellites detect upsurge in tree felling across Europe since 2016
There has been a large increase in the number of trees felled and removed from European forests. Satellite images suggest the forest area harvested each year between 2016 and 2018 was 49 per cent higher than the area harvested each year between 2011 and 2015. Gregory Duveiller at the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy and his colleagues analysed satellite data that measured the amount of forest cover and area of trees cut between 2004 to 2018 across 26 EU countries. The satellite imagery came from the Global Forest Change database, which includes all vegetation greater than five metres high. The team combined the satellite data with estimates of forest biomass to quantify the amount of wood harvested. “From above, you see forest and non-forest,” says Duveiller. “You don’t see how tall the [harvested] trees are.” According to the researchers’ estimates, between 2016 and 2018 the annual levels of harvested forest biomass were 69 per cent higher than in the preceding five years. A rise in tree removal was particularly marked in Sweden and Finland, which accounted for more than half of the total observed increase in harvested area. These countries have historically large forestry-related industries, and also have areas of forest used for fuel production that have reached harvest maturity, says Duveiller. Another possible explanation for the surge in harvesting is an increase in demand for wood-based products. “There are several drivers that are possible but a causal connection is difficult to prove and quantify,” says Duveiller. “We cannot really jump to conclusions directly about implications for greenhouse gases right now,” says Duveiller, because forests in Europe are also expanding. It is currently difficult to quantify the rate of that growth to determine whether it offsets the losses from harvesting, he says. If the harvesting continues at similar rates, the team suggests that in order to reach climate neutrality by 2050, additional emissions reductions in other areas would be needed to compensate for the carbon losses from forests.
7-1-20 Money-laundering drug cartels are driving deforestation in Guatemala
Drug traffickers in Central America have been known to practise “narco-ranching”, in which they launder cash by buying land and cattle, then selling the meat in Mexico for money that can’t be traced to drug activity. A new analysis suggests this method may be responsible for up to 87 per cent of deforestation in a nature reserve in Guatemala – and the situation may be similar in protected forests along the drug transport corridor countries of Central and South America. “This is the first attempt to quantify the role narco-cattle ranching plays in the deforestation happening in the Maya Biosphere Reserve,” says Jennifer Devine at Texas State University. Carved out of the rainforest, these ranches also help traffickers hide airfields and control territory along smuggling routes. She and her colleagues analysed 4500 aerial images of deforested areas in the 2.1 million hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve in Petén, Guatemala, which covers one-fifth of the country’s total land area, to determine what had caused the loss. They found evidence of large-scale cattle ranching in 87 per cent of the images in a key part of the reserve, Laguna del Tigre National Park. Liza Grandia at the University of California, Davis, who has worked in Petén for 27 years, says “cattle culture” has been in the region since the 1960s, when massive ranches were encouraged by the national government. “It wasn’t really until 2002 or 2003 that narco-ranchers entered the area as the new villain,” she says. “It was the normality of cattle ranching that really allowed the narcos to move in so swiftly and cloak themselves as an average agribusiness.” From 2000 to 2015, about 30 per cent of the forest of Laguna del Tigre, Guatemala’s largest national park, was turned into agricultural land. Devine and her team conducted more than 100 interviews with people living in and around the reserve to understand how to identify areas deforested by narco-ranching. These feature large clearings of dozens of hectares of land, set out with straight lines, square and rectangle shaped plots, and even tractor marks.
7-1-20 Is the hydrogen tech 'revolution' hope or hype?
In his speech on the planned economic recovery, the prime minister said hydrogen technology is an area where the UK leads the world. He hopes it’ll create clean jobs in the future. But is the hydrogen revolution hope or hype? The digger with the long-toothed bucket bites into a pile of stones, tilts up and flexes its sturdy mechanical arm. It swivels, extends the arm and dumps its load on the harsh ground of a Staffordshire quarry. It’s a beast of a machine and from the front it looks like a normal excavator. But from the back you can see its tank full of dirty diesel has been replaced with a hydrogen fuel cell. The excavator is the latest in a generation of vehicles powered by the lightest element on Earth. The compendium of vehicles powered by hydrogen now stretches from diggers to micro-taxis, trucks, boats, vans, single-deck and now double-decker buses – and even small planes. It works by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity. The only direct emission is water. So at last, the long-awaited hydrogen revolution is here. Or is it? Back in the early 2000s, backers of hydrogen thought it would dominate the clean automobile market. But the promised “hydrogen highway” never materialised, for a couple of crucial reasons. Firstly, hydrogen power needed a new infrastructure, whereas rival battery cars could be charged off the near-ubiquitous electricity grid. Secondly, high-powered batteries at that time were already well-advanced for other uses such as computers, but hydrogen was not. So hydrogen lost the head-on battle for the motor car. But now it’s back in the frame for the sort of transport, industry and heating tasks that batteries are struggling to fulfil. Take our large mechanical digger, a prototype from JCB. It has a little battery-powered cousin – small enough to squeeze through a doorway and work in a building. But JCB say the big digger would need a battery weighing five tonnes, and take hours to refuel. Hydrogen on the other hand, is lighter than air and takes minutes to fill a tank. Lorries fall into the same category as diggers – sometimes the battery would be as heavy as the payload.
7-1-20 UN approves plan to delay carbon offsetting of flights
A landmark deal curbing the impact of aviation on climate change was watered down at a United Nations (UN) meeting yesterday, meaning airlines likely will not have to start offsetting their growing carbon emissions for several years later than planned. Four years ago, 191 countries agreed for the first time to tackle aviation’s fast-growing carbon footprint by making the industry pay for tree planting and other schemes to offset its growth in emissions between 2020 and 2035. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and airlines, concerned that flights will fall 55 per cent this year on 2019 levels and demolish their revenue, asked to change the rules. This has now been approved by the council of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a decision that environmental groups say will be disastrous for efforts to tackle climate change. The step was taken “to avoid inappropriate economic burden on the aviation industry”, ICAO said in a statement. The move was “great news for the environment!”, it tweeted. However, Annie Petsonk at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington DC says the change means airlines may not begin offsetting until 2027. Such a delay risks a consumer backlash from younger passengers concerned about climate change, she warns. “Far-sighted leaders in aviation need to grapple with the climate crisis and understand that, as they rebuild from covid-19, if they do not put decarbonisation at the core of their business model, the future for the industry will be in jeopardy,” she says. The rule change hinges on a seemingly arcane detail, the baseline year from which emissions growth is measured. This dictates how much airlines will have to offset their growth – before the pandemic, the industry had expected passenger numbers to rise 4 per cent this year. The previously agreed baseline was the average emissions across 2019 and 2020. However, as flights and aviation emissions are much lower than expected this year, that would mean airlines having to offset more than expected, assuming flights return to pre-pandemic levels.