I’m about to launch an email newsletter called “Need to Know: Science and Insight”. I’ve been fortunate to interview some of the smartest and wisest people around the world in my 25 years as an award-winning science and environmental journalist. Every week I hope share some of that collective knowledge with you by writing about one or two things we all need to know about when it comes to climate impacts, energy transitions, the decline of nature’s support systems and so on. These are vitally important topics that mainstream media have cut back their coverage of this year.
And, unlike traditional journalism there’ll also be a personal story, some ideas you can use and maybe a bit of wisdom to consider — all in a 10 to 12 minute read.
“Need to Know”is free to read and share so be sure to subscribe today to not miss the first issue. All you need to provide an email address. No ads, no spam and easy to cancel.
The Carbon Law says human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be reduced by half each decade starting in 2020. By following this “law” humanity can achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century to protect the global climate for current and future generations.
A “carbon law” is a new concept unveiled March 23 in the journal Science. It is part of a decarbonization roadmap that shows how the global economy can rapidly reduce carbon emissions, said co-author Owen Gaffney of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, one of international team of climate experts.
“Coal power plants under construction and proposed in India alone would account for roughly half of the remaining carbon budget.” –Steven Davis
To keep the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, emissions from burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) must peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050. This is what the world’s nations agreed to at the UN’s Paris Agreement in 2015. Global temperatures have already increased 1.1 degrees C.
“After the Paris agreement we began to work on a science-based roadmap to stay well below 2C,” Gaffney told IPS.
The “carbon law” is modelled on Moore’s Law, a prediction that computer processing power doubles every 24 months. Like Moore’s, the carbon law isn’t a scientific or legal law but a projection of what could happen. Gordon Moore’s 1965 prediction ended up becoming the tech industry’s biannual goal.
A “carbon law” approach ensures that the greatest efforts to reduce emissions happen sooner not later, which reduces the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget, Gaffney said.
This means global CO2 emissions must peak by 2020 and then be cut in half by 2030. Emissions in 2016 were 38 billion tonnes (Gt), about the same as the previous two years. If emissions peak at 40 Gt by 2020, they need to fall to 20 Gt by 2030 under the carbon law. And then halve again in 2040 and 2050.
“Global emissions have stalled the last three years, but it’s too soon to say if they have peaked due largely to China’s incredible efforts,” he said.
“In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050,” says lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
The authors pinpoint the end of coal in 2030-2035 and oil between 2040-2045 according to their “carbon law”. They propose that to remain on this trajectory, all sectors of the economy need decadal carbon roadmaps that follow this rule of thumb.
“We identify concrete steps towards full decarbonization by 2050. Businesses who try to avoid those steps and keep on tiptoeing will miss the next industrial revolution and thereby their best opportunity for a profitable future,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
Elements of these roadmaps include doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5-7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.
The immediate must-do “no-brainer” actions to be completed by 2020 include the elimination of an estimated 600 billion dollars in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industries and a moratorium on investments in coal. Decarbonization plans must be in place for all cities and major corporations in the industrialized world.
Rapidly growing economies in India, Indonesia and elsewhere should receive help to take a green path to prosperity. They cannot use coal as China did because CO2 emissions are cumulative and there is little room left in the global carbon budget, said Gaffney.
This is an extremely urgent issue. India is already on the brink of taking the dirty carbon path.
Davis, who was not involved in the carbon law paper, agrees that rapid decarbonization to near-zero emissions is possible. Cost breakthroughs in electrolysis, batteries, carbon capture, alternative processes for cement and steel manufacture and more will be needed, he told IPS.
All of this will require “herculean efforts” from all sectors, including the political realm, where a cost on carbon must soon be in place. Failure to succeed opens the door to decades of climate catastrophe.
No climate scientist thinks two degrees C will be “safe”. Many countries, especially least-developed countries and small island states, have been calling for global target to be less than 1.5C of heating in 2009 at COP 15 in Copenhagen. Before that some countries launched ‘1.5 to stay alive’ campaign at the UN in September 2009.
Humans have enjoyed 10,000 years of climate stability, in which the global average temperature varied less than one degree C – even during the Little Ice Age.
This heating will be wildly uneven with the Arctic warming 2-3 times faster. In 1.5C world much of the far north will be 4.0C. Canada is already 1.6 to 1.8 C warmer today.
Large parts of Africa including the African Sahel, including the Horn of Africa, are very vulnerable to any increase in temperatures. Even with 1.5C large portions of the Arctic and Antarctic will continue to melt raising sea levels, albeit at a slower rate threatening the very existence of some small islands states.
Delay in making the shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources will be very costly. Waiting until 2020 to curb global emissions will cost twice as much compared with peaking emissions by 2015 various analysis have shown.
At least 65% of Existing Coal Plants Must be Shuttered by 2030
Serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions means 65 percent of current coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two, a 2012 study concludes.
There are enormous benefits if global emissions decline before 2020. Failure to do so will mean we will need to use more nuclear, massive amounts of bioenergy, large-scale carbon capture and storage
Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science
Report from 2015 World Congress: National Governments Should Be Helping Green Cities
Cities are responsible for 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions but they can save the planet by greening one community at a time said Vancouver’s David Cadman at the close of the ICLEI World Congress 2015, the triennial sustainability summit of local governments in Seoul, South Korea.
“We can do it. We must do it,” Cadman, the retiring president of Local Governments for Sustainability, told some 1,500 delegates from nearly 1,000 cities and local governments in 96 countries on April 11.
The majority of climate actions and most plans to reduce CO2 emissions are happening at the city level, Cadman told DeSmog Canada in Seoul.
Vancouver and 50 other cities have committed to 100 per cent renewable energy and 500 more are part of ICLEI’s Cities Climate Registry that documents verifiable CO2 emission reduction actions and commitments that amounted to 2.8 billion tons a year in 2014.
Cadman, a former City of Vancouver councillor, has been president of ICLEI since 2006. It’s an international organization headquartered in Bonn, Germany, with 280 staff and 23 other offices scattered around the globe. ICLEI, which stands for International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, started 25 years ago in Toronto to help cities become more sustainable. It now goes by the more manageable name of “Local Governments for Sustainability,” but still uses the original acronym.
Canada’s federal and provincial governments were very strong supporters in the early days but the past decade has been very different.
Canada Chained to Fossil Fuel Sector
“We seem to be chained to the fossil energy industry in Canada and it’s pulling us down. Cities and organizations can hardly dare to speak out about this now,” he said.
Germany was only too happy to bring ICLEI to Bonn eight years ago and has been generous with its support, along with the European Union. Now the organization is experiencing what is being called an “Asian pivot,” with the mayor of Seoul, Park Won Soon, as the new president.
Park has helped Seoul to become one of the world’s leaders on sustainable development. With 11 million people and growing fast, Seoul will reduce its energy use and increase renewable generation including rolling out 40,000 solar panels to households by 2018 and 15,000 electric vehicles. By 2030, CO2 emissions will be cut 40 per cent.
“Action on climate will be by local governments no matter what national governments decide,” Park Won Soon told DeSmog Canada.
“We need to act quickly, we need to act energetically,” the mayor said.
China’s megacities are also joining ICLEI. At the congress, Hailong Li, deputy secretary general of the China Eco-city Council said the country will have 100 low-carbon eco-cities by 2017. That will drive down the costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy, Li said.
China also intends to become an expert on eco-construction and to market its expertise to the rest of the developing world.
By 2030 another 3.5 billion people will be living in cities so it is absolutely critical that the infrastructure be sustainable said Cadman who will continue to be active as special representative to the new ICLEI President.
“I’m 70 now and need to reduce my workload. My wife says she’d like me to be around a bit longer.”
Canadian cities could also do more and sooner if they had the support of provincial and federal governments, he said. That may be changing at the provincial level with growing support for various forms of carbon taxes that will help generate funds and financial incentives to reduce emissions.
“The provinces are doing the heavy-lifting on climate while the Harper government sits on the sidelines.”
Fossil fuels are in decline — divestment is taking off and investments are shifting to renewable energy. There’ll be no pipelines to the West Coast and no new investments in the oilsands, Cadman said.
Even in B.C., the hoped-for markets for LNG may not exist with China building gas pipelines to tap reserves in Iran and Russia, he said.
“Canada needs to move away from selling raw resources, but is any political party ready to go there?”
Blame Canada is a four part series revealing how Canada has become a wealthy, fossil-fuelled energy superpower and an international climate pariah. For Part 1, click here. Part 2 here
Few are aware Canada’s GDP shot up from an average of $600 billion per year in the 1990s to more than $1.7 trillion in 2012. This near tripling of the GDP is largely due to fossil fuel investments and exports.
However not many Canadians are three times wealthier. For one thing GDP is only a measure economic activity. The other reason is that little of this new wealth stayed in Canada. And what did stay went to a small percentage of the population, worsening the gap between rich and poor.
One of the hallmarks of a “petro-state” is that while a country’s energy industry generates fantastic amounts of money, the bulk of its citizens remain poor. Nigeria is a good example. Canada’s poverty rates have skyrocketed in step with the growth of the energy sector. One Canadian child in seven now lives in poverty, according to the Conference Board of Canada, the country’s foremost independent research organization.
Income inequality increased faster than the US, with the rich getting richer and poor and middle class losing grounds over the past 15 to 20 years, the Conference Board also reported January 2013.
“Most of Canada’s increase in wealth went to the big shareholders in the resource industries,” says Daniel Drache, a political scientist at Toronto’s York University. “It mainly went to the elites.”
Blame Canada is a four part series revealing how Canada has become a wealthy, fossil-fuelled energy superpower and an international climate pariah. For Part 1, click here.
Like every other country in the world, Canada has promised to help keep global warming to less than 2 degrees C. However Canada’s political and corporate leadership are committed to turning the country into a fossil-fuelled “energy superpower.”
With a drug lord’s just-providing-a-service hypocrisy Canada has openly declared it’s future is tied to the profits from dumping hundreds of millions of tonnes of climate-heating carbon into the atmosphere every year.
And the world’s new energy superpower plans to grow those annual emissions to 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020 giving one of the least populated countries a gigantic carbon bootprint.
Most of this climate-wrecking carbon energy will come from Canada’s tar sands located just underneath the pristine boreal forest and wetlands of northern Alberta. The oil industry likes to call them “oil sands,” although there is no liquid oil only a tarry bitumen mixed deep in the sandy soil.
With an estimated 170 billion barrels, the tar sands are the third largest crude oil reserves. Extraordinary efforts involving colossal amounts of water, heat, chemicals and machinery are needed to get the bitumen out of the ground and into pipelines. This the world’s largest industrial project with more than $300 billion invested since 2001 by the oil industry.
Nowhere has fossil energy expansion or investment been faster or larger. Environmental activists call it “Canada’s Mordor.”
“Canada is not a country, it’s winter,” Canadians say with pride. But the nation’s long, fearsome winters will live only in memory and song for Canadian children born this decade.Winters are already significantly warmer and shorter than just 30 years ago. The temperature regimes and plant life of the south have marched more than 700 kilometres northward, new research shows.
The frozen north is leaving and won’t be back for millennia due to heat-trapping carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, experts say.
By 2091, the north will have seasons, temperatures and possibly vegetation comparable to those found today 20 to 25 degrees of latitude further south, said Ranga Myneni of the Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University.
“If we don’t curb carbon emissions, Arctic Sweden might be more like the south of France by the end of the century,” Myneni, co-author of the Nature Climate Change study published Sunday, told IPS.
Frustrated by the lack of interest in climate coverage by mainstream media, 15 young journalists on 4 continents want to bring a new collaborative approach to climate change journalism. This is a voluntary effort to both increase and improve reporting called the Climate News Mosaic (CNM).
They need your help for their first collaborative project to connect what’s happening at the UN climate conference (COP) in Warsaw this November with climate impacts/perspectives on the ground from their home countries.
Here’s how it will work:
* 2 or 3 journalists will go to the COP in Warsaw to report and co-ordinate. The rest will be back home doing local coverage on climate. Everyone contributes and shares interviews, links to reports, sources, A/V and so on.
* Members (mainly freelancers) do articles, audio and video for their own outlets. Some 25-30 original stories in at least 4 languages will be made available for use in whole or in part by any media outlet anywhere in the world.
* A live blog placed on a number non-profit news sites like IPS, Earth Journalism Network , and others will bring the public a wealth of current info on what is happening at the Warsaw COP but also from other countries. (i.e. a short video from Warsaw, a photo from a rally in San Francisco, a soundbite from a press conference in Nairobi, a quote from an interview with an Italian scholar.)
I’m sort of the mentor having used crowd-sourced funding to support my science and climate journalism the past 4 years. That support kept me going and in 2012 I was a co-winner of the Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for media coverage of climate change.
For-profit media owners are simply not interested in good science and environment reporting. Coverage of climate change has been in sharp decline since the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. Even the New York Times closed its environment desk this year. It’s not that there isn’t a lot to report on. Quite the opposite.
Only when this number declines will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 17 2012 (IPS)
The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.
With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.
To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.
“Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.
Making the shift to a future climate with less than two degrees C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020. Continue reading →
“The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 27 2013 (IPS)
Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.
Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.
Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics.
When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.
“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”
This unnatural pattern is due to human heating of the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels, according to the study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
However, this heating of the atmosphere is wildly uneven. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global temperature rise of 0.8C and that affects the Rossby waves and is slowing the jet stream.
“(Our research) complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study. Continue reading →