threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Tropical forests losing their ability to absorb carbon

tropical forest

A study of African and Amazonian forests has been published in Nature:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2035-0.epdf?referrer_access_token=FQX2PQbaGMYb4uHGovG9LtRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0NOJ2x2BsrUNZyzCBuuL0UUqQjPW2euF71wbnss7bZVTypLc0eJu3wcwXkQBGokyA9HW2k-okTMHDdectG92AB7UCaAEYubgKcBIjfvWwAarBHNAQlggxcW6gKC8EBuatXyyNG4lsNoKGBuz6jwneDBL85C6ZibPhm8YlwdenuepVVP3nfandk-FdksbHp95BP77rMnstxyIbI75g2_nzJEQoEcaAqNNt7khmfudgMbXhiHqzvnmckcEcsSU60ImPmO4Qx-rym_TVbKyPZczrAfKyQInghQEk3hEnvAXjAkeI2PI50rx1bw45tFDkXAgSDy-RE7MB8TdOcULr7OI8TXlmV41375p0xC_5rHuhbcUPafKjd0GKGt8uVvrWV4LX7HFVFIp6FQIFCs0tn_Sq_KkE7Ax4Yz1fqPu5ThWmAM2SSTqwH1PwCPRErYU0QQ8N-MJXGQfIlAwgTeX2uJ711X&tracking_referrer=www.theguardian.com

and summarised in a Guardian article by Fiona Harvey on 4th March 2020:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/04/tropical-forests-losing-their-ability-to-absorb-carbon-study-finds?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwMzEx&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight

The detailed study of tropical forest trees has shown that, the uptake of carbon from the atmosphere peaked in the 1990s, when about 46bn tonnes were removed from the air, equivalent to about 17% of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities. By the last decade, that amount had sunk to about 25bn tonnes, or just 6% of global emissions.

This means that the property of these forests to act as carbon sinks is declining, mainly due to the clearance of land to grow crops. Forests lose their ability to absorb carbon as trees die and dry out from drought and higher temperatures, but the loss of forest area from logging, burning and other forms of exploitation is also a leading factor in the loss of carbon sinks.

Climate scientists have long feared the existence of “tipping points” in the climate system, which when passed will condemn the world to runaway global heating. There are many known feedback mechanisms: for instance, the melting of Arctic ice leaves more of the sea uncovered, and, as it is darker than the reflective ice, it absorbs more heat, thus leading to more melting.

These feedback mechanisms have the potential to accelerate the climate crisis far ahead of what current projections suggest. If forests start to become sources of carbon rather than absorbers of it, that would be a powerful positive feedback leading to much greater warming that would be hard to stop.



 


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UN experts warn that the world is way off track in reaching climate targets

Targets set through the Paris Agreement 2015 are not currently being met on a global basis, at a time when actions to limit global warming are off track, and climate change damage becomes more apparent.

Increasing heat, accelerated sea level rises and extreme weather in 2019 were all indications of failure to rein in carbon emissions, according to a report compiled by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Their report had input from national meteorological services, international experts, scientific institutions and other UN agencies and the trends have continued into 2020.

AustralianBushfire

Every year, WMO issues a Statement on the State of the Global Climate. It is based on data provided by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and other national and international organisations.  Further details of the report can be found at:

https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/climate/wmo-statement-state-of-global-climate

Last year was the second hottest year on record, with a global average temperature of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. Each decade since the 1980s has been hotter than any preceding decade.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are expected to increase their action this year to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

In a foreword to the report, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said, “We are currently way off track to meeting either the 1.5° or 2°C targets that the Paris Agreement calls for. This report outlines the latest science and illustrates the urgency for far-reaching climate action.”

He thought it would only be a matter of time before a new world record hottest temperature was reached, perhaps within the next 5 years.

Alongside temperature increases, rainfall changes are having a major impact on several countries and sea levels are rising at an increasing pace, exposing coastal areas and islands to a greater risk of flooding and submersion.

Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise in 2019 and carbon emissions from fossil fuels grew by 0.6% last year.

There were two major heat waves in Europe in June and July, with new national temperature records set in UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

Climate change is facilitating the spread of dengue fever, with around half of the world’s population being at risk of infection.

World hunger also increased, with an estimated 22 million people forced to leave their homes by events, such as storms and floods.

Drought or low rainfall hit many parts of the world, including Australia, which also saw its hottest year, with an exceptionally long and severe season of wildfires.

Greenland ice melt

The Greenland ice sheet lost 329 billion tonnes of ice in 2019.

A map showing all the countries with weather extremes can be found at:

https://wmo.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=56fc71ac6dcf4bcf826dea2adf94c255

Another report from the WMO, entitled “The Global Climate in 2015-2019” can be found at:  https://library.wmo.int/index.php?lvl=notice_display&id=21522#.Xmj5J6j7TIV

as well as previous WMO Reports.

 



 


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Zero Carbon Schools Project in The Marches

Zero Carbon Schools in The Marches (Herefordshire)

The Marches Climate Education Group are inviting all schools to take part in a Marches-wide programme that will support schools to write their own carbon reduction plan. Pupils, parents and teachers at schools in The Marches, are asked to encourage their school to take part!
Marches
The following invitation is also being sent to all schools by Herefordshire Council. West Worcestershire and South Shropshire schools are also going to be invited.
The Marches Climate Education Group invite you to attend

‘ZERO CARBON SCHOOLS’

A FREE one day event for Headteachers, Eco Leads and Eco reps,

in partnership with Herefordshire Council

Friday 19th June 2020 (09:00-14:00)

Venue: Hereford Shirehall, HR1 2JB

Aim of the event: how to write & implement your school carbon reduction plan

To book your free places copy this link into your browser
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/zero-carbon-schools-workshop-tickets-95516527505

Up to 4 places per school – eg 1 adult and 3 eco reps.

(Students must be accompanied by an adult!)

The Marches Climate Education Group is a group of likeminded schools

who care about the climate crisis and want to take action.

Run by teachers, for teachers.

To join, or for further information about this event, email Bryony John
bjohn@orleton.hereford.sch.uk

To find out more about the Green Schools Project within the Marches and to receive regular newsletters, email
beth@greenschoolsproject.org.uk



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The impact of bushfires on coastal and marine environments

This is a report, published by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

Bushfires Impacts on our oceans report Australian Marine Conservation Society

It can be found at:

Bushfire-Report_February-2020_Final-full-for-web-1.pdf

Bascially, what the report outlines is that the full effects of the summer of disasters will take months to materialise. The report shed light on the dangers to guard against in the critical months ahead.

  • Sediment slugs harming habitats and wildlife: Nutrients, ash and debris released by bushfires can damage habitats and form into sediment slugs following heavy rains – which slowly work their way to our oceans, harming aquatic life along the way.
  • Contamination: Metals and other contaminants released by bushfires in sediment, smoke and ash can change the physiology and behaviours of marine animals and work their way into the food chain.
  • Algal blooms killing fish: Harmful algal blooms caused by nutrient enrichment can kill fish and contaminate oyster farms, forcing their closure;
  • Damage to protective vegetation: Debris, sediment and ash washed into seagrass meadows, mangrove forests and reefs could further burden these already pressured environments.

Critically, the research report has uncovered alarming gaps in the monitoring of waterways and a lack of infrastructure and resources for responding to the threats. Unless these gaps are addressed urgently, many species face an uncertain future in the face of intensifying bushfire seasons.

The report recommends:

  • Monitoring of waterways: a comprehensive and integrated monitoring program for coastal and marine environments, that builds understanding of bushfire impacts and informs responses.
  • Urgent rehabilitation funding: Increased support will be vital for programs targeting the rehabilitation of the most vulnerable catchments and restoration of damaged coastal environments.
  • Rapidly cut carbon emissions: leaders must deal with the root cause of intensifying bushfires – rising temperatures – including swift and effective action to cut carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy sources.


 


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Is a world institution for climate and energy needed?

Nick Butler, writing in the Financial Times, argues that a new global institution, rather like the WHO, is needed to ensure the continuous momentum of moving towards a carbon-free world.

https://www.ft.com/content/947290a6-5319-11ea-90ad-25e377c0ee1f?accessToken=zwAAAXB2-sWYkdOUcpCmUxkR6tOQrSXjd8DuHw.MEUCIHBGXcXOrUGgg8Xwg9MIBhJUa8LqKMDOHFFhLOnjZGLHAiEA_NvbDbQXr21jfQDmCl2yxS6UbCK4k_NAOXWG6ZTuI9Q&sharetype=gift?token=69f308c7-be81-4fc6-af82-8698fa938320

pushing bike in floods

His sub-title is:

“Establishing a structure to direct the green transition is key to success”

and he starts his article as follows:

“The debate on climate change has focused over the past year on the setting of national and corporate targets around the objective of zero net carbon emissions by 2050. It is time to move the debate on and put in place the detailed steps necessary to get to that goal and the institutional structure to bring together the many elements of the challenge and the response.

The ad hoc, hand-to-mouth approach is clearly inadequate, as shown by the recent failures and disappointments of the UN’s annual COP process. An established, trusted international organisation is needed to combine both analysis of the challenge and the development of practical solutions.

So far 20 countries have now signed up to the pledge of delivering net zero by 2050, while more than 100 are discussing the target.”

He then goes on to outline how some major companies, such as Qantas, Nestle and Microsoft, have set themselves targets for becoming carbon negative. He believes that the direction of change is clear and makes the case for an international organisation to oversee the process, giving direction and advice, and co-ordinating research, rather like the World Health Organisation has been doing regarding the coronovirus outbreak.

He believes that the International Energy Agency (IEA) is the place to start.



In Chapter 8 of my book, I also argue for the establishment of a new international body, though I do not go so far as Nick Butler in setting up how this might happen.  In this chapter, I describe what the United Nations has been doing about climate change, through the UNFCCC, but believe that a more focused approach is needed.  Here is a quotation from p.221 of my book:

Global co-operation is the idea I have promoted throughout this book, because I believe it is the only way to produce the kind of rapid changes in human activity that are needed if we are to save the world from destruction. We are all in this together, so the divisiveness that is promoted by some groups and countries is just not appropriate. The world is facing a crisis and we need to join hands and work together to solve it.

So, what are the factors which are likely to limit global co-operation?

  • the massive size of the global population;
  • differences in national priorities, ethos and cultures;
  • differences across the world in how climate change is affecting individual countries;
  • lack of trust between nations;
  • ideological differences;
  • other crises seem more important to address, such as terrorism, migration etc;
  • risks to national economies;
  • fears that other nations will not do likewise;
  • fears of being left behind in trading competitiveness;
  • unwillingness to give up prestigious possessions, power and status.”

Nick Butler is coming at this idea from a different angle. Rather than seeking the co-operation of individual nations, he encourages some of the largest companies in the world, who have the largest emissions, to start acting responsibly.  Maybe, if they lead the way, then nations will follow.  But we are running out of time.



 


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Birmingham City Council’s actions since declaring a climate emergency

Birmingham City Council declared a climate emergency on June 11th 2019.  Since then, everything has gone quiet, although we were aware that they had established a Task Group (called R20 – Route to Zero) to take actions forward.  They did not invite Extinction Rebellion, nor Friends of the Earth to participate in the Task Group.

However, I learnt today that the Council set up an on-line consultation survey in January 2020 and that the deadline for responding to it has now passed.  The link to complete the survey was as follows:

https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/economy/climate-emergency-citizen-survey/

though I am not sure if the link is still active.

They are also doing a number of other things:

Sandpits Workshops

These are policy development sessions on key themes, with the aim of providing Taskforce members, officers, experts, and key partners and stakeholders with the opportunity to share knowledge and understanding of what is already known, how that helps the Task Group, and what else needs to be explored.  The following is a table of the workshops to be held:

Theme

Provisional date
NB: sessions will be ~3 hrs

Location

Housing

27 Feb (AM)

University of Birmingham

Transport

26 Feb (PM)

UoB

Planning/development and regulation

24 Feb (PM)

UoB

Education, skills and employment pathways

TBC (Mar)

UoB

East Birmingham and North Solihull (EBNS)

17 Mar

EBNS (visit)

Engagement

TBC (early Mar)

STEAMhouse

 To attend one of the workshops individuals need to be nominated by an organisation, who then needs to contact Rose Horsfall: Rose.Horsfall@birmingham.gov.uk. However, all of the dates above were postponed to March.

In addition, the R20 Task Force wants to set up citizen engagement sessions:

Invitation to convene a community conversation

“In April we would like further citizen engagement to be undertaken and are inviting Taskforce members to express their interest in convening community conversations which the Council will provide financial support for.

These sessions will take place following the engagement sandpit in March where we will be sharing good practice and learning to explore in depth how best to engage with our citizens on this agenda, including identifying target audiences across the city.

Please contact Naomi (Naomi.Todd@birmingham.gov.uk) if you would be interested in convening a session.”

Birmingham City Council had a debate in full council meeting on the work of the Task Force on 4th February 2020.  It can be viewed at http://civico.net/birmingham/democratic-services/8971  starting at 2 hours 07 minutes in the track.

National Climate Assembly UK

The second weekend of the National Climate Assembly took place in Birmingham on the weekend of 22nd-23rd Feb 2020. For further details and to view the session follow this link: Weekend 2.



 Update 11th March 2020:

I have heard through my contacts that several members of the R20 Task Force are extremely unhappy about its progress and at the shambolic way it is taking the agenda forward. The letter below to the Chairman of the Task Force perhaps reflects these frustrations:

“TYSELEY INCINERATOR:Beyond The Pale

As members of the Taskforce we are writing to you as chair to express our concern that Birmingham City Council has started the process for procuring a new contractor to run, maintain and refurbish the Tyseley Incinerator, and is asking for another 10 year contract. 

What Birmingham City Council and the wider city does with its waste will play a vital part in tackling the climate emergency. Reducing the amount of waste produced, increasing the amount of waste used as a resource through re-use and recycling, and reducing the amount going to incineration are all key to a low carbon future.

Therefore we have a number of concerns about the council starting this procurement:

1) Our first concern is about process. The motion passed by the City Council declaring the climate emergency called on the council to “review planned Transport, Housing, Waste and Energy Investment plans and policies to ensure they are fit to support a transition to a zero-carbon future”. Starting the procurement process for a continuation of the status quo this ageing and inefficient incinerator does not seem to show any evidence of reviewing planned investment plans and policies. Furthermore, starting this procurement process before the Task Force has finished its work,  and before the Climate Action Plan is drafted and approved by Full Council, feels premature and effectively putting the cart before the horse.

 2) We feel the length of the contract is also problematic. It locks the city council into using the Tyseley incinerator for at least 10 more years. This allows little flexibility when new technologies become available or an ability to wind down from using the incinerator in that time. Additionally, the end of the contract is 4 years after council is seeking to be zero carbon.
 3) We note the changing national policy context. The Council is very probably going to have to introduce a food waste collection. Once food waste is taken out of the residual waste stream, it will dramatically reduce the amount of waste going to the incinerator. In this context is it viable to have this incinerator? Particularly when there is spare incineration capacity elsewhere in neighbouring local authorities.
 4) Continuing with the Tysleley incinerator could make it difficult to significantly increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste produced. Having an incinerator, particularly with the wrong contract, can act as a disincentive to reducing waste and increasing recycling.
 5) Continuing to use the site for an incinerator precludes using the site for any other purpose, which could make use of being next to and linked into the neighbouring Tyseley Energy Park.
 6) Finally this 25 year old incinerator is a very high polluting and high carbon emitting way of dealing with residual waste. This has an impact on the air quality of the surrounding area and contributes to continuing carbon dioxide emissions in the city to 2034 and beyond.
 We acknowledge the challenges facing local authorities in terms of capacity, know how, powers and resources when tackling the climate emergency and achieving net zero. However, we believe there are the means within the city council, its allies on the taskforce and the wider region to resolve the  challenges of waste management in a much better way than this.  We urge the council to act in line with its commitments rather than trampling all over them with this current tender.”


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Australia is burning: is this a portent of what is to come?

As our hearts go out to the people of Australia, as they battle with unprecedented and devastating fires across the country, with lives lost, as well as homes and a billion of their unique marsupial and other wildlife species being burnt to death, I have to ask the question:

Is this one of the first of many such events that we are going to witness over the next decades?  Is this going to be the face of the effects of climate change in the future?  Are we going to witness even more harrowing events and deaths across the world?

AustralianBushfire

koala

Photographs from Australia during the fires in recent weeks

wombat after fire

Animals that survive the fires, like this wombat pictured in New South Wales, will struggle to find food and shelter

How much more dreadful is it going to become globally, as we see multiple fires, floods, hurricanes, monsoons, high temperatures, coastal erosion and mass loss of species? Ecologists are already saying that they fear two rare species (found only on Kangaroo Island, to the south of Australia), may have been wiped out in the recent fires.  These include a small mouse-like marsupial, called a dunnart, and glossy black cockatoos. See:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/empowering-the-planet/australia-wildfires-entire-species-may-have-been-wiped-out-by-inferno-conservationists-say/ar-BBYDoQk?ocid=spartandhp

dunnart2

The endangered marsupial: Kangaroo Island Dunnart

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

An article in Nature, by an Australian ecologist Michael Clarke, describes the aftermath of such terrible fires.  He says,

“It is deathly silent when you go into a forest after a fire. Apart from the ‘undertakers’ — the carrion eaters like currawongs, ravens and shrike-thrushes — picking off the dead bodies, there’s nothing much left in the forest. It’s a chilling experience.

For survivors, it’s a perilous existence in the months that follow. Any animal that manages to make it through the fire uninjured faces three major challenges. One is finding shelter from climatic extremes — places they can hide from bad weather, like a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. The second is the risk of starvation. And third, they’ve got to avoid predators like feral cats and foxes. They’re exposed; there’s nowhere to hide in a barren landscape.

Even if an animal makes it to an unburnt patch, the density of organisms trying to eke out a living will be way beyond the area’s carrying capacity. After fires in 2007, one unburnt patch I visited in the Mallee [a region in the far north of Victoria] was literally crawling with birds, all chasing one another, trying to work out who owned the last little bit of turf. It was clearly insufficient to sustain them all.

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble. During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Some animals are more resilient to fire than others. The best adapted are those that can get underground. Termite colonies happily hum along underneath these all-consuming fires. Burrow-dwelling lizards are similar.”

See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00043-2

michaelClarke

Professor Michael Clarke



 

Australia is not alone in facing wildfires. In 2018, a similar thing happened in California.  The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha), the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of December 21. Through to the end of August 2018, Cal Fire alone spent $432 million on operations. As of May 2019, insurance claims related to this fire season had reached $12 billion, most related to the Camp Fire, in Butte County (see Wikipedia). And wildfires happened in Europe too.

In India, from June to September 2019, the country received the highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. According to the India Meteorological Department, those rains are not expected to retreat until at least October 10th, which would be the latest withdrawal of the monsoon in the country’s recorded history.

indian monsoon floods

2019 monsoon flooding in India

According to Wikepedia, climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment. The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Beijing-Smog

Photograph taken in Beijing, China, where smog pollution reaches 24 times the WHO recommended safe level and children are kept from attending school as a result.

I have chosen to mention these three countries – Australia, India and China – because they were exempted from the UN Kyoto Protocol agreement, because at that time, they pleaded that they were only just beginning to industrialise and needed to be given a chance to compete with industrialised countries. This chance was given and, now, they have become amongst the highest polluting countries in the world, with China in the lead, despite its intentions to tackle climate change.  Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but I believe the UNFCCC should have had the confidence to stand firm over the Kyoto Protocol.  Because of this, many countries (including the USA – another high polluter) did not ratify it.

I came across an interesting graph a few months ago, which shows that carbon emissions have continued to climb, despite UN efforts and agreements: Rio, Kyoto and Paris and beyond.  The dates of these initiatives is marked on an ever-upwardly climbing graph of global carbon emissions.

cemissionsgraph

As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.

There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.

Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.

 

However, I believe that global warming and climate change will have multiple effects across the world; some of it will be related to food scarcity but the other effects will be more random: fires, floods, hurricanes, heat stroke, coastal erosion and the loss of islands, as well as land in low-lying countries. And, of course, the disappearance of many iconic species of wildlife. And, as a Biologist and an animal lover, I feel enormous grief over this devastating loss – and I know that I am not the only one.

Unless huge co-operative efforts are made to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the future looks bleak for all of us, including some of the wonderful and unique species with whom we share this planet. If we are seeing these effects with just 1 degree of global warming, what will it be like at 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees or even higher?  Three degrees and above are predicted if carbon emissions do not start to fall in the very near future.