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May was the greenest month ever in UK

May 2020 was the greenest ever for the UK electricity supply as 28% of the UK’s electricity was supplied by renewables and for 54 consecutive days no coal fired plants were used at all. The result was that the average carbon intensity per unit of electricity decreased to 143 grams carbon dioxide from the 2019 average of 250 grams. On 24 May, the lowest carbon intensity ever was recorded of 46 grams. Decarbonising the electricity grid will significantly reduce the average carbon footprint per person. [Guardian 3 June]

However the UK’s Committee for Climate Change in its annual report to Parliament observed that the UK was falling behind in its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions and that the recovery from Covid 19 pandemic created an opportunity for creating green jobs like insulating buildings, switching to electric vehicles and improving broad band coverage so more people could work from home. [Guardian 26 June]

New record temperatures in Siberia

While the average global temperature rise since 1750 (start of Industrial Revolution) was just above 1.0 C, a prolonged heat wave in Siberia has seen a temperature rise by up to 30 C. This increase is primarily due to ocean currents carrying heat towards the polar regions and melting of ice and snow which reflects radiation rather than absorbs it. Apart from other impacts, thawing of the permafrost could release pockets of methane gas which is a strong greenhouse gas.

World has only six months to reduce its carbon emissions

In the annual report of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, its executive director, warned that the world has only six months in which to begin reducing its carbon emissions permanently to prevent irreversible changes in climate. He stated that ‘This year is the last time we have if we are not to see a carbon rebound (after the Covid 19 pandemic)’.

In its first global blueprint for a green recovery, the Agency suggested focussing on wind and solar power together with energy efficiency improvements to buildings and industries and modernisation of electricity grids to better manage distributed renewable power sources. The Agency observed that targeting green jobs was more effective than pouring money into a high carbon economy [Guardian 18 June]

Air pollution below normal despite increase in traffic

Analysis of recent air pollution data in the UK has shown that air pollution has decreased even though traffic flows are near normal. One possible reason in that even a small decrease in traffic results in a significant decrease in air pollution because of the reduction in congestion in urban areas. As air pollution can result in respiratory illnesses, reducing pollution may also decrease the impact of Covid 19 virus as it is also affects the respiratory system. [Guardian 14 July]

Coronavirus, environmental impact and climate change

One unexpected impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been the improvement in the quality of the environment. Due to lockdown, the amount of industrial activity and vehicular traffic, particularly road and air, has decreased very significantly and the benefits have included reductions in -

  • Air pollution
  • Noise pollution
  • Greenhouse gas emissions

The reduction in road traffic has encouraged more people to reclaim the road space for walking and cycling in many towns and cities thereby improving air quality.

A number of well known people have observed that once the pandemic is over – “ the outbreak has proven that society in its present form is not sustainable and we need to choose a new way forward”. Greta Thunberg also noted “that the global response demonstrated how quickly change could happen when humanity united and acted on the advice of scientists”.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, observed in a message for Earth Day (22 April) “that the pandemic was the biggest threat that the world had faced since 1945 but that the environmental emergency was deeper. He believed that the post pandemic recovery should include –

  • Creation of green jobs whose activities would have little or no environmental impact
  • Taxpayer support for sustainable growth
  • End to fossil fuel subsidies

Impact of habitat loss
Pope Francis observed that “ the coronavirus has put a spotlight on values. Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and learn to understand and contemplate the natural world”. He added “ this is the time to take the decisive step and move from misusing nature to contemplating it”.

The world’s leading biodiversity experts have warned that “the coronavirus is likely to be followed by outbreaks of even more deadly diseases unless their root cause – the rampant destruction of the natural world – is rapidly halted. Some 70% of emerging diseases in humans originate from close contact of people with animals ”.

“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development as well as exploitation of wild species have created a perfect storm for the spill over of diseases.”

They conclude that “the health of people is intimately connected to the health of wildlife, livestock and the health of the environment” [Preparatory remarks to a new draft by the International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and and Ecosystems Services]

All texts from articles in the Guardian newspaper.

Environmental impact
Air pollution and C virus

During the lockdown owing to the coronavirus, road traffic in the UK dropped by up to 73%. The deserted streets have resulted in corresponding large decreases in air pollution, which is likely to reduce early deaths from lung and heart conditions.

The reduction in air pollution is also likely to decrease the likelihood of catching the coronavirus if persons have pre-existing respiratory diseases.

Now that many people have learnt to work from home, it is unlikely that traffic volumes will ever increase to their former levels. Towns and cities are helping to initiate this change by decreasing road space in favour of cycle lanes and wider pavements.

Rises in sea levels
Sea levels are rising faster than previously estimated and could reach 1 metre by the year 2100 unless global emissions are reduced rapidly. Based on new knowledge of climate sensitivity and polar ice melt, scientists believe that coastal cities should prepare for an impact sooner than predicted by UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Bleaching of coral reefs
Coral reefs are important marine reservoirs of biodiversity being homes to myriads of species. However rising ocean temperatures could push the world’s tropical coral reefs over a tipping point so that they undergo bleaching each year which can kill the coral and the home for many species.

Oceans could be restored to former health
Available evidence suggests that it will be possible to restore the biodiversity of the oceans if we are able to introduce sustainable fishing, protect the oceans from acidification by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate the destruction of habitats such as sea grass meadows and mangrove swamps. But it will require pro-active policies by Governments and global cooperation amongst nations.

2020 hottest ever?

This year is likely to be the hottest ever world wide according to meteorologists as heat records have been broken from the Antarctic to Greenland since January. For example Europe recorded its warmest winter ever with an average rise in long term temperature of 1.4 C only 0.1 C below the limit temperature to avoid irreversible changes in climate.

Though yearly CO2 emissions will decrease this year due to lockdowns, the concentration of greenhouse gases will continue to rise and so will the average global temperature.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is now a window of opportunity for introducing more sustainable means of transport and energy production by switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Rise in temperature and humidity
The vast majority of humanity has lived in regions where the average annual temperature lies between 6 C and 28 C which is ideal for human health and food production. Humanity is particularly sensitive to any temperature rise as the land warms faster than the ocean. A study by the University of Exeter suggests that there could be more change in temperature in the next 50 years than in the past 6000 years and that actions are needed now to accelerate cuts in emissions.

If addition, if periods of extreme heat are accompanied by high humidity then the chances of survival are reduced as the human body may not be able to sweat out excess heat through the skin from where it evaporates. Available evidence indicates that incidence of such events is increasing and has doubled over a 40 year time period.

All the available evidence indicates that global warming is increasing and it will be up to each to use less energy and to change energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable sources where ever possible.

All texts from articles in the Guardian newspaper



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