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Greenhouse gases must peak by 2025

The ever increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the upper atmosphere is leading to global warming. Having assessed progress in climate change mitigation, national pledges and sources of the GHG gases, the overall conclusions of Working Party 3 of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are that –

  • not only must the emission of these gases peak by 2025
  • but also emissions of such gases must decrease by half this decade

to ensure that the average global temperature rise does not exceed 1.5C.

In addition, the concentration of methane, another GHG, increased by a record amount during the past year. While methane is much shorter lived than carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, it is a very much stronger absorber of infra –red radiation reflected back from the earth’s surface. As one of the strongest sources of methane is that associated with mining oil and gas, reducing our need for fossil fuels will also decrease methane emissions.

Reducing emissions

The most effective way of reducing GHG emissions is to replace fossil fuels by renewable energy sources like solar electricity and wind, which are abundant and wide spread and whose costs have decreased dramatically this past decade. Other strategies promoted by the IPCC which could also improve our health and well being, include –

  • • creating energy efficient homes
  • • undertaking more walking and cycling
  • • adopting greener diets
  • • wasting less food
  • • planting more trees

If these actions were undertaken now, their cost would only be a few per cent of annual production while delaying actions by even a few years would result in much higher costs and irreversible changes in climate.

Pledges

To stabilise the climate, countries attending the 26th Conference to the Parties in Glasgow (COP 26) made various pledges to reduce GHG emissions, but not all these are being implemented. At present GHG emissions are likely to increase by 10% by 2030 rather than decrease so putting billions of people at risk of a changing climate.


IPCC 6 th annual assessment report

Every 6-7 years, the International Panel on Climate Change publishes its assessment of our changing climate. The scientists assess thousands of documents published since the last report and then summarise their conclusions in 3 parts. So these assessments are the best possible source for determining what policies should be evolved to limit our changing climate.

In August 2021, the scientists in Group 1 concluded that ‘the climate was changing and that these changes were induced by human activity’. This conclusion formed the basis of the decision in November in Glasgow at the Annual Climate Change Conference that ‘greenhouse gas emissions would need to be halved in this decade to prevent irreversible changes in climate’.

In their most recent report released in March this year, the scientists in Group 2 concluded that

  • climate changes are accelerating rapidly
  • many of the impacts will be more severe than predicted
  • more immediate actions were required to avoid even greater extremes in weather

In the UK, we have already experienced 3 very severe storms in recent years of which the first occurred in 1987 and the most recent a few weeks ago so each of us have experienced at first hand how our climate is changing

Recent storm damage in Yateley

The IPCC scientists concluded that about half the world’s population live in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change. And that the most severe effects will be on crops for growing food and access to clean water due to the changing seasons as already some 10% of the world’s population has to go without at least one meal per day.

Loss of biodiversity is affecting key ecosystems and resulting in loss of species. To restore such ecosystems they concluded that this will require between one third and one half of the Earth’s land to be restored to its natural habitat.

According to the IPCC authors, many countries are not well prepared nor adapted for further changes in climate. They concluded that additional actions will be required involving housing, transport, agriculture and energy supplies.

As John Kerry, the US’s Special Climate Envoy observed ‘this report presents a dire picture of a warmer world and the terrible risks to our planet if we continue to ignore science. We have seen the increase in climate-fuelled extreme events and the damage that has been left behind – lives lost and livelihoods ruined. The over riding question is whether each of us will act now to avoid the worst consequences’.


2021 – more extreme weather encountered world wide

2021 together with the previous 7 years have been the hottest since temperatures have been recorded. In 10 countries, located around the world, extreme temperatures equalled or exceeded previous records. For example, in August, Syracuse in Italy recorded the highest temperature ever in Europe. Moreover in almost half the world’s countries , one or more mothly temeperatures were exceeded.

Other extremes included warmer winters in Alaska and Siberia, droughts for two successive years in Kenya and one year’s rain in 3 days in Henan Province in China.

These extremes can almost all be attributed to global warming caused by congregation of greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere which trap some of the infra red rays reflected back from the earth’s surface.

The highest increase in temperature was recorded in Siberia with temperatures higher by up to 10C during much of the summer resulting in massive forest fires and loss of sea ice. Such rises in temperature will likely increase melting of the permafrost resulting in release of methane, a greenhouse gas whose global warming potential is eighty times that of carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas.

The oceans
Oceans are a major sink of not only greenhouse gases but also of global warmth with the result that in spite of their huge volume, ocean temperatures have risen steadily. These temperature rises are directly affecting marine life including kelp forests and coral reefs.

All these events prove that our climate is changing and will continue to change until we are able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% this decade. Since each of us is responsible for our carbon emissions, each of us will have to do more to reduce our carbon footprint significantly.

03/02/2022


COP26 Earth’s climate is changing

This is the conclusion of the World Meteorological Organisation State of the Global Climate 2021 report which was published on the opening day of COP26 conference in Glasgow. The authors observed that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) had resulted in continued global warming and the preceding 7 years were likely to be the warmest ever recorded. The changing climate has increased the impact on crops, food supplies and ecosystems thereby reducing progress in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN’s Secretary General Antonio Guiterres commented that ‘Scientists are clear on facts. Now leaders need to be clear on their actions. The door is open and the solutions are there. We must act now to safeguard our future and save humanity’. Pieter Tallas, WMO’s Secretary General explained that ‘extreme weather events are the new norms and that there is mounting scientific evidence that some of these events are a result of human induced climate change’.

COP26 Forests and land use pledge

Forests provide the most diverse habitats for ecosystems and in addition help to regulate the weather and climate. About 10% of global tree cover has however been lost in the past 20 years.

The Glasgow declaration on Forests and Land use commits signatories to provide £14 billion in finance to restore degraded land by reforesting, protecting existing forest, mitigating wild fire damage and supporting indigenous people, who live within these forests. Unlike the preceding 2014 New York declaration, this time the EU, China and the US are willing to sign the declaration together with major forested countries like Brazil and Indonesia.

Since forests are a major sink for GHG, reforestation will help to absorb some of these gases which otherwise would congregate in the upper atmosphere and result in global warming. In addition, 28 countries agreed to work to remove the products resulting from land clearance of forests from the supply chain which include soy, palm oil, cocoa, beef and wood pellets. Moreover 30 of the world’s largest financial institutions have promised to end investment in activities leading to deforestation.

COP26 Global methane reduction pledge

More than 100 countries including the USA have agreed to reduce their methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared with 2020 levels. Methane is a much more powerful GHG than carbon dioxide but unlike CO2 has a short half life of only 10 years.
The new Glasgow initiative pledges to reduce methane leaking from oil and gas wells, pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure as well as emissions from livestock and decaying waste in landfill sites.


COP 26 Limiting the rise in average global temperature

The agreement in Paris in 2015 to limit the average global temperature rise to below 2 C, and preferably below 1.5 C, was aimed to avoid irreversible changes in climate and biodiversity on which our lives depend. The Parties to this agreement, agreed to develop and submit national declared contributions (NDCs) which would result in actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) until net zero was reached by 2050.

An analysis released by the UN Environmental Programme in the week prior to the COP 26 Conference concludes that “ current pledges would reduce carbon emissions by only 7% this decade compared with 47% cut required to limit climate change”. This is primarily due to countries not undertaking sufficient actions, soon enough, to limit GHG emissions. Immediate actions were required now rather than in the future or else the average global temperature could rise well above the limit agreed in Paris.

What needs to be done

Some 120 countries have submitted their updated NDCs so far, but those missing include some of the biggest emitters. Only 40% of the 120 countries have pledged to reduce GHG emissions to zero by 2050. Hopefully the Conference will convince countries that they need to review their policies and actions now or else we will all suffer, developed as well as developing, countries. Prevention is much more effective than subsequent mitigation while doing too little, too late is simply not an option.

Give life a chance

Laurent Fabius who chaired the Paris conference has reminded us that in his opening statement to this conference, he said “ All of us know that combatting global warming is more than just an environmental matter. It is an essential condition to give sustainable development and life on earth a chance ….. “
[UNEP Emissions gap report 2021]


COP 26 Transition from fossil fuels to renewables

When the Kyoto Convention was signed in 1997 to limit Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) to the upper atmosphere, the Parties to the Convention agreed that they would meet annually to review progress. The meeting in Glasgow, starting 31 October, will be therefore be the 26th meeting of the Parties and some 6 years after the COP meeting in Paris at which the Parties agreed to try and limit the increase in average global temperature to 1.5 C.

So these discussions will be a critical step in agreeing actions which will reduce GHG emissions by 50% during this decade if extremes in climate are to be avoided according to the 6th Assessment of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 6).

As Barack Obama, the former US President succinctly observed ‘We are the first generation to witness changes in climate and the last generation who is able to act to limit irreversible changes in climate

Transition to renewables
Energy production will be a major source of discussion at COP 26 as producers of fossil fuels such as oil and coal are concerned that their source of income from exports could decrease and that investment in any new fields will not be economic. If investment is needed, would this not be better spent on developing renewable energy sources in energy consuming countries rather than fossil fuels in energy producing countries?

The advantages of renewable energy sources include that they are abundant, available everywhere and that the technology for capturing this energy has matured with the principal sources being solar photovoltaic and wind energy. Their only disadvantage is their intermittency as the wind does not always blow nor the sun always shine so some form of energy storage is required.

However geothermal heat contained in the upper 200m of the surface is not diurnal nor seasonal dependent and can be concentrated using heat pumps which consume only one unit of electricity in producing 4 units of heat output. If the electricity source is renewable then zero carbon heat will be available for space and water heating and even industrial processes which require heat.

In making the transition to renewable energy sources, the International Energy Agency in their recent World Energy Outlook, observe that ‘40% of the required GHG emission reductions could come from measures that ‘pay for themselves’ such as improving energy efficiency, limiting gas leakage and installing wind or solar where they are already economic to generate’.
[22/10/2021]

Reversing deforestation
Trees and in particular, tropical rain forests, are major sinks for carbon dioxide as they reduce CO2 into its constituent parts and retain the carbon while releasing oxygen so they are the best form of carbon capture. The UK, who is hosting the COP 26 conference in Glasgow, is proposing a global agreement to stop deforestation by 2030 and then to reverse the loss of tree cover.

At present forest clearances have been undertaken to grow crops like soya, coffee, cocoa and palm oil to meet increasing demand. By stopping deforestation and planting more trees, we will not only reduce GHG emissions but also help to reverse the loss in habitats which are vital for preserving biodiversity and species. The UK’s Minister for the Environment observed that ‘we need to massively increase finance for nature as we cannot and should not take highly forested nations for granted’
[Guardian 16/10/2021]


COP 26th Conference to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Limiting climate change

At the end of October, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Kyoto Convention to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) will take place in Glasgow, UK. The Parties will review the agreement reached in Paris in December 2015 (at COP 21) to restrict the average global temperature rise to 2 C and no more than 1.5 C if possible.
In August this year the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its 6th Assessment Report which concluded that the average global temperature had risen by 1.2 C already and that this average temperature rise should not exceed 1.5 C rise if irreversible changes in climate are to be avoided. Moreover to stay within the 1.5 C limit, global GHG emissions would have to reduce by 50% in the next 10 years.
However the current national declared contributions (NDC) suggest that this reduction will NOT be achieved.

3 possible scenarios

Business as usual Not all countries agree at COP 26 to increase their national declared contributions. Under this scenario, the climate will continue to change resulting in –

  • risks to the natural world in terms of continuing loss of habitats and ecosystems, species and biodiversity
  • increasing extremes in weather and their occurrence such as tropical storms and droughts
  • more people going hungry due to loss of food production

As already 10% of the world’s population go without one or more meals a day, this number should not increase but decrease if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved by 2030.

Good intentions Countries agree in Glasgow to increase their national declared contributions but do not implement them. This is climate activist Greta Thunberg’s greatest concern. At the International Youth Climate Summit in Milan this week she said
“ All we hear from leaders are words that sound great but so far have not led to actions. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises. There is still time to achieve our goal but it will take immediate, drastic and annual emission reductions. But if words are not met with actions then our leaders will betray not only present, but also future generations”.

Saving the climate In this scenario, words are followed by actions. The principal argument for such actions has been described in 2009 by Nicholas Stern in his book Blueprint for a safer planet. The analysis by his economic team shows that a changing climate poses great dangers to food supplies, biosphere and employment. Therefore it is more economic to invest NOW in actions which will limit climate change rather than wait until these changes occur and then try to adapt to them. For the UK he has costed such actions as requiring an annual investment of 1% gross domestic product (GDP) some £50 billion until 2050. Moreover such an investment would create sustainable employment and result in reducing poverty and limit extremes in weather.

Will agreement be reached at COP 26?
Limiting climate change can only be achieved if all countries take actions to limit GHG emissions. The greatest concern is whether politicians can agree at COP 26 that the time for taking actions is now and if not now, when?.

Making it happen
Each of us is responsible for our carbon emissions. So rather than wait for political actions, we should also consider what we can and should do to limit our GHG emissions.
[01/10/2021]


Reducing fossil fuel consumption

The most recent report by the International Energy Agency concludes that the majority of fossil fuel resources must stay in the ground and not be consumed in order to limit the amount of greenhouse gases entering the upper atmosphere and inducing global warming. However many energy producers believe that they can still continue to export their products to meet consumer demand.

The solutions to this dilemma are two fold – that is continuing to increase the efficiency of energy consuming products and switching to renewable energy sources which are non polluting.

The IEA report concludes that oil exploration should therefore cease as soon as possible and funding diverted to producing solar energy which the oil producing regions have in abundance.
[IEA: Net zero by 2050 – a road map for the global energy sector, 2021]

Ice sheet melting

Studies of the ice sheet covering Greenland show that the ice sheet is melting at a faster rate than at any time in the past 12,000 years. It is possible that a tipping point could be reached where the ice sheet continues to melt even if the rise in global temperature were to cease. Melt water enters the ocean and causes the sea level to rise while the mixing of cold and warm water could alter the circulation of ocean currents.
[Guardian 21/8/21]

Loss of wild tree species threatens biodiversity

Biodiversity is the web of life which connects the smallest bacteria to the tallest tree and the whale, the largest species in the ocean. It is the variety of life forms that we see around us and comprises the whole range of species from mammals, plants, birds to insects. These species reside in ecosystems within habitats and changing a habitat will often affect the diversity of species contained therein.

The importance of biodiversity is that our planet’s essential goods and services depend upon the variety of genes, species, populations and ecosystems. Biological resources feed and clothe us and also provide materials for housing and medicines and spiritual nourishment.

Trees form part of the natural habitat of many species and forest clearance for farming poses the greatest threat to extinction of wild tree species. The species loss could be as high as 50% and has become a global problem according to the State of the World’s Trees report. Clearly this trend has to be reversed as soon as possible in order to preserve such an important habitat.

Britain has initiated a new campaign called the Queen’s Green Canopy to celebrate the 70 years of the Queens reign. Individuals, schools and groups are being urged to create a new network of trees and some 70 species specially selected ancient trees have been identified as suitable for planting. [Botanic Gardens Conservation International: State of the World’s Trees, 2021;
www.queensgreencanopy.org]

Children most at risk from climate change

UNICEF, the UN’s Agency for Child Health and Welfare, has concluded in its most recent report that the health of half the world’s children are at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of climate change and pollution. In addition that almost every child is at risk from one or other impact including heat waves, drought, floods, cyclones, disease and air pollution.

The authors observe that children are more vulnerable than adults as they require more food and water per unit of body weight and so are less able to survive extreme weather events. UNICEF concludes that there is still time to act to avoid even more extremes in weather provided that actions are prioritised to protect children from such impacts while accelerating projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
[UNICEF The Climate Crisis is a child rights crisis, 2021]


Extreme weather

One of the predictions of climate modelling is the increase in extreme weather events being encountered world wide. Such events now include –

Europe
From analysing growth rings on ancient oak trees, scientists have concluded that droughts and heat waves being experienced since 2014 could be the most extreme for more than 2000 years. Such conditions are having severe impacts on agriculture, eco systems and forestry.
[Guardian 16/03/21]

Germany/Belgium
Parts of these countries have had very heavy rainfall resulting in severe flooding, extensive damage to infrastructure, loss of crops and even lives.
[Guardian 22/07/21]

China
Torrential rain has resulted in severe flooding in Henan province when one year’s worth of rail fell in 3 days. 1.2 million people were affected by the floods and it was reported that such floods had not been seen in the preceding 1000 years.
[Guardian 22/07/21]

USA
Smoke from forest fires in the Western states, caused by severe droughts and lightning strikes, has been detected 3000 kms away in New York State resulting in very poor air quality.

As extreme events become more frequent, it could be devastating for societies as a whole.

Amazon rain forest becomes a source

Tropical forests have always been regarded as an important sink for carbon emissions associated with burning fossil fuels. However most recent studies show that most of the emissions are caused by fires in order to clear the land for beef and soy production.
However even in areas without fires, emissions were rising due to deforestation. Fewer trees resulted in less rain and higher temperatures affecting tree growth during the dry season.
>> A global agreement was therefore required to save the Amazon rain forest and thereby limit climate change.
[Guardian 15/07/21]


Staying within the 1.5C temperature limit

Global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall quickly to limit the increase in average global temperature as modelling suggests that only a further 300 Gigatonnes of CO2 can be allowed to enter the atmosphere. In 2020, global CO2 emissions totalled 32 Gigatonnes of CO2, a decrease of 6% compared with 2019 due to the impact of the corona virus but emissions are expected to increase again this year. So immediate actions are required to reduce CO2 emissions to stay within this limit.

Carbon emission reduction targets

The new US President, Joe Biden, has set a new US target of 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 compared with 2005. He believes that this new goal would enable the USA to reduce its emissions to zero by 2050 (Paris COP 21 target) and that such a shift would create millions of sustainable new jobs. Other countries which have increased their targets include the EU, UK, Canada, Japan and Argentina while China, the world’s largest emitter, is still considering what target to adopt.
All these targets are preliminary to the COP (Conference of the Parties) 26 talks to be held in Glasgow, UK in late November. It is hoped that all 196 signatories will pledge NDCs (national declared contributions) that will put the world on a path to net zero by 2050.

UK wind farms set clean energy record

On May 3 this year there was sufficient wind which enabled UK wind farms to generate 48% of the UK’s electricity with a further 8% coming from solar and biomass. On August 16, 2019, UK wind energy peaked at 60% of the power mix.

In 2020, UK renewable energy output was 120 TWh whereas nuclear was down to 50 TWh. The average carbon intensity was 180 grams CO2 per unit of electricity generated, a reduction of 70% in the preceding 7 years and the UK’s National Grid is aiming for a carbon free electricity mix by 2025.


Corona Virus

The Corona Virus has affected many communities and the subsequent lockdowns has resulted in many more people working from home rather than commuting to work and travelling/visiting other countries. Consequently much less transport has been used resulting in decreases in both local and global air pollution. So one positive outcome of the pandemic has been to show that it is possible to reduce travel and its associated pollution through use of virtual meetings using skype or zoom.

For many students, on line learning has become the norm at least some of the time and we hope that these resources will encourage you to undertake some actions to limit climate change.

Record ocean heat levels

Reliable instrumental measurements only go back 80 years, but scientists believe that the oceans are now at their hottest for 1000 years and heating faster than at any time in the past 2000 years. This warming can affect the rate at which nutrients can be transferred by oceanic currents from the floor to the upper layers of the ocean.

Hotter oceans can also disrupt rainfall patterns which can lead in some areas to flooding and in other areas to droughts while warmer water is less able to dissolve carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.
[Guardian newspaper 14 January]

Planet now hotter than at any time in the past 12,000 years

New research based on the chemical composition of sea shells suggests that the average global temperature has been rising over the past 12,000 years.

Ice melting at record rates

The melting of ice across the planet is accelerating at a record rate with the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets being the most affected. About two thirds of the ice loss is being caused by atmospheric warming and one third by warming of the oceans. Over a 23 year period, the ice loss rate has increased by almost 60%.

The most recent modelling by Danish scientists suggest that sea level rises could be as high on average as 1.35 metres by 2100 which has serious consequences for many coastal cities.
[Guardian newspaper 3 February]

Increasing use of renewable energy sources

The good news arising from 2020 has been the continuing increase in the use of solar and wind power and the decline of the use of coal in generating electricity. This shift needs to continue if the world is going to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5 C (2015 Paris agreement).

Decarbonising the electricity grid by switching to renewable energy sources has other significant advantages as wind and solar are everywhere so local generation of electricity at point of use is not only possible but also it is more efficient and less costly as the associated transmission and distribution losses are minimal.

The other major demand for energy is for heating in the winter months particular in the northern parts of Europe, North America and Asia. In these countries there is an increasing uptake of heat pumps which concentrate the low grade heat contained within the ground or air. Energy is only required to concentrate the heat to produce space and water heating but not to produce it . As heat pumps use electricity as the energy source and electricity itself can be produced locally there is the possibility of zero emissions from such homes.

The UK’s Committee for Climate Change has recommended that heat pumps should be installed in 80% of UK homes by 2050 at an annual rate of 600,000 by 2028 to replace gas as the heating source.

 

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