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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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