‘Lifeline’ of renewable energy can steer world out of climate crisis
Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rises, ocean heat levels and acidification, all set new records during 2021, while some glaciers reached the point of no return, according to the latest flagship report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), published on Wednesday.
The State of the Climate 2021 indicates that extreme weather – the day-to-day face of climate change – wreaked a heavy toll of human lives, triggered shocks for food and water security, and led to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses last year.
The report, which describes yet more clear signs that human activity is causing harm on a planetary scale – to our land, ocean and atmosphere – also confirms that the past seven years have been the warmest on record, with global temperature in 2021 reaching about 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.
“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record. Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come”, warned WMO chief Petteri Taalas. “Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are invented”.
A plan for renewables
Calling the report, a “dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that while time is running out to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis, there is a ‘lifeline’ right in front of us.
“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition before we incinerate our only home… Transforming energy systems is low-hanging fruit”, he emphasized in a video message.
Highlighting that renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar are readily available and in most cases, cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels, the UN chief proposed five critical actions to jump-start the energy transition, which he called the “peace project of the 21st century”.
1. Treating renewable energy technologies as essential global public goods
This means removing obstacles to knowledge sharing and technological transfer, including intellectual property constraints.
Mr. Guterres called for a new global coalition on battery storage led by governments and bringing together tech companies, manufacturers and financiers to fast-track innovation and deployment.
2. Secure, scale up and diversify the supply components and raw materials for renewable energy technologies
Supply chains for renewable energy technology and raw materials are concentrated in a handful of countries, and more international coordination is needed to overcome this obstacle.
3. Build frameworks and reform fossil fuel bureaucracies
The UN chief is calling for governments to fast-track and streamline approvals of solar and wind projects, modernize grids and set ambitious renewable energy targets that provide certainty to investors, developers, consumers and producers.
4. Shift subsidies away from fossil fuels
Each year, governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels – more than triple the subsidies given to renewables.
“While people suffer from high prices at the pump, the oil and gas industry is raking in billions from a distorted market. This scandal must stop”, Guterres highlights.
5. Private and public investments in renewable energy must triple
The UN chief is calling for and adjustment to risk frameworks and more flexibility to scale up renewable finance.
“it’s time to jump-start the renewable energy transition before it’s too late”, the Secretary-General urged.
The UN chief’s plan is long overdue, at a time when extreme weather continues to impact the lives of millions in recent weeks, as seen with the drought emergency in the Horn of Africa, the deadly floods in South Africa, and the extreme heat in India and Pakistan.
The WMO State of the Global Climate report complements the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which only included data up to 2019, and it will be used as a negotiation document during the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Egypt (COP 27) later this year.
Here are some of its key findings:
· Greenhouse gas concentrations
Levels reached a new global high in 2020 and continued to increase in 2021, with the concentration of carbon dioxide reaching 413.2 parts per million globally, a 149% increase on pre-industrial levels.
“We have broken records in main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide and especially the record in carbon dioxide is striking; we haven’t seen any improvement despite of the lockdowns caused by COVID in 2020, so the concentrations continue growing”, explains WMO chief Petteri Taalas.
· Ocean heat
Another record high. The upper 2,000m depth of ocean water continued to warm in 2021 and it is expected that it will continue to warm in the future – a change which is irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales, and affects deeply marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.
· Ocean acidification
Because of the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) the ocean is absorbing (some 23% of annual emissions), its waters are increasingly acidifying.
This has consequences for organisms and ecosystems, and also threatens human food security and tourism.
The decreasing PH level also means the ocean’s capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere also decreases.
“90 per cent of the excess heat that we have produced to the planet, they are stored in ocean”, informs Prof. Taalas.
Sea level increased a record of 4.5 mm per year over the period 2013-2021, mainly due to the accelerated loss of ice mass from the ice sheets.
This has major implications for hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers and increases vulnerability to tropical cyclones.
The world’s glaciers that scientists use as a reference have thinned by 33.5 meters since 1950, with 76% happening since 1980.
In 2021, glaciers in Canada and the US Northwest had a record ice mass loss because of heatwaves and fires in June and July.
Greenland also experienced an exceptional mid-August melt and the first-ever recorded rainfall at its highest point.
The heat broke records across western North America and the Mediterranean in 2021. Death Valley, California reached 54.4 °C on 9 July, equalling a similar 2020 value as the highest recorded in the world since at least the 1930s, and Syracuse in Sicily reached 48.8 °C.
A heatwave in British Columbia, Canada caused more than 500 deaths and fuelled devastating wildfires.
Flooding and Droughts
Flooding caused economic losses of US$17.7 billion in Henan province of China, as well as 20 billion in Germany. It was also a factor leading to heavy loss of life.
Droughts affected many parts of the world, including the Horn of Africa, South America, Canada, the western United States, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.
The drought in the Horn of Africa has intensified through 2022. Eastern Africa is facing the very real prospect that the rains will fail for a fourth consecutive season, placing Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia into a drought of a length not experienced in the last 40 years.
“These [climate] impacts are unevenly distributed. If you’re living in Central America, South America, Central, East or West Africa, South Asia or in a Small Island Developing State, you’re 15 times more likely to die from climate-related impact or a climate-related weather extreme”, explains Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action, Selwin Hart.
· Food security
The compounded effects of conflict, extreme weather events and economic shocks, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, undermined decades of progress towards improving food security globally.
Worsening humanitarian crises in 2021 have also led to a growing number of countries at risk of famine. Of the total number of undernourished people in 2020, more than half live in Asia (418 million) and a third in Africa (282 million).
“There’s a component coming from this COVID crisis, and there’s a high risk now because of the war in Ukraine that we will see major hunger problems”, adds Prof. Taalas.
Hazards related to water events continued to contribute to internal displacement. The countries with the highest numbers of displacements recorded as of October 2021 were China (more than 1.4 million), the Philippines (more than 386,000) and Viet Nam (more than 664,000).
Clouds in the sky provide new clues to predicting climate change
While barely being given a second thought by most people, the masses of condensed water vapour floating in the atmosphere play a big role in global warming.
By MICHAEL ALLEN
Predicting how much Earth’s climate will warm is vital to helping humankind prepare for the future. That in turn requires tackling a prime source of uncertainty in forecasting global warming: clouds.
Some clouds contribute to cooling by reflecting part of the Sun’s energy back into space. Others contribute to warming by acting like a blanket and trapping some of the energy of Earth’s surface, amplifying the greenhouse effect.
‘Clouds interact very strongly with climate,’ said Dr Sandrine Bony, a climatologist and director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris.
They influence the structure of the atmosphere, impacting everything from temperature and humidity to atmospheric circulations.
And in turn the climate influences where and what types of clouds form, according to Bony, a lead author of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning assessment report in 2007 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
So many processes and feedback loops can affect climate change that it’s helpful to break down the issue into smaller parts.
‘Every time we manage to better understand one of the pieces, we decrease the uncertainty of the whole problem,’ said Bony, who coordinated the EU-funded EUREC4A project that ended last year.
A number of years ago, Bony and her colleagues discovered that small, fluffy clouds common in trade wind regions cause some of the largest levels of uncertainty in climate models. These clouds are known as trade cumulus.
While trade cumulus clouds are small and relatively unspectacular, they are numerous and very widely found in the tropics, according to Bony. Because there are so many of these clouds, what happens to them potentially has a huge impact on climate.
EUREC4A used drones, aircraft and satellites to observe trade cumulus clouds and their interactions with the atmosphere over the western Atlantic Ocean, near Barbados.
Many models assume that the structure and number of these clouds will change significantly as the global temperature warms, leading to possible feedback loops that amplify or dampen climate change. The models that project a strong reduction in such clouds as temperatures rise tend to predict a higher degree of global warming.
But Bony and her colleagues discovered that trade cumulus clouds change much less than expected as the atmosphere warms.
‘In a way, it is good news because a process that we thought could be responsible for a large amplification of global warming does not seem to exist,’ she said. More importantly, it means that climatologists can now use models that more accurately represent the behaviour of these clouds when predicting the effect of climate change.
Reducing this element of uncertainty in forecasts of the global extent of warming will make predictions of local impacts such as heatwaves in Europe more precise, according to Bony.
‘The increase in the frequency of heatwaves very much depends on the magnitude of global warming,’ she said. ‘And the magnitude of global warming depends very much on the response of clouds.’
Water and ice
Meanwhile, Professor Trude Storelvmo, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Oslo in Norway, has been exploring the processes inside a different type of cloud – mixed-phased clouds – to help improve climate models.
She is fascinated by how processes in clouds that occur on a tiny, micrometre scale can have such a big influence on global-scale atmospheric and climate processes.
Mixed-phase clouds contain both liquid water and ice and are responsible for the majority of rainfall across the globe. In recent years, it has become clear that they also play an important role in climate change.
Storelvmo coordinated the EU-funded MC2 project, which ran for five years until last month and unearthed new details about how mixed-phase clouds react to higher temperatures. The results highlight the urgency of transitioning to a low-carbon society.
The more liquid water that mixed-phased clouds contain, the more reflective they are. And by reflecting more radiation from the sun away from the Earth, they cool the atmosphere.
‘As the atmosphere warms, these clouds tend to shift away from ice and towards liquid,’ said Storelvmo. ‘What happens then is the clouds also become more reflective and they have a stronger cooling effect.’
But some years ago, Storelvmo and colleagues discovered that most global climate models overestimate this effect. MC2 flew balloons into mixed-phase clouds and used remote sensing data from satellites to probe their structure and composition.
The researchers discovered that current climate models tend to make the mix of water and ice in mixed-phase clouds more uniform and less complex than in real clouds, leading to overestimations of the amount of ice in the clouds.
Because these model clouds have more ice to lose, when simulations warm them the shift in reflectiveness is greater than in real clouds, according to Storelvmo. This means the models overestimate the dampening effect that mixed-phase clouds have on climate change.
When the team plugged the more realistic cloud data into climate models and subjected it to simulated warming, they made another important finding: the increase in the reflectiveness of mixed-phased clouds weakens with warming.
While with moderate warming the dampening effect on higher temperatures is quite strong, this is no longer the case as warming intensifies.
There comes a point when the ice in the cloud has all melted and the cooling effect weakens – and then completely vanishes. Exactly when this starts to happen is a question for future research.
But, according to Storelvmo, this reinforces the need for urgent reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
‘Our findings suggest that if we just let greenhouse-gas emissions continue, it won’t just be a linear and gradual warming – there could be a rapidly accelerating warming when you get to a certain point,’ she said. ‘We really need to avoid reaching that point at all costs.’
As new findings on clouds such as these are integrated into models, climate predictions used by policymakers will become more refined.
Research in this article was funded via the EU’s European Research Council (ERC). The article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Kazakhstan Discusses Ways for Achieving Carbon Neutrality and Building Resilience
Today the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan jointly with the World Bank and Kazakhstan Association “ECOJER” launched a series of policy dialogues to support Kazakhstan in implementing its critical climate and environmental strategies, including the transition to a low-carbon economy, air quality management, and resilience to climate change. The first of the workshop series held today focused on supporting Kazakhstan’s transition to carbon neutrality by 2060.
Kazakhstan made a bold leap forward on a newly charted course for the country’s development by adopting The Strategy on Achieving Carbon Neutrality by 2060. Approved by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan on February 2, 2023, the strategy sets ambitious net-zero carbon goals for climate action and identifies key technological transformations needed for the country’s decarbonization. To achieve these transformations, the country will require determining and implementing effective and targeted policies and programs across the whole of the country’s economy.
“Our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint and use the benefits of sustainable economic growth, improved public health and reduced climate risks. Net investment in low-carbon technologies is estimated at $610 billion. This will certainly lead to the emergence of new and expanding existing markets and niches for domestic manufacturers, and stimulate the creation of high-skilled jobs,” said Alibek Kuantyrov, Minister of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Participants of the first policy dialogue discussed a roadmap for the implementation of the government policies, measures, and investments in support of the approved strategy. The event also provided a forum for the experts to share best practices and experience in low-carbon policy implementation in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland.
“The recently adopted strategy for Kazakhstan’s transition to carbon neutrality attests to the government’s resolve to pivot towards a growth model that is driven less by fossil fuels and more by investments in climate-smart industries in water, agriculture, and rangelands management. This broad economic transformation will require an enabling environment centered on policies, investments, and ensuring a just transition for people and communities,” says Andrei Mikhnev, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan.
To help Kazakhstan prioritize the most impactful actions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost climate change adaptation while delivering on broader development goals and carbon-neutral future, the World Bank recently published Kazakhstan Country Climate and Development Report. The report suggests main pathways to support Kazakhstan’s low-carbon, resilient transition.
“Reduction of greenhouse emissions is a non-alternative course for Kazakhstan and there is an obvious need for legislative instruments. Today, government agencies need to develop the implementation roadmap, and the industry needs to get clear messages – in which direction they will move in the coming decades and what kind of support from the government they can count on. Such dialogues needed to ensure a balance of interests of state bodies and institutions, to identify business opportunities, and get knowledge of the best world experience, so that we can achieve our goals and improve the environmental situation in the country,”said Lazzat Ramazanova, Chairman of the Council of the Kazakhstan Association “ECOJER”.
The policy dialogues series aims to provide a robust platform for multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral engagement. By bringing together Kazakhstan’s government agencies, the private sector, civil society, academia, international development organizations, and the world’s leading experts, the dialogues aim to foster collaboration and action to accelerate the implementation of Kazakhstan’s carbon neutrality targets as well as low-emission development strategy, international climate action commitments, and adaptation measures. The focus of the series’ next policy dialogues scheduled in April and June 2023 will be on air pollution reduction and climate change adaptation in support of Kazakhstan’s climate and development goals.
WEF’s Blue Food Partnership Launches Roadmap to Strengthen Sustainable Growth in Aquaculture
The World Economic Forum’s Blue Food Partnership launched today a Global Sustainable Aquaculture Roadmap at the Our Ocean Conference in Panama, in collaboration with FUTUREFISH and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and in consultation with the Partnership’s Sustainable Aquaculture Working Group, to strengthen sustainable growth in aquaculture.
Blue foods – from the ocean, rivers and lakes – are the most highly traded food products in the world and provide livelihoods for millions of people as well as healthy and nutritious food for billions. Many types of blue foods also have lower carbon footprints than terrestrial food production and are critical to ensuring climate resilience as well as global food and nutrition security. Demand for these foods is expected to double by 2050 and much of this demand will be met through aquaculture production.
The roadmap is an important guide for transformative action in aquaculture value chains and the sector overall.
Like all food systems, aquaculture presents both opportunities and challenges. Some current aquaculture practices have a negative impact on habitats and communities, and significant progress is needed to realize sustainable growth while also making a broad contribution on the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Increased production must be undertaken from a nature-positive perspective to preserve critical habitats and biodiversity.
“Meeting our increasing demand for healthy and nutritious food in more sustainable ways is a monumental challenge, yet great potential lies in the water,” said Kristian Teleki, Director, Ocean Action Agenda and Friends of Ocean Action, World Economic Forum. “Blue foods from our ocean, rivers and lakes are the most highly traded food products in the world and already provide livelihoods for many millions as well as healthy and nutritious food for billions. This roadmap will ensure we are on a sustainable and ethical pathway to producing more food for an increasingly hungry planet.”
Informed by a systems-change approach, the roadmap see aquaculture as being fundamentally connected to nature, climate, nutrition and equitable livelihoods. Based on this approach, it provides four pathways – responsible production, better livelihoods, healthy consumption, and an enabling environment – to accelerate action towards the greater social, economic and environmental benefits that the sustainable growth of aquaculture can offer.
“It is increasingly recognized that the aquaculture industry must play a more active, leading and collaborative role in addressing challenges in the aquaculture sector,” said Chris Ninnes, CEO, Aquaculture Stewardship Council and Co-Chair, Blue Food Partnership’s Sustainable Aquaculture Working Group. “Some progress has been made by the collective efforts of various committed industry associations but more needs to be done across the wide spectrum of aquaculture systems to make them as sustainable as possible for the long term.”
The Sustainable Aquaculture Working Group is a pre-competitive initiative of the Blue Food Partnership, supported by the UK government’s Blue Planet Fund. Bringing together stakeholders from the private sector, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, scientists and governments, the partnership aims to catalyse science-based actions towards healthy and sustainable blue food value chains.
The Blue Food Partnership will share key findings from the roadmap and spark discussion among representatives across geographies, sectors and production systems at an official side event at the Our Ocean Conference in Panama City on Friday 3 March.
“We invite all relevant stakeholders engaged in aquaculture to view this roadmap as a community resource to be shared and applied to their own efforts. From there, we can collectively build momentum towards the sustainable growth of aquaculture that is good for people, nature and climate,” Teleki said.
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