Carbon Emissions Falling Fast as Wind and Solar Replace Fossil Fuels
Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions are falling fast, mainly because of the rapid spread of the wind turbines and solar panels that are replacing fossil fuels for electricity generation.
The 110 megawatt Lillgrund wind farm off the coast of southern Sweden. Photo credit: Tomasz Sienicki
European Union (EU) data shows that once countries adopt measures to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs), they often exceed their targets—and this finding is backed up by figures released this week in a statement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The Convention’s statistics show that the 37 industrialized countries (plus the EU) that signed up in 1997 to the Kyoto Protocol—the original international treaty on combating global warming—have frequently exceeded their promised GHG cuts by a large margin.
Beacon for governments
The UNFCCC statement says, "This is a powerful demonstration that climate change agreements not only work, but can drive even higher ambition over time."
"The successful completion of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period can serve as a beacon for governments as they work towards a new, universal climate change agreement in Paris, in December this year."
In the EU, the leading countries for making savings are Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain, which account for two-thirds of the total savings on the continent. But most of the 28 countries in the bloc are also making progress towards the EU’s own target of producing 20 percent of all its energy needs from renewables by 2020. It has already reached 15 percent.
Part of the EU plan to prevent any of the 28 member states backsliding on agreed targets to reduce GHGs is to measure every two years the effect of various policies to achieve the reductions.
All states have to submit details of savings achieved through the introduction of renewables in electricity production, heating and cooling systems and transport.
Because of the time taken to compile the figures, the latest report from the EC Joint Research Center goes up only to 2012. However, it shows that each year in the three years up to the end of 2012 GHGs emitted by the EU fell by 8.8 percent as a result of replacing fossil fuels with renewables.
Two-thirds of the savings came from the widespread introduction of wind and solar power. Renewables used for heating and cooling achieved 31 percent of the savings and transport 5 percent. Most transport renewables came from the use of bio-fuels instead of petrol and diesel.
Measuring the progress towards targets is vital for mutual trust between nations in the run-up to the Paris climate talks. It also gives politicians confidence that they can make pledges they can keep.
The knowledge that the EU is likely to exceed its target of a 20 percent reduction of all emissions on 1990 levels by 2020 has led ministers to a more ambitious goal—total reductions of 40 percent by 2030. A large part of this will come from the installation of more renewables and energy-efficiency measures.
Across Europe, emissions vary widely from country to country, with Germany having the highest and Malta the lowest. Germany also had the greatest absolute reduction of emissions—a total drop of 23 percent on 1990 levels by 2012.
The highest emissions per capita were in Luxembourg (20 tons of carbon dioxide per person), followed by Estonia (12.7), the Czech Republic (10.2), Germany (9.8) and the Netherlands (9.7).
Just five member states—Germany, Poland, the UK, Italy and Romania—together produced two-thirds of the EU’s emissions in 1990. The only change by 2012 was that Romania had been overtaken by Spain.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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