By Kenny Stancil
For the Biden Administration to meet its long-term target of net-zero emissions by 2050, the United States must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 60% below 2005 levels by 2030, according to a new report released Thursday.
In its analysis, Climate Action Tracker (CAT) found that in order for the U.S. to do its fair share to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C by the end of the century — the goal of the Paris agreement — the country must slash at least 57% to 63% of its emissions by the end of the decade and provide financial support to developing nations striving to transition away from climate-destroying fossil fuels.
Having officially rejoined the Paris agreement earlier this year, the Biden Administration is currently preparing to unveil a new domestic emissions reduction target, known as a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The U.S. is expected to announce its Paris agreement pledge for 2030 prior to a climate leaders' summit the White House is hosting on Earth Day, which falls on April 22.
US @ClimateEnvoy said this week he wants to be judged on what he delivers in a #climate plan... well -… https://t.co/C0RsbVh4Ff— Ed King (@Ed King)1615456449.0
The report emphasizes that "setting a strong and fair NDC is only the first step."
"Even if President Joe Biden were to adopt the Paris Agreement 2030 target we suggest he should, he still needs to implement policies to get the U.S. onto this emissions pathway towards zero greenhouse gas emissions," said Professor Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, one of the two CAT partner organizations.
"He has already announced a number of plans, which are positive first steps," Höhne added, "but not all of them are Paris Agreement compatible, nor would they be enough to meet our suggested 1.5˚C compatible target."
CAT analyzed Biden's plans for three sectors of the U.S. economy — power, transportation, and buildings — and compared them with Paris agreement-compatible benchmarks defined in a previous study.
According to the new report:
- Biden's plan to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035 — an objective he set in motion with an Executive Order requiring federal agencies to develop a procurement plan for carbon-free electricity — is consistent with a Paris agreement pathway.
- Biden's proposal to gradually transition toward clean mobility, with a focus on the electrification of light-duty passenger vehicles (LDV), is insufficient. Although transportation is the largest source of emissions in the U.S., Biden has yet to set clear targets or timelines. CAT estimates that to comply with the Paris agreement, 95% to 100% of nationwide sales of LDV must be zero-emissions by 2030.
- Biden's plan to cut the carbon footprint of the U.S. buildings sector in half by 2035 through retrofitting, appliance electrification, and on-site renewable energy generation is a step in the right direction. However, CAT estimates that to be consistent with the Paris agreement, emissions need to be about 60% lower in residential buildings and 70% lower in commercial buildings by 2030, compared with 2015 levels.
The research conducted by CAT demands bolder climate policies to slash emissions more thoroughly and rapidly than others have proposed.
As Reuters reported, "European Union officials ... are calling on Washington to reduce emissions at least 50% this decade below 2005 levels," while environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Resources Institute, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council "have coalesced around a 50% reduction target for 2030."
While the 50% target advocated by the America Is All In coalition "is close to a 1.5˚C pathway for the U.S.," CAT stressed that "this target would still result in a gap of 0.5-0.9 GtCO2e emissions in 2030."
"For President Biden to show true climate leadership, we would want to see him coming forward with an ambitious, science-based target that would encourage domestic action toward decarbonizing the economy," said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, the other CAT partner.
"It would be a major boost to international climate cooperation," Hare added. "Having the U.S. taking such strong action would reverberate across the world, and result in other countries also stepping up to adopt the kind of targets they need to make global net-zero a reality."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
A new report promoting urgent climate action in Australia has stirred debate for claiming that global temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade.
Australia's Climate Council released the report on Thursday. The council is an independent organization of climate scientists and experts on health, renewable energy and policy who work to inform the Australian public on the climate crisis. But their latest claim is causing controversy.
"Multiple lines of evidence show that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above the preindustrial level, without significant overshoot and subsequent drawdown, is now out of reach due to past inaction," Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Prof. Christopher Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment wrote in the foreword. "The science is telling us that global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 2030s, and that long-term stabilization at warming at or below 1.5°C will be extremely challenging."
The report is titled "Aim high, go fast: Why emissions need to plummet this decade," and as the name suggests, it is ultimately concerned with urging more robust climate action on the part of the Australian government. The report calls for the country to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2035 in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris agreement, which means limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius.
"The world achieving net zero by 2050 is at least a decade too late and carries a strong risk of irreversible global climate disruption at levels inconsistent with maintaining well-functioning human societies," the authors wrote.
The report further argues that global temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2030s based on existing temperature increases; locked-in warming from emissions that have already occurred; evidence from past climate changes and the percentage of the carbon budget that has already been used.
The report isn't a call to give up on the Paris agreement. It is possible that global temperatures could swell past 1.5 degrees Celsius but still be reduced by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if temperatures do exceed 1.5 degrees, every degree of warming that can be prevented makes a difference.
"Basically we can still hold temperature rise to well below 2C and do that without overshoot and drawdown," Will Steffen, lead report author from the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, told Australia's ABC News. "Every tenth of a degree actually does matter — 1.8C is better than 1.9C, and is much better than 2C."
However, some outside scientists question both the accuracy and effectiveness of the report's claim. Both Adjunct Professor Bill Hare from Murdoch University and Dr. Carl-Freidrich Schleussner from Humboldt University told ABC News they have been trying to contact the Climate Council about its 1.5 overshoot claim for months. They said that it went against other major reports, including the UN Environment Program Gap Report and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5˚C.
"The big challenge their report reinforces is the need for urgent action to get on that 1.5C pathway, [so] it's very paradoxical to me that they've chosen to attack that target," Dr. Hare told ABC News.
However, Scientist Andy Pitman from the Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales told The Guardian that the report's assessment was correct.
"It's simply not possible to limit warming to 1.5C now," he said. "There's too much inertia in the system and even if you stopped greenhouse gas emissions today, you would still reach 1.5C [of heating]."
However, one aspect everyone agreed on involved the importance of lowering emissions as soon as possible.
"[There is] absolute fundamental agreement on the task at hand, which is to get emissions to plummet," Simon Bradshaw, report author and Climate Council head of research, told The Guardian.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Mark McCord
- An academic paper suggests key tipping points can significantly reduce carbon emissions, which would help to slow global warming.
- Government policies are making coal uneconomical.
- Electric vehicle pricing structures have helped reduce the number of petrol and diesel cars on the world's roads.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel in the battle to reduce carbon emissions.
Governments and institutions could help halt carbon emissions with just a few carefully selected policy measures, according to a new paper, which looked at the experience of the energy industry and changing trends in road vehicle purchases.
If chosen properly and applied internationally, such "tipping points" could set off a series of other changes that snowball into a movement with enough critical mass to slow global warming and reduce natural disasters.
The paper, published in the journal Climate Policy, argues that actions taken within each industry created a cascade of further developments that helped reduce their carbon footprints.
"In complex systems – including human societies – tipping points can occur, in which a small perturbation transforms a system," wrote the paper's authors, Professor Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University of Exeter and Simon Sharpe, a deputy director in the UK Cabinet Office 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 26) unit.
"Crucially, activating one tipping point can increase the likelihood of triggering another at a larger scale, and so on."
Towards the Paris Agreement Targets
Such tipping points are hoped to help the world meet the targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which 196 heads of state agreed to reduce global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with a preferred target of 1.5 degrees. Were they achieved, experts say the positive impacts would be felt within two decades.
The accord strives for a climate-neutral world by the middle of this century. It's expected to be built upon at the United Nations Climate Change conference, or COP26, which is due to take place in November. The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative strives also to offer globally linked solutions.
The report in Climate Policy explains how a combination of factors led to the tipping point that prompted the UK to decarbonize its power industry. They included the creation of a carbon tax, an EU scheme that made gas cheaper than coal and an investment strategy for renewable energy that made coal less economical.
"The power sector needs to decarbonize four times faster than its current rate, and the pace of the transition to zero-emission vehicles needs to double," Lenton said.
"Many people are questioning whether this is achievable. But hope lies in the way that tipping points can spark rapid change through complex systems."
Wind and solar accounted for a third of the UK's energy generation in 2020. Statista
Positive Tipping Points
Besides the UK, the authors of the paper cited Norway as an example of the nations that have acted to reduce greenhouse gases pumped out by motor vehicles.
Through government incentives, new electric vehicles (EV) in Norway are priced similarly to petrol and diesel cars. This has boosted sales of EVs to more than 50% of new car purchases, compared with 2%-3% worldwide.
China, the European Union (EU) and California are responsible for half of global car sales. Professor Lenton suggests that if they formed an international effort to redirect investment from conventional cars to EVs they could reduce costs, boost production and create a broader tipping point that would accelerate the reduction of fossil fuel use.
Lenton argues that if government action can lower the cost of financing renewables to below that of excavating coal, industries linked to transport, heating and power could all rapidly decarbonize.
That's good news because a new, more urgent, approach is needed to reduce the rate at which the global climate is warming, according to scientists.
2020 and 2016 Hottest Years on Record
Earlier this month, the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service said 2020 had equaled 2016 as the hottest year on record.
A study published in Climate Dynamics said the planet could breach the threshold for global warming between 2027 and 2042, a decade earlier than previously thought.
"If either of these efforts – in power or road transport – succeed, the most important effect could be to tip perceptions of the potential for international cooperation to tackle climate change," Lenton said.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
By Gero Rueter
Proven technologies for a net-zero energy system already largely exist today, according to a report published Tuesday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The report predicts that renewable power, green hydrogen and modern bioenergy will shape the way we power the world in 2050.
Adopting such solutions would set world leaders on track to meet their target of keeping the planet from heating by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels this century, according to the World Energy Transitions Outlook report. The UN had warned in November that pledges to meet this goal were so far "woefully inadequate."
"The window of opportunity to achieve the 1.5 C Paris Agreement goal is closing fast," said Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA. "The gap between where we are and where we should be is not decreasing, but widening. We are heading in the wrong direction."
Instead, IRENA — an intergovernmental organization based in Abu Dhabi made up of 162 countries and the European Union — calls for a change in direction and a dramatic acceleration of the energy transition as countries walk the "narrow tightrope" toward the 1.5 C target.
Global Turnaround Through Green Power
That would make it the main energy source in the world, powering more than 80% of all vehicles. Heating would mainly be provided by heat pumps, whose number is set to rise 20-fold by 2050 to around 400 million.
To stay in line with climate targets, coal-fired power plants would have to be shut down and no new ones built. Ninety percent of electricity would have to come from renewable sources, mainly sun and wind, with a global installed capacity of photovoltaics almost 30 times greater than in 2018. There would have to be 14 times the wind power, and hydropower would have to double.
Fossil gas and nuclear energy, meanwhile, would make up 4% and 6% of electricity generated, respectively.
But, even with such an expansion of renewables and a drop in fossil fuels, the report relies on removing CO2 from the atmosphere to meet climate goals. This includes reforesting areas in which trees have been hacked down or burned, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere by growing plants, and capturing it from industrial sites and injecting it underground. The technology to capture carbon and store it is expensive, and exists only at a small scale.
Major Challenge, But Possible
To meet climate goals, the report assumed a globally available budget of 500 billion tons of CO2 for the current scenario. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if no more than this amount is released into the atmosphere, the world has a half-chance of warming 1.5 C and missing the target.
But, for a two-thirds chance of avoiding that level of warming, even more CO2 would have to be kept out of the atmosphere. According to the IPCC, total emissions would have to be limited to about 285 billion tons. Around 42 billion tons of CO2 are emitted by the energy and agricultural sectors every single year.
"A scenario like the one presented by IRENA is conceivable," said Christian Breyer, a professor of solar economics at LUT University in Finland, who was not involved in the study. Breyer criticized the report for its high CO2 budget and reliance on technologies to remove emissions rather than stop them in the first place.
In addition, he said, the benefits "of extremely low-cost solar electricity have not yet been fully incorporated into the scenario, but very expensive system solutions such as nuclear power and biomass with CO2 capture."
Economic Stimulus to Bring Jobs
That turnaround has already begun.
Global oil consumption will continue to fall in the coming years, and fossil gas is set to join it in 2025. "Financial markets are already reflecting this change by shifting capital away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable assets like renewables," La Camera said.
Echoing warnings from the UN last year, IRENA said that stimulus packages in the wake of the pandemic must be used strategically to meet the 1.5 C target. Doing so would also help employment. The report projects that investing in the energy transition will create close to three times more jobs than fossil fuels for every million dollars spent.
"While the pathway is daunting, several favorable elements can make it achievable," La Camera said. "Major economies accounting for over half of global CO2 emissions are turning carbon-neutral. Global capital is moving, too."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
If governments fail to keep global temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels, much of the world's population could live in "lethal" levels of heat and humidity, new research finds.
Home to more than three billion people, the planet's tropical band, which includes most of South and East Asia, Central America and Central Africa, remains the most vulnerable to an unlivable climate, The New York Times reported. In these regions, populations are growing and by 2050, they could be home to half of the world's population, The Guardian reported. But if countries slash emissions now, life in the tropics could be prevented from reaching dangerous conditions, a study published Monday in Nature Geoscience suggests.
While extreme heat is indeed a major cause of concern for global populations, "humidity needs to be taken into account to estimate the health impact of extreme heat," the authors wrote, noting the importance of the wet-bulb temperature – a measure of air temperature and humidity.
"If it is too humid our bodies can't cool off by evaporating sweat – this is why humidity is important when we consider livability in a hot place," Yi Zhang, a graduate student in geosciences at Princeton University and the study's lead author, told The Guardian. "High body core temperatures are dangerous or even lethal."
If the extreme wet-bulb temperature passes 35 degrees Celsius, the human body can't cool itself. But if countries limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the wet-bulb temperature at the surface can not exceed 35 degrees Celsius, The Guardian reported.
The effects of heat and humidity on women, older people and people with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension are more extreme, Glen Kenny, a professor of physiology at the University of Ottawa, who was not involved in the new study, told The New York Times. If sweat cannot evaporate, then "essentially the body will gain heat," Kenny said, according to The New York Times. This could stress the heart, resulting in cardiovascular issues.
Over the past 40 years, the highest wet-bulb temperature recorded in the tropics has been well below 33 degrees Celsius, according to the scientists, The Independent reported. If countries are able to limit warming within the Paris agreement's objectives, then maximum wet-bulb temperatures are unlikely to reach the point where humans are unable to cool themselves. But even just a one degree Celsius increase in extreme wet-bulb temperature "could have adverse health impact equivalent to that of several degrees of temperature increase," The Guardian reported.
The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius, despite the Paris agreement goals, and scientists warn that it could reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit before the end of the decade, The Guardian noted.
"Theoretically no human can tolerate a wet bulb temperature of above 35C, no matter how much water they have to drink," Mojtaba Sadegh, an expert in climate risks at Boise State University who was not involved in the study, told The Guardian. "If this limit is breached, infrastructure like cool-air shelters are absolutely necessary for human survival."
The research was based on the latitudes between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south, which include countries such as Mexico, Libya, India, Brazil, Madagascar and the northern regions of Australia, The Guardian reported. "Given that much of the impacted area consists of low-income countries, providing the required infrastructure will be challenging," Sadegh told The Guardian.
But while the new research adds to the long list of reasons why countries should cut emissions to limit global temperatures, Dr. Dann Mitchell, joint Met Office chair in climate hazards at the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the study, said these findings "should be viewed cautiously," The Independent reported.
"While these heat stress thresholds are useful conceptually, especially for animals or ecosystems, we must be cautious about relating them to any particular step change in human mortality or morbidity," Mitchell told The Independent. "By construction, they do not take into account our adaptable natures."
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The world's oceans and coastal ecosystems can store remarkable amounts of carbon dioxide. But if they're damaged, they can also release massive amounts of emissions back into the atmosphere.
The report was the first of its kind to quantify blue carbon -- carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere from ocean ecosystems -- across the 50 UNESCO Marine World Heritage sites. The report found six marine World Heritage Sites in Australia hold 40 percent of the estimated five billion tons of carbon dioxide stored in mangrove, seagrass and tidal marsh ecosystems within these sites, Edith Cowan University wrote in a statement.
"We know Australia contains some of the world's largest stores of blue carbon due to the enormous size and diversity of our marine ecosystems," the report author and ECU research fellow Dr. Oscar Serrano said, according to ECU. Included in these six marine World Heritage sites are Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay World Heritage areas, which together contain a majority of Australia's blue carbon habitats. "However, here in Australia and around the world, these ecosystems are under threat from human development and climate change," Serrano added.
These threats include pollution, like plastic litter, and climate change, UNESCO reported. This is an increasing problem not just in Australia, but among marine World Heritage sites globally, including ecosystems like the Sundarbans mangroves in India and Bangladesh, Everglades National Park in the U.S., the Wadden Sea in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, UNESCO noted.
Although blue carbon ecosystems represent less than one percent of the global ocean area, they store about half of the carbon dioxide via the world's oceans, absorbing carbon 30 times faster than rainforests, ECU wrote in a statement. But if these blue carbon ecosystems are not conserved, they could increase global carbon emissions.
"While they're healthy, blue carbon ecosystems are excellent stores of carbon dioxide, but if they are damaged, they can release huge amounts of carbon dioxide stored over millennia back into the atmosphere," Serrano added, according to ECU.
In 2011, for example, nine million tons of stored carbon dioxide were released following a marine heatwave that killed about one-third of the area's seagrass in the Shark Bay, The Guardian reported.
To avoid similar events, the report's authors call for conservation efforts like blue carbon strategies, where countries could earn carbon credits for restoring damaged ecosystems that store carbon, UNESCO reported.
"By quantifying the carbon value of these sites and recommending specific blue carbon strategies to conserve them, UNESCO's research findings point the way for countries, regions, and local communities seeking to conserve these areas and pursue blue carbon strategies," UNESCO wrote in a press release. This could mean including assets, like investing in the restoration and conservation of blue carbon ecosystems, into Nationally Determined Contributions, each country's pledged actions in the Paris agreement.
Currently, the Australian government is leading by example, developing a system to create carbon credits for restoration projects on increasing blue carbon stocks in marine ecosystems, The Guardian reported.
"There are significant opportunities for both the Great Barrier Reef and Shark Bay to be protected and restored to ensure they survive and thrive in the future," Serrano added, according to ECU.
After President Trump announced that the U.S. will exit the Paris Climate Agreement, many U.S. states, cities, and businesses stepped up with their own commitments to cut carbon pollution.
Carla Frisch is with the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit think tank. She's part of a team that's been crunching numbers to figure out what's happening on the ground in the United States on climate.
"And figure out what's the impact of those actions," she says. "So what does it really add up to?"
The researchers estimate that in 10 years, if the states, cities, and businesses fully implement their plans, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will be 25% less than they were in 2005.
That's significant. But to stay in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. needs to cut emissions by almost twice that.
The researchers found that making those larger cuts in carbon pollution is still feasible, but Frisch says it will require a nationwide commitment to transitioning to renewable energy and electric vehicles, among other strategies.
"We have to have federal leadership and we have to have leadership from states and cities and businesses, so this is not an either/or situation," Frisch says. "But together we can put the U.S. on track to drastic emissions reductions."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By Stuart Braun
We spend 90% of our time in the buildings where we live and work, shop and conduct business, in the structures that keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.
But immense energy is required to source and manufacture building materials, to power construction sites, to maintain and renew the built environment. In 2019, building operations and construction activities together accounted for 38% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, the highest level ever recorded.
To ensure that the Paris climate targets are met, the building and construction industry needs to become a climate leader by moving towards net-zero construction. Its CO2 emissions need to be cut in half by 2030 for building stock to be carbon-free by 2050, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
In response, a raft of new net-zero building initiatives are focused on curbing emissions across the whole building lifecycle.
DW looks at five key points in understanding the push to carbon-free construction.
1. Urbanization Is Skyrocketing, and That's a Problem
A rapidly urbanizing world is compounding the massive impact of buildings and infrastructure on the climate crisis. According to urban climate-action initiative C40 Cities, 2.5 billion more people will flood cities (mostly in Asia and Africa) in the next three decades, while 60% of buildings required by 2050 still have to be built.
With the equivalent of a city of around 1.5 million people being constructed each week, carbon-heavy construction is skyrocketing, meaning the sector must rapidly decarbonize if global heating is to remain within the IPCC's limit of 1.5- to well below 2 degrees Celsius above 1990 levels.
This will not be easy.
A European Union directive to achieve nearly Zero-Energy Buildings (nZEBs) in all new structures by the end of 2020 was on track to achieve an 80% CO2 reduction, according to Lukas Kranzl, a senior scientist at the Vienna-based Energy Economics Group that is monitoring the nZEBs. Kranzl says this won't be enough to meet the Paris targets.
"We will need [almost] complete decarbonization in the building sector before 2050," he told DW, meaning that 95-100% emission cuts will be required.
2. Independent Initiatives Might Have the Solution
While Kranzl fears that some EU member states are not on the path to building and construction decarbonization, new independent initiatives are bringing together cities, companies and organizations to achieve net-zero building across the whole lifecycle.
The World Green Building Council's (WorldGBC) Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment is one such global initiative in which diverse stakeholders pledge to reach net-zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030, and all buildings by 2050.
Created in partnership with C40, the target was upgraded in September 2019 to include embodied carbon, which is to say emissions generated, not only during operational life but "during the manufacturing, transportation, construction and end of life phases of all built assets." Embodied carbon itself contributes around 11% of all global carbon emissions.
According to Victoria Burrows, director of Advancing Net Zero at the World Green Building Council, this shift reflects a "wholesized approach to carbon emissions in the building and construction sector."
While net-zero buildings were previously focused on operational performance, especially in terms of energy efficiency via solar power or passive design, embodied emissions include the significant "upfront" emissions created during the extraction and manufacture of building materials. The whole lifecycle measure includes "use stage" and "end of life" carbon generated through building maintenance and final deconstruction.
3. Cement Causes More Pollution Than You Would Think
When addressing embodied emissions, the construction phase that generates around 25% of greenhouse emissions is fundamental to the net-zero building revolution.
Designers of carbon-neutral building are replacing cement framing in larger buildings with new sustainable cross-laminated timber, for example. Achieving a 20% reduction in building weight is matched by a similar reduction in "embodied energy." The end result is a 26.5% reduction in the "global warming potential" of the building.
A new five-story apartment building in Boston's Roxbury district is leading the way. Its designers are using the revolutionary timber framing to significantly reduce emissions from steel and concrete and achieve a net-zero standard.
4. Scandinavia Is Becoming a Net-Zero Pioneer
A report released by C40 in October 2019 showed that the construction industry alone could cut emissions from buildings and infrastructure by 44% by 2050. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have since committed to take a leadership role in creating a global market for low-emission construction materials and zero-emission machinery.
Oslo, for instance, aims to make all city-owned construction machinery and construction sites operate with zero emissions by 2025. Meanwhile, Copenhagen's bold plan to be climate-neutral by 2025 will draw heavily on its commitment to zero-carbon construction. This will be achieved in part through "fossils- or emission-free construction machinery in construction projects," said Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen.
With Stockholm also part of a cross-border tender for sustainable procurement of mobile construction machinery, such unified demand is designed to send a signal to the market, according to Victoria Burrows. The end result will be to "create a ripple effect" that will help kickstart the net-zero building transition.
5. Diverse Sectors Embracing Carbon-Free Construction
The success of the net-zero carbon buildings commitment hinges on involving stakeholders across the whole building supply chain, says Burrows. With building and construction able to "cut across many other sectors" in the fight against climate change, she notes that cement and engineering firms, cultural institutions like the Sydney Opera House, universities and city governments are committing to net-zero building.
So, too, are real-estate companies that might once have prioritized profits over reducing emissions. British global property giant Grosvenor Group and Canada's Avison Young, another international real-estate powerhouse, are among many others implementing a net-zero building roadmap — with or without government targets.
In December, Grosvenor Europe committed to reducing its carbon impact by 50% by 2030. It will partly achieve this by cutting energy use in its buildings by one-third, and the embodied carbon intensity of its developments by one half.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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If President-elect Joe Biden follows through on his plan to combat the climate crisis, it could put the world "within striking distance" of meeting the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
That's according to new analysis from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific analysis of how national climate policies stack up against the Paris agreement goals. The analysis found that Biden's stated goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 75 gigatons between 2020 and 2050 and lower projected end-of-century warming by 0.1 degree Celsius. Building on recent net-zero commitments from the EU, China, Korea and Japan, a Biden presidency could help put the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal within reach.
"This could be an historic tipping point: with Biden's election China, the USA, EU, Japan South Korea — two thirds of the world economy and over 50% of global GHG emissions — would have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century commitments," Bill Hare of CAT partner organization Climate Analytics said. "These commitments are very close, if not within, 1.5 degrees C-consistent pathways for this set of countries and for the first time ever puts the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degrees C limit within striking distance."
The 2015 Paris agreement set a goal to limit global warming well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and ideally limiting it to 1.5 degrees. However, a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found there was a big difference between 1.5 and two degrees of warming. Preventing that extra half a degree could save hundreds of millions of people from poverty and climate risk, forestall an extra four inches of sea level rise and limit tropical reef die-off to 70 to 90 percent instead of 99 percent.
However, countries' current pledges under the Paris agreement put the world on the path to 2.7 degrees of warming by 2100, according to CAT. China's recent commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2060 could lop 0.2 to 0.3 degrees of warming off that estimate. If the U.S. reaches net zero emissions by 2050, it would lower that number by another 0.1 degree.
"Taken together, the U.S. and China going to net zero emissions would reduce our estimate of end-of-century warming to 2.3-2.4 degrees C, taking the world 25-40 percent of the way towards limiting warming to the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degrees C limit," Niklas Höhne of CAT partner NewClimate Institute said.
In addition to the 2050 goal, Biden's plan also includes a $1.7 trillion investment in renewable energy, an end to fossil fuel subsidies and a ban on future oil and gas drilling on public lands, CNN reported. Biden's coronavirus recovery plan also includes investments in greening infrastructure, buildings, power, transport and agriculture, as well as funding conservation and environmental justice.
However, Biden's proposal will face opposition from the Republican party, The Guardian reported. And it is still unclear which party will take a majority in the Senate. Any of his policies that are challenged legally would be decided by a conservative Supreme Court.
CAT pointed out that Biden could still implement some policies by executive order and that the "We're Still In" coalition of states and cities would continue to pursue climate action. Furthermore, U.S. action could make a difference on the international stage, The Guardian reported.
The U.S. has the world's largest economy and is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris agreement and encourage other countries to up their ambitions.
"It is the U.S. driving the world in this direction that will be most important," Obama U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd Stern told The Guardian. "If you have got the U.S., the EU, China working together you can expand to the whole world. It is not just about the U.S.'s domestic emissions, but the U.S. position as a world leader."
CAT noted that if the U.S. does make a net zero commitment, it would mean that 127 countries covering 63 percent of emissions had made similar pledges.
"What can other countries now do other than follow this overwhelming trend to net zero greenhouse gas emissions?" Höhne said.
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By Jessica Corbett
A new study from Australian and Chinese researchers adds weight to scientists' warnings from recent United Nations reports about how sea levels are expected to rise dangerously in the coming decades because of human activity that's driving global heating.
The research, published Friday in the journal Nature Communications, found that sea level rise projections for this century "are on the money when tested against satellite and tide-gauge observations," as a statement from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) summarized.
The researchers looked at projections from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as the body's Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), which include multiple representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios for how much humanity reins in greenhouse gas emissions.
Based on global and coastal sea level data from satellites and 177 tide-gauges, the researchers found that those two reports' projections under three different RCP scenarios "agree well with satellite and tide-gauge observations over the common period 2007–2018, within the 90% confidence level."
In other words, "our analysis implies that the models are close to observations and builds confidence in the current projections for the next several decades," said John Church, who is part of UNSW's Climate Change Research Center. The professor noted projections were accurate not only globally but also at the regional and local level.
However, because of the limited 11-year comparison period, Church added, "there remains a potential for larger sea level rises, particularly beyond 2100 for high emission scenarios. Therefore, it is urgent that we still try to meet the commitments of the Paris agreement by significantly reducing emissions."
The Paris climate agreement aims to limit global temperature rise this century to "well below" 2°C—preferably to 1.5°C—compared to pre-industrial levels. Study after study has shown that current emissions pledges aren't adequate to even meet the higher target. The U.N. reports' three studied pathways are RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5, with the first being the closest to the less ambitious Paris goal and the last being the most dire.
"The analysis of the recent sea level data indicate the world is tracking between RCP4.5 and the worst case scenario of RCP8.5," Church warned. "If we continue with large ongoing emissions as we are at present, we will commit the world to meters of sea level rise over coming centuries."
"The analysis of the recent sea level data indicate the world is tracking between RCP4.5 and the worst case scenari… https://t.co/GV72drxa1S— John Morales (@John Morales)1613498000.0
The release of the SROCC in September 2019—with its warnings about the dramatic impact that global heating will soon have on humanity, marine ecosystems, and the global environment—sparked a flood of demands for bolder climate policy.
As Food & Water Action executive director Wenonah Hauter said at the time, "This report tells us that due to decades of foolish reliance on fossil fuels and resulting climate warming, our oceans are on life support, which means we are all now on life support."
"We must treat this alarming science as a final warning: In order to avoid a fate of extreme global climate chaos and mass death at the hands of our poisoned oceans, we must act swiftly and aggressively to turn the tide now," Hauter added. "We have been given a final warning. There can be no more excuses."
The IPCC's SROCC found that global sea level could rise by 30-60 centimeters, or about 1-2 feet, by 2100—and a rise of 110 centimeters, over 3.5 feet, was possible but unlikely. However, researchers from the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute recently found that under the worst case scenario, the world could see a rise of 135 centimeters, or about 4.4 feet, by the century's end.
"The models we are basing our predictions of sea level rise on presently are not sensitive enough," said Aslak Grinsted, associate professor at the institute. "To put it plainly, they don't hit the mark when we compare them to the rate of sea level rise we see when comparing future scenarios with observations going back in time."
The institute's research, published earlier this month in the journal Ocean Science, introduces a new method of quantifying how the sea reacts to warming, which involves analysis of historical data.
"You could say," Grinsted added, "that this article has two main messages: The scenarios we see before us now regarding sea level rise are too conservative—the sea looks, using our method, to rise more than what is believed using the present method. The other message is that research in this area can benefit from using our method to constrain sea level models in the scenarios in the future."
In a Twitter thread on Sunday, Grinsted detailed how the new study in Nature Communications "zooms in at 2007-2018 and finds no significant disagreement" with the research his team released, which found "a substantial discrepancy between the sensitivity of sea level models and observations."
"Both studies would have been able to make more solid conclusions if the IPCC had published hindcasts," Grinsted said at the end of the thread. "I hope that upcoming IPCC will take this to heart and publish hindcasts (e.g. 1850-now)."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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This is the largest emissions reduction that has ever been recorded. But to reach the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world needs to reduce emissions by one to two billion metric tons every year for the next decade and beyond, according to a new analysis published in Nature Climate Change.
"We need a cut in emissions of about the size of the fall [from the lockdowns] every two years, but by completely different methods," Corinne Le Quéré, lead study author from the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in England, told The Guardian.
Before the pandemic, emissions were already declining in some countries due to policy changes, the report found. In 64 countries, emissions declined by 160 million metric tons a year between 2016 to 2019 compared to 2011 to 2015. However, that reduction is only a tenth of what is needed worldwide to meet the Paris agreement goals. In 150 countries, emissions continued to increase by 370 million metric tons a year during the four years before the lockdown.
The concern now is whether countries can build on the reductions caused by the pandemic, or if emissions will increase again as economies reopen. So far, the evidence points toward the latter. The International Energy Agency said this week that emissions had already rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, Forbes reported. Last month, the UN said that countries' existing commitments under the Paris agreement would only reduce emissions by less than one percent by 2030, even though experts say a 45 percent drop is required.
"Emissions were lower in 2020 as fossil fuel infrastructure was used less, not because infrastructure was closed down," Glen Peters, study co-author from the Cicero center for climate research in Norway, told The Guardian. "When fossil fuel infrastructure is put into use again, there is a risk of a big rebound in emissions in 2021, as was seen in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2009."
The report authors noted that policy makers could refer to the lockdowns for guidance on reducing emissions. Most of the reductions were driven by transportation decreases, the authors found. They suggested shifting toward electric vehicles and bike-and-pedestrian-friendly cities, as well as continuing and improving remote business options and encouraging a safe return to public transportation.
The authors also called for greater investments in renewable energy as part of the recovery process. They added that while recovery plans in the European Union, Denmark, France, UK, Germany and Switzerland included minimal fossil fuel investments, investments in most other countries, including the U.S. and China, were still fossil-fuel heavy.
"Experience from several previous crises show that the underlying drivers of emissions reappear, if not immediately, then within a few years," the authors wrote. "Therefore to change the trajectory in global CO2 emissions in the long term, the underlying drivers also need to change."
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'Finally': In Potential Nod To Biden Win, Federal Reserve Applies To Join Climate Network for Central Banks
By Jessica Corbett
In a decision seen by some as a subtle acknowledgement of President-elect Joe Biden's victory even as President Donald Trump still refuses to concede, the Federal Reserve has applied to join what Bloomberg called "the climate change club for central banks," a group that requires participation in the Paris climate agreement.
"We have requested membership. I expect that it will be granted," Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles said during a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday, Bloomberg reported. Quarles added that the Fed may become a member of the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) before its annual meeting in April.
Launched in late 2017, the NGFS sets out to bolster the world's efforts to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and "to enhance the role of the financial system to manage risks and to mobilize capital for green and low-carbon investments in the broader context of environmentally sustainable development," according to its website.
The primary goal of the Paris deal, which took effect in 2016, is to "strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius."
Just over a year ago, the Trump administration began the one-year process of withdrawing the United States from the agreement; the U.S. exit became official last week, the day after the general election. While Biden has vowed to rejoin the deal, progressives around the world are urging him to go far beyond that and serve as a #ClimatePresident.
Bloomberg's Akshat Rathi suggested on Twitter Wednesday that by seeking NGFS membership, "the Fed tacitly accepts that Biden has won the presidency."
Um... the Fed tacitly accepts that Biden has won the presidency. Fed has requested membership of the NGFS, which… https://t.co/lO1Z0l6gQU— Akshat Rathi (@Akshat Rathi)1605097903.0
Although Biden's win may be a factor, earlier this year, before the U.S. officially ditched the Paris agreement, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell suggested the country could join the NGFS, Newsweek noted Wednesday.
"We have been looking at joining in one form or another and talking to them about that," Powell said in late January. "We probably will do that at some point."
According to Newsweek:
Powell's remarks led to some speculation the Trump administration might alter its approach to climate change, with the Financial Times reporting on January 31 that some at the Fed had been privately pushing for membership of the banking group.
"The Fed's interest is another sign of the importance of the work of the NGFS," Bank of France governor François Villeroy de Galhau told the FT at the time. "It's a coalition of the willing. Climate risk is clearly a part of financial risk."
Quarles' comments about NGFS membership came a day after the Fed formally acknowledged for the first time that climate change potentially threatens the stability of the financial system and urged banks "to have systems in place that appropriately identify, measure, control, and monitor all of their material risks, which for many banks are likely to extend to climate risks."
"The Federal Reserve is evaluating and investing in ways to deepen its understanding of the full scope of implications of climate change for markets, financial exposures, and interconnections between markets and financial institutions," the central bank said in its semiannual report on financial stability.
Politico pointed out that the report followed related comments by Powell and was welcomed by another key leader at the Fed:
Powell said last week that the "science and art" of incorporating climate change into financial regulation is new but that the Fed is "very actively in the early stages" of getting up to speed and working with officials around the world.
"I welcome the introduction of climate" into the semiannual report, Fed Governor Lael Brainard, who heads the central bank's financial stability committee, said in a statement. "A lack of clarity about true exposures to specific climate risks for real and financial assets, coupled with differing assessments about the sizes and timing of these risks, can create vulnerabilities to abrupt repricing events."
Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen's Corporate Presidency Project, which focuses on corporate influence and conflicts of interest in the Trump administration, also praised the Fed's inclusion of climate risk in the analysis but noted that it "is a latecomer to this party and is still propping up the oil industry (and other giant corps) through huge purchases of debt."
Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and BailoutWatch released a report in late September titled Big Oil's $100 Billion Bender that showed "how the U.S. government provided a safety net for the flagging fossil fuel industry." The report said the Fed's emergency financing during the Covid-19 pandemic is "forestalling the demise of an industry that has always relied on government largesse."
Last month, as Common Dreams reported, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced legislation to prevent banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels. David Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, declared that he "is showing real leadership by introducing the first-ever bills to cut the money pipeline fueling the climate crisis."
When unveiling the pair of bills, the senator referenced a September report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission warning that the climate emergency endangers the U.S. financial system. In response to the report, Arkush said that "U.S. financial regulators have the authority to help mitigate the climate crisis, and they need to use it. The best way to protect anything from climate change, whether people in wildfire or flood zones or giant banks, is to stop climate change."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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