The study, published in Scientific Reports Thursday, was conducted by two researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School. They used the ESCIMO climate model to determine that, even if emissions ceased tomorrow, the permafrost would continue to thaw for hundreds of years.
"According to our models, humanity is beyond the point-of-no-return when it comes to halting the melting of permafrost using greenhouse gas cuts as the single tool," lead author and professor emeritus of climate strategy Jorgen Randers told AFP. "If we want to stop this melting process we must do something in addition – for example, suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it underground, and make Earth's surface brighter."
However, other scientists have pointed to the simplicity of the model Randers and his colleague Ulrich Goluke used and cautioned against misinterpreting their findings as a reason to give up on climate action.
"This paper clearly may be cited in support of a misleading message that it is now 'too late' to avoid catastrophic climate change, which would have the potential to cause unnecessary despair," University of Exeter climate scientist professor Richard Betts said in response. "However, the study is nowhere near strong enough to make such a frightening message credible."
So what exactly does the study say? The researchers used their model to see what would happen by 2500 if emissions stopped today and if they slowly declined to zero by 2100, as AFP explained. In the first scenario, temperatures would still rise to around 2.3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next 50 years, taper off, then rise again starting in 2150. By 2500, the world would be around three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels would rise by around three meters (approximately 9.8 feet). In the second, temperature and sea level rise would end up in the same place, but the temperature increase would be much faster.
The reason for the persistent increase comes from three feedback loops, the model found.
- The melting of sea ice, which means that the sun's heat is absorbed into the darker ocean instead of reflected back by the bright ice.
- The thawing of permafrost, which releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Increased moisture in the atmosphere, which in turn raises temperatures.
The only way to have prevented runaway climate change would have been to have stopped burning fossil fuels between 1960 and 1970, the model found, as USA TODAY reported. In order to stop temperatures and sea levels from rising now, we would have to remove at least 33 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year starting this one.
The study authors were the first to admit their findings were limited to one model.
"We encourage other model builders to explore our discovery in their (bigger) models, and report on their findings," they wrote.
However, Betts noted that their model was not the model used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and did not realistically simulate how the climate works.
Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann agreed. He told USA TODAY that it was not very complex and did not accurately reproduce atmospheric and ocean circulation systems.
"While such models can be useful for conceptual inferences, their predictions have to be taken with great skepticism. Far more realistic climate models that do resolve the large-scale dynamics of the ocean, atmosphere and carbon cycle, do NOT produce the dramatic changes these authors argue for based on their very simplified model," he said. "It must be taken not just with a grain of salt, but a whole salt-shaker worth of salt."
That said, even the models used by the IPCC show that we will need to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reach the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, even if we achieve zero emissions by 2050.
"What the study does draw attention to is that reducing global carbon emissions to zero by 2050 is just the start of our actions to deal with climate change," University College London climate professor Mark Maslin said in response.
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By Gero Rueter
The science is clear. If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the same rate we have been doing for the past decades, 80 years from now, our planet will be at least four degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels.
"And the warming won't stop there," climate researcher and oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf told DW. "It will continue to rise to seven or eight degrees over the next 100 years. Human civilization won't survive that."
Normally, we respond to danger quickly; we put out fires, run away when we feel at risk, and protect our children in every way we can. So why are people so slow to react to the existential threat of global warming?
"In evolutionary terms, we are not built for this kind of danger," explains Andreas Ernst, Professor of Environmental Systems Analysis and Environmental Psychology at the University of Kassel. "We react to a rustling in the bushes with lightning speed. But the threat posed by climate change is abstract."
The earth's warming is not immediate, but gradual, and without a direct or immediate impact on our everyday actions, Ernst says the complex correlations are hard for us to grasp.
Figures Remain Incomprehensible
Although the findings of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are unambiguous, many laypeople, as well as politicians, find their details hard to understand. This can impact the implementation of recommendations. Such, at least, is the conclusion reached by an international team of researchers who analyzed the IPCC reports.
Many struggle to picture a ton of the greenhouse gas CO2. Such figures "don't really reach the human psyche," Ernst said.
Yet dealing with CO2 is essential in the climate crisis, because the more greenhouse gases there are in the air, the faster the earth warms up. CO2 is mainly produced by the burning of oil, coal and natural gas. In order to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees, CO2 emissions need to be reduced as quickly as possible, and neutralized no later than 2050. In order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, however, the world would have to become climate-neutral even sooner.
Christoph Nikendei, psychotraumatology expert at University Hospital in the southern German city of Heidelberg says it's important to use easy-to-understand figures, and to address the emotional brain so that climate change can become a real and tangible part of life.
How Many Trees Need to Grow to Compensate for My Flight?
To stay with that example: One ton of CO2 is produced, for example, by burning 422 liters (111 gallons) of gasoline, which would allow a car to travel an average of 5,400 kilometers (3,355 miles).
Conversely, plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. This enables them to grow. A beech tree, for example, takes in around 12.5 kg of CO2 per year. That means a single ton of CO2 corresponds to the annual growth of 80 beech trees.
If we compare the CO2 emitted and absorbed, we can calculate how many trees are needed to compensate for a certain distance traveled by car, and which means of transport "consumes" the least amount of tree growth.
For example, 20 beech trees would have to grow for one year to offset a 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) journey with a combustion engine. For 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of air travel, it would take 33 beech trees per person. The same distance traveled by train would equate to the growth of just one beech tree.
Collective Behavior: Silence and Repression
Another obstacle to tackling the climate crisis is repression, which is a very common psychological protection mechanism.
"People don't want to hear how bad things are, so they push it away. Smokers also do this when confronted with the consequences of their behavior," Ernst said, adding that many who don't want to deal with the climate issue, look away and leave it for others to solve.
Nikendei sees this behavior as a collective pattern of action: a collective social norm of silence, and likens the reluctance to acknowledge the climate crisis to the social taboos of aging, illness and death.
Rejection and Paralysis Can Be Overcome
Nikendei regards it as the role of psychologists to acknowledge this collective rejection and the emotions associated with it while simultaneously assisting the necessary change in values. This includes mourning the end of the fossil fuel era, recognizing one's own involvement in climate change and a shift in values towards cooperation over competition.
Excessive behavior in society needs to be replaced by more sharing, repairing and preserving, the psychotrauma expert says. Reconnecting with nature is also important. In pursuing this approach, he believes psychologists can help people to cope with the climate crisis and overcome feelings of fear, paralysis and helplessness.
More than a thousand psychologists and psychotherapists in Europe are trying to do just that with the Psychologists for Future network, says co-initiator Lea Dohm. "Our campaign has struck a nerve. Lots of people from all walks of life want our help in tackling the climate crisis."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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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 Gero Rueter
The world is, on average, 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer today than it was in 1850. If this trend continues, our planet will be 2 – 3 degrees hotter by the end of this century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The main reason for this temperature rise is higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which cause the atmosphere to trap heat radiating from the Earth into space. Since 1850, the proportion of CO2 in the air has increased from 0.029% to 0.041% (288 ppm to 414 ppm).
This is directly related to the burning of coal, oil and gas, which were created from forests, plankton and plants over millions of years. Back then, they stored CO2 and kept it out of the atmosphere, but as fossil fuels are burned, that CO2 is released. Other contributing factors include industrialized agriculture and slash-and-burn land clearing techniques.
Over the past 50 years, more than 1200 billion tons of CO2 have been emitted into the planet's atmosphere — 36.6 billion tons in 2018 alone. As a result, the global average temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees in just half a century.
Atmospheric CO2 Should Remain at a Minimum
In 2015, the world came together to sign the Paris Climate Agreement which set the goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees — 1.5 degrees, if possible.
The agreement limits the amount of CO2 that can be released into the atmosphere. According to the IPCC, if a maximum of around 300 billion tons were emitted, there would be a 50% chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. If CO2 emissions remain the same, however, the CO2 "budget" would be used up in just seven years.
According to the IPCC's report on the 1.5 degree target, negative emissions are also necessary to achieve the climate targets.
Using Reforestation to Remove CO2
One planned measure to stop too much CO2 from being released into the atmosphere is reforestation. According to studies, 3.6 billion tons of CO2 — around 10% of current CO2 emissions — could be saved every year during the growth phase. However, a study by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich, stresses that achieving this would require the use of land areas equivalent in size to the entire U.S.
More Humus in the Soil
Humus in the soil stores a lot of carbon. But this is being released through the industrialization of agriculture. The amount of humus in the soil can be increased by using catch crops and plants with deep roots as well as by working harvest remnants back into the ground and avoiding deep plowing. According to a study by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) on using targeted CO2 extraction as a part of EU climate policy, between two and five billion tons of CO2 could be saved with a global build-up of humus reserves.
Biochar Shows Promise
Some scientists see biochar as a promising technology for keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere. Biochar is created when organic material is heated and pressurized in a zero or very low-oxygen environment. In powdered form, the biochar is then spread on arable land where it acts as a fertilizer. This also increases the amount of carbon content in the soil. According to the same study from the SWP, global application of this technology could save between 0.5 and two billion tons of CO2 every year.
Storing CO2 in the Ground
Storing CO2 deep in the Earth is already well-known and practiced on Norway's oil fields, for example. However, the process is still controversial, as storing CO2 underground can lead to earthquakes and leakage in the long-term. A different method is currently being practiced in Iceland, in which CO2 is sequestered into porous basalt rock to be mineralized into stone. Both methods still require more research, however.
Capturing CO2 to be held underground is done by using chemical processes which effectively extract the gas from the ambient air. This method is known as direct air capture (DAC) and is already practiced in other parts of Europe. As there is no limit to the amount of CO2 that can be captured, it is considered to have great potential. However, the main disadvantage is the cost — currently around $650 per ton. Some scientists believe that mass production of DAC systems could bring prices down to $59 per ton by 2050. It is already considered a key technology for future climate protection.
Another way of extracting CO2 from the air is via biomass. Plants grow and are burned in a power plant to produce electricity. CO2 is then extracted from the exhaust gas of the power plant and stored deep in the Earth.
The big problem with this technology, known as bio-energy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is the huge amount of space required. According to Felix Creutzig from the Mercator Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin, it will therefore only play "a minor role" in CO2 removal technologies.
CO2 Bound by Rock Minerals
In this process, carbonate and silicate rocks are mined, ground and scattered on agricultural land or on the surface water of the ocean, where they collect CO2 over a period of years. According to researchers, by the middle of this century it would be possible to capture two to four billion tons of CO2 every year using this technique. The main challenges are primarily the quantities of stone required, and building the necessary infrastructure. Concrete plans have not yet been researched.
Not an Option: Fertilizing the Sea With Iron
The idea is use iron to fertilize the ocean, thereby increasing its nutrient content, which would allow plankton to grow stronger and capture more CO2. However, both the process and possible side effects are very controversial. "This is rarely treated as a serious option in research," concludes SWP study authors Oliver Geden and Felix Schenuit.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Stuart Braun
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the dire threat of climate change Wednesday in a speech on the state of the planet delivered at Columbia University in New York.
"The state of the planet is broken, humanity is waging war on nature," he said. "Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury."
Referring to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) provisional report, The State of the Global Climate 2020, that was released Wednesday, he reiterated that the last decade was the hottest on record, and that ice sheet decline, permafrost melting, vast climate fires and unprecedented hurricanes were just some of the consequences.
"Stop the plunder," Guterres added, referring to the ongoing deforestation that is also fueling climate change. "And start the healing."
Climate policies have failed to rise to the challenge, Guterres said, noting that emissions in 2020 are 60% higher than in 1990. "We are heading for a temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (by 2100)."
Yet the secretary-general sees hope for 2021, saying it's time to "build a truly global coalition towards carbon neutrality."
This goal will require net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. More than 110 countries are already committed to carbon neutrality by this date, he noted, representing more than 65% of emissions. Central to achieving this goal will be to encourage renewable energy by instituting a carbon price and phasing out fossil fuel financing and subsidies.
"There is no vaccine for the planet," he said regarding the need to build a global climate action movement.
Last Six Years Are Six Hottest on Record
The WMO state of climate report referenced by Guterres confirms that 2020 is currently placed as the second warmest for the year-to-date when compared to equivalent periods in the past.
The annual climate scorecard details a litany of symptoms of a heating planet: a high frequency of severe droughts, unparalleled major hurricanes, retreating sea ice, heavy rain and flooding across Asia and Africa and extensive marine heat waves.
Headlining the global climate report is confirmation in 2020 that global heating is accelerating. Though 2016 remains the warmest year on record to date, it kicked off with a very strong El Niño warm phase, via which hotter oceans elevate global temperatures.
Four years later, these peak temperatures have continued, despite a cooler La Niña weather phase that started in September, and comparatively weak El Niño conditions. The global mean temperature for January to October 2020 was around 1.2°C above the 1850–1900 baseline.
"With 2020 on course to be one of the three warmest years on record, the past six years, 2015–2020, are likely to be the six warmest on record," states the WMO climate report.
In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures were more than 5 degrees Celsius above average in 2020, reaching as high as 38 Celsius at Verkhoyansk in late June, provisionally the highest known temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle.
"We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the U.S. West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe."
Despite Pandemic, Greenhouse Gases Still Rising
The lockdowns implemented to slow the coronavirus pandemic have only resulted in a "temporary reduction in emissions" in 2020, according to the report. As a result, there will be a "practically indistinguishable" slowing of the fast-increasing CO2 concentrations recorded in 2019.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations generated largely by fossil fuel burning reached new highs in 2019, with carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) levels rising to a larger degree from 2018 (2.6 parts per million) than the increases from the previous two years.
"Real-time data from specific locations, including Mauna Loa (Hawaii) and Cape Grim (Tasmania) indicate that levels of CO2, CH4 and N2O continued to increase in 2020," stated the report.
This increase comes at a time when there should be rapid cuts in emissions in line with the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C.
Global Heating Symptoms Getting Worse
The report also notes that sea levels have risen at a higher rate year-on-year due partly to increased melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
Meanwhile, over 80% of the ocean area has experienced at least one marine heat wave in 2020. In addition, 43% of the ocean experienced marine heat waves that were classified as "strong."
2019 also saw the highest ocean heat content on record.
Heavy rain and extensive flooding affected large parts of Africa and Asia in 2020, especially across much of the Sahel, the Greater Horn of Africa, the India subcontinent and neighboring areas, China, Korea and Japan. With 30 named storms (as of November 17, 2020), the north Atlantic hurricane season recorded the highest ever number of named storms.
Moreover, severe drought affected much of the interior of South America in 2020, with the badly affected areas including northern Argentina, Paraguay and western border areas of Brazil.
"Climate and weather events have triggered significant population movements and have severely affected vulnerable people on the move, including in the Pacific region and Central America," the climate report said.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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Алексей Филатов / Getty Images
By Zebedee Nicholls and Tim Baxter
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to [email protected]
Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas - why do we average it out over 100 years? By doing so, do we risk emitting so much in the upcoming decades that we reach climate tipping points?
The climate conversation is often dominated by talk of carbon dioxide, and rightly so. Carbon dioxide is the climate warming agent with the biggest overall impact on the heating of the planet.
But it is not the only greenhouse gas driving climate change.
Comparing Apples and Oranges
For the benefit of policy makers, the climate science community set up several ways to compare gases to aid with implementing, monitoring and verifying emissions reduction policies.
In almost all cases, these rely on a calculated common currency - a carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO₂-e). The most common way to determine this is by assessing the global warming potential (GWP) of the gas over time.
The simple intent of GWP calculations is to compare the climate heating effect of each greenhouse gas to that created by an equivalent amount (by mass) of carbon dioxide.
In this way, emissions of one gas - like methane - can be compared with emissions of any other - like carbon dioxide, nitrous dioxide or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases.
These comparisons are imperfect but the point of GWP is to provide a defensible way to compare apples and oranges.
Limits of Metrics
Unlike carbon dioxide, which is relatively stable and by definition has a GWP value of one, methane is a live-fast, die-young greenhouse gas.
Methane traps very large quantities of heat in the first decade after it is released in to the atmosphere, but quickly breaks down.
After a decade, most emitted methane has reacted with ozone to form carbon dioxide and water. This carbon dioxide continues to heat the climate for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Emitting methane will always be worse than emitting the same quantity of carbon dioxide, no matter the time scale.
How much worse depends on the time period used to average out its effects. The most commonly used averaging period is 100 years, but this is not the only choice, and it is not wrong to choose another.
As a starting point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report from 2013 says methane heats the climate by 28 times more than carbon dioxide when averaged over 100 years and 84 times more when averaged over 20 years.
Many Sources of Methane
On top of these base rates of warming, there are other important considerations.
Fully considered using the 100-year GWP and including natural feedbacks, the IPCC's report says fossil sources of methane - most of the gas burned for electricity or heat for industry and houses - can be up to 36 times worse than carbon dioxide. Methane from other sources - such as livestock and waste - can be up to 34 times worse.
While some uncertainty remains, a well-regarded recent assessment suggested an upwards revision of fossil and other methane sources, that would increase their GWP values to around 40 and 38 times worse than carbon dioxide respectively.
These works will be assessed in the IPCC's upcoming Sixth Assessment Report, with the physical science contribution due in 2021.
While we should prefer the most up to date science at any given time, the choice to consider - or not - the full impact of methane and the choice to consider its impact over 20, 100 or 500 years is ultimately political, not scientific.
Undervaluing or misrepresenting the impact of methane presents a clear risk for policy makers. It is vital they pay attention to the advice of scientists and bodies such as the IPCC.
Undervaluing methane's impact in this way is not a risk for climate modellers because they rely on more direct assessments of the impact of gases than GWP.
The idea of climate tipping points is that, at some point, we may change the climate so much that it crosses an irreversible threshold.
At such a tipping point, the world would continue to heat well beyond our capability to limit the harm.
There are many tipping points we should be aware of. But exactly where these are - and precisely what the implications of crossing one would be - is uncertain.
Unfortunately, the only way we can be sure of where these tipping points are is to cross them. The only thing we know for sure about them is that the impact on lives, livelihoods and the places we love would be beyond catastrophic if we did.
But we cannot ignore disturbing impacts of climate change that are already here.
The scientific understanding of climate change goes well beyond simple metrics like GWP. Shuffling between metrics - such as 20-year or 100-year GWP - cannot avoid the fact our very best chance of avoiding ever-worsening climate harm is to massively reduce our reliance on coal, oil and gas, along with reducing our emissions from all other sources of greenhouse gas.
If we do this, we offer ourselves the best chance of avoiding crossing thresholds we can never return from.
Zebedee Nicholls is a PhD Researcher at the Climate & Energy College, University of Melbourne.
Tim Baxter is a Fellow - Melbourne Law School; Senior Researcher - Climate Council; Associate - Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne.
Disclosure statement: Zebedee Nicholls is affiliated with The University of Melbourne's Climate & Energy College. He is funded by the Australian Government via the Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP). Tim Baxter is employed by the Climate Council, a non-profit organisation providing independent, authoritative information on climate change and its solutions to the Australian public and has previously been employed under various Australia Research Council grants.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Ruby Russell
It was only in the mid-20th century, in the wake of the shattering impact of World Wars and when capitalism and communism were competing for global dominance, that we began to measure the success of an economy in terms of gross national product, or GDP.
The faster GDP was rising, the better an economy could be said to be performing. But something happens as all that economic activity expands. The amount of energy and resources we use also increase.
Ever since the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have set us on a course of furiously expanding production, which has also meant more waste and more pollution. Historically, greenhouse gas emissions have risen alongside GDP. As economies have grown richer, nature has paid the price.
Zero-Emissions With Twice the GDP
"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their Fifth Assessment, have 116 mitigation scenarios with a chance of staying below the 2 degree Celsius threshold. All of those scenarios assume 2-3% GDP growth rates," says Jon Erickson, an ecological economist at the Gund Institute for Environment in Vermont, adding that this implies doubling the global economy by somewhere around 2050.
These scenarios rely not just on switching to renewables, but also on the large-scale extraction of massive volumes of carbon from the atmosphere using as-yet unproven technology, which Erickson describes as "wildly unrealistic."
"None of those models and the IPCC community even bother simulating a scenario where the global economy contracts, stabilizes and maybe even degrows," Erickson says. "Yet that's probably the one realistic scenario that would significantly affect greenhouse gas emissions."
It is easy to see why the idea that we must keep growing is hard to give up. When economic activity declines and we go into recession, people lose their jobs and are plunged into poverty.
Yet those arguing for "degrowth" — a managed contraction of economic activity— say it doesn't have to be this way.
Time for a Different Approach?
Federico Demaria, an economist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, who has authored several books on degrowth, says that neoclassical economics — which has dominated economic discourse over recent decades, has "never looked at the question of how an economy could be managed without growth. It only looked at questions like, why do economies grow? If it's not growing, how can we make it grow? Or, how can we make it grow even faster?"
These have become pertinent questions even — or especially — for wealthy, industrialized economies, where growth has slowed over recent decades. "What the mainstream economists are doing is just trying to relaunch growth," Demaria says.
A different approach, which aims to rein in growth without inflicting the pain that recession has traditionally entailed, comes from the field of ecological economics.
Embedding Economics in Ecology
Neoclassical economic models picture economies as closed systems, with no inputs of materials or energy and no outputs of pollution and waste. But ecological economists insist there is no real separation between economy and ecology. After all, if we destroy the planet that feeds us, economic activity will collapse pretty quickly too.
In an effort to fix this oversight, Demaria is among those devising new economic models that include factors like emissions and resources use. They are also working in things like social equality, debt, deficits and monetary systems, which have social impacts, and play into cycles of boom and bust.
Which is why Demaria says their work is attracting attention from surprising quarters.
"The main idea of ecological macroeconomics is that the economy is embedded into the environment," he says. "The second problem is that the neoclassical models were not realistic — look at the financial crisis; they didn't see it coming because they were completely unable to model it. So central banks, for example, are showing a lot of interest in ecological macroeconomics."
Degrowth Vs. Green Growth
Yet mainstream environmentalism is still firmly entrenched in the idea of "green growth."
The IPCC, the World Bank, the OECD and countless think tanks and national governments rely on us being able to "decouple" growth from its ecological impact. And some economies, like Germany, have grown while emissions level off, or even decline.
Countless scientific papers have been dedicated to the fierce debate over whether these cases represent an absolute break or just a tempering of the link between growth, emissions and resource-use.
But proponents of degrowth argue that to date, decoupling has only happened in wealthy economies that have outsourced emissions-heavy sectors like manufacturing to economies like China, and that globally the correlation is still strong.
As exemplified by the IPCC scenarios, the argument for "green growth" rests on the assumption that technology will save us. By recycling more, swapping energy from fossil fuels to that from renewables, and improving efficiency so we need less of it overall, proponents of green growth hope to keep expanding without sacrificing our planet's ability to feed us and maintain a stable climate.
Increased Efficiency, Greater Energy Use
Yet technological advances don't always have the desired outcome.
When new engines that needed less coal to produce the same amount of energy were introduced in the 19th century, coal consumption didn't fall. Instead, better efficiency increased profits, made products cheaper, and drove up demand, meaning coal use actually went up.
This trend — called Jevons paradox — has persisted, meaning that improvements in efficiency tend to come with a rebound effect that wipes out any actual energy savings. Similar effects can be seen in resource use, and even labor, as automation has done more to boost consumption and production than free time for workers.
In a system geared toward infinite expansion, opportunities to tighten our belts tend to be seized as new ways to keep getting bigger.
But degrowthers argue that we do have to tighten our belts — and it doesn't have to be painful. If we could reverse the central logic of economic systems that prioritize growth over human and ecological wellbeing, they don't believe we would miss the furious activity that's keeping a minority of the human population in must-have products and ever-more material wealth.
This article is part of our series How do we change? Click here to explore more big ideas to transform our understanding of the ecological crisis.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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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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Victoria has committed to sourcing 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, The Age reported. The new lithium-ion battery will have a capacity of 300 megawatts and provide 85 jobs.
"The big battery will help protect our network in summer, create jobs and drive down energy prices, as well as supporting our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic," Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said Thursday, The Age reported. "Victoria is embracing new technologies that will unlock more renewable energy projects than ever before."
The battery was first floated in April and originally set to be 600 megawatts and cost $300 million, The Guardian reported. Energy company Neoen has since won a contract to build a 300-megawatt version with Tesla equipment. It will be double the size of the South Australian battery that had been the largest in the world when it was built in 2017. However, projects planned in California and New York will be larger than both.
The battery will have the capacity to power half a million homes for one hour, Australia's ABC News reported, but its main purpose will be to provide backup energy to the grid to prevent blackouts. It is therefore an example of technology designed both to combat the climate crisis and adapt to it.
"We know in the time of climate change, our summers are getting far hotter and much longer, so that means there is increased strain on our thermal generators," D'Ambrosio said.
Victoria has signed an $84 million contract with Neoen, while the company will pay for the installation itself. However, an independent analysis found that customers would see a return of $2 for every dollar invested in the project. It is expected to be completed by November 2021.
Environment Victoria welcomed the news.
La Nauze said the project would help the state move toward shuttering the coal-fired Yallourn power station.
The Victorian Greens also applauded the new battery, but said the state needed to do more.
"Now the government needs to go one step further and actually admit we need to get off coal in Victoria," acting party leader Ellen Sandell told The Guardian.
Australia is one of the leading exporters of coal, despite the fact that it is especially vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, as the devastating wildfires that burned from late 2019 to early 2020 attested.
However, a new analysis reported by The Guardian found that Australia's emissions from electricity, transport and gas fell by 4.6 percent for the 12 months ending in July 2020 when compared to the 12 months prior. What's more, the drop was driven less by the coronavirus pandemic than by the shift to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
"Renewables in Australia are now cheaper and more popular than fossil fuels, and we expect a lot more renewables coming on line soon," Australia Institute climate and energy program director Richie Merzian told The Guardian.
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Antarctica and Greenland's ice sheets are currently melting at a pace consistent with worst-case-scenario predictions for sea level rise, with serious consequences for coastal communities and the reliability of climate models.
A paper published in Nature Climate Change Monday compared the latest satellite observations of polar ice melt with the predictions outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report. It found that the ice sheets are currently raising sea levels at a rate 45 percent above the IPCC's central prediction and closer to its worst-case scenario. If this continues, the two ice sheets could raise sea levels a further 17 centimeters (approximately 7 inches) more than central predictions by 2100.
"If ice sheet losses continue to track our worst-case climate warming scenarios we should expect an additional 17cm of sea level rise from the ice sheets alone," study coauthor and University of Leeds researcher Anna Hogg said in a university press release. "That's enough to double the frequency of storm-surge flooding in many of the world's largest coastal cities."
Ice sheets losses are tracking the IPCCs worst case climate predictions. This could mean an extra 17 cm of sea leve… https://t.co/wPdqTWef1D— CPOM News (@CPOM News)1598905099.0
Since the 1990s, the two ice sheets have already increased global sea levels by 1.8 centimeters (approximately 0.7 inches). But it was between 2007 and 2017 that the ice sheets began to lose mass at a rate consistent with worst-case-scenario projections, adding around 1.23 centimeters (approximately 0.5 inches) to the water line during that decade, according to the study.
A worst-case-scenario sea level rise as currently predicted would expose 44 to 66 million people to yearly coastal flooding by century's end. But one of study's most alarming implications is that, if sea level rise is already tracking worst-case-scenario predictions, the actual worst-case scenario could be even more dire.
"We need to come up with a new worst-case scenario for the ice sheets because they are already melting at a rate in line with our current one," lead author and Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM) at the University of Leeds researcher Thomas Slater told AFP. "Sea level projections are critical in helping governments plan climate policy, mitigation and adaptation strategies. If we underestimate future sea level rise, then these measures may be inadequate and leave coastal communities vulnerable."
One of the reasons climate models might underestimate the worst-case scenario, Slater told AFP, is that they do not account for short-term weather changes such as the heat wave that drove Greenland's record melt in the summer of 2019.
The models that will be used for the IPCC's next report are better at predicting how the ice sheets, oceans and atmosphere interact, Slater said.
The latest study follows a slew of bad news for the world's ice. One study published in August found that the Greenland ice sheet had passed the "point of no return" and would continue to melt even if the climate crisis were halted.
Another recent study, also driven by Leeds' CPOM, calculated that the earth had lost 28 trillion tonnes (approximately 31 trillion U.S. tons) of ice in just 23 years.
These studies reflect a new global reality: In the last five years, melt from ice sheets and glaciers has outpaced the expansion of warming ocean water as the main cause of sea level rise.
"It is not only Antarctica and Greenland that are causing the water to rise," Dr. Ruth Mottram, a coauthor on Monday's study and a climate researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told the University of Leeds. "In recent years, thousands of smaller glaciers have begun to melt or disappear altogether, as we saw with the glacier Ok in Iceland, which was declared 'dead' in 2014. This means that melting of ice has now taken over as the main contributor of sea level rise."
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By Ruby Russell
We are used to hearing politicians and policy wonks talk about economic growth, celebrating when it goes up, and selling their pet projects and policies as key to boosting growth.
The problem is, as the economy expands, so does our consumption of resources. Waste, emissions and other pollution go up, too. Which is why many are asking — can we really keep infinitely expanding our economies on a planet of finite resources?
Among those arguing for a whole different approach are ecologists, economists and activists whose core concerns aren't just environmental, but social justice.
Here's why it might be time to ditch economic growth.
Our Obsession With GDP Hasn't Been Around That Long
It was only in the mid-20th century that gross national product (GDP) became the go-to measure of economic success, providing a metric for competition between capitalism and communism.
Yet in 1972, the Club of Rome — a group of heads of state, economists and business leaders — published a headline-grabbing study titled The Limits to Growth, predicting that unchecked economic expansion would lead to resources running out, economic collapse and ecological disaster.
These predictions resonated during the 1970s energy crisis, when petroleum shortages sent the price of oil soaring and economic growth slowed. But with access to new sources of oil, debate spurred by the study died down. Expanding GDP became increasingly central not only to economic policy, but just about every global project aimed at making the world a better place.
"Decent work and economic growth" sits alongside "zero hunger" and "climate action" among the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models emissions-reduction scenarios on the assumption that the global economy will roughly double in size between now and mid-century.
But arguments against unchecked economic expansion haven't gone away, and studies have shown that The Limits to Growth's predictions on resource use and its ecological impact have largely been borne out in the intervening years.
Tech-Fixes Alone Won't Save the World
Still, debate rages over whether we can break the link between economic growth and environmental harm.
Proponents of "green growth" argue that we can keep our economic systems operating much as they do now by swapping fossil-fuel energy for renewables, using less energy overall, and recycling more.
Degrowthers, however, say converting the current volume of industrialized production and throwaway consumption we have now to a circular system is simply impossible.
And perhaps more fundamentally, in a system designed to keep expanding, savings in energy and resource-use tend to go into increasing production and profits, meaning that overall, environmental impacts can stay the same — or even go up.
Economic Growth Doesn't Help Everyone
Even aside from the existential threat of ecological and economic collapse as we deplete resources, destroy biodiversity and heat up the planet, the assumption that economic growth generally makes us all better off is increasingly questioned.
Developing countries tend to have high growth rates, as more people have disposable income and more markets open for consumer goods. But in industrialized countries, growth generally slows, and efforts to speed it up don't necessarily result in a better standard of living for most people.
The work of economists like Thomas Piketty, author of "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" (which was not only lauded for compiling the most comprehensive data on wealth disparity to date, but was also a surprise bestseller), has shown that over recent decades, ordinary wages in industrialized countries like the U.S. have stopped rising in line with productivity and growth.
The benefits of economic growth have increasingly been going to the super-rich, with the divide between rich and poor yawning ever wider.
A Degrowth Economy Could Mean More Free Time
Proponents of degrowth, post-growth or steady-state economics argue that boosting growth in industrialized economies isn't the answer to improving quality of life. In fact, living within nature's constraints could make us all happier.
We know we should consume less, and consume more carefully, share and repair appliances, cycle rather than drive, take the train instead of flying. But these things can feel like big sacrifices that, individually, have little impact.
In a degrowth economy, instead of relying on consumer power to reduce the demand for environmentally harmful production, we'd do it the other way — collectively slowing the whole, frantic system down, producing and consuming less would mean we could also work less.
We'd be poorer in stuff, but richer in time, replacing the sugar-rush of consumerism with more profound pleasures, such as community and creative pursuits — be they the arts or growing our own food. We would have time to volunteer and share resources, engage in direct democracy, and develop alternatives to a profit-driven economy.
Some Sectors Would Shutter, but Others Would Flourish
This might imply whole — environmentally harmful — industries shuttering. But degrowth isn't about slamming the brakes on the entire economy and sliding into painful recession.
Instead, the focus would shift to sectors — like care, education, renewable energy and public transport — that improve human and ecological wellbeing, rather than those that attract investment purely because they generate profit.
As Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist at Goldsmith's University in London and leading proponent of degrowth, points our, privatizing health care might be good for GDP, and rent controls bad for it. In an economy shaped for people, not profit, better public services and a fairer distribution of wealth would mean that more of us could afford to live well, on less.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Julia Conley
Climate scientists were aghast Monday at the news that David Legates, a University of Delaware professor who has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus that human activity is causing the climate crisis and has claimed that carbon dioxide emissions are beneficial, has been named by the Trump administration to a top leadership role at the federal government's climate research agency.
Legates was appointed—without the knowledge of several NOAA officials, according to one person at the agency—to serve as deputy assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and will report directly to acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs.
Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) called the appointment "a slap in the face to NOAA scientists who work daily to conduct and communicate climate science to the public and decision makers."
"Until now, NOAA has largely evaded the kind of anti-science political appointees that have devastated the EPA and Interior," Goldman told the Washington Post. "With Dr. Legates we risk seeing the same kind of politicization of science and corruption of ethics."
Oh my word. NOAA taps David Legates, professor who questions the seriousness and severity of global warming, for to… https://t.co/CyvTD2OtLS— Kalee Kreider (@Kalee Kreider)1600053194.0
Legates served from 2005 to 2011 as Delaware's state climatologist, and stepped down under pressure from former Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner when it came to her attention that his views on the climate were "not aligned with those of [her] administration."
"I am directing you to offer any future statements on this or other public policy matters only on behalf of yourself or the University of Delaware, and not as state climatologist," Minner wrote to Legates in 2007 after he wrote an amicus brief in agreement with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which opposed Delaware's attempt to force the federal regulation of greenhouse gases.
The appointment, which one anonymous NOAA official referred to as a surprising "midnight hire over the weekend," comes as the agency is monitoring the approach of Hurricane Sally. The storm rapidly strengthened on Monday and was expected to cause an "extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm surge" on the Gulf Coast.
NOAA's National Weather Service has also been issuing warnings to the west coast about the wildfires that have overwhelmed the region in recent days, killing more than 30 people. Agency scientists have contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) reports on the climate crisis and the warming of the globe, including the 2018 study which warned that greenhouse gas emissions will pose an increasing threat to human life if they are not drastically reduced in the next 10 to 20 years.
The appointment of Legates to help lead the agency undermines that message, critics say, considering he counts among his climate science work a paper called "The IPCC Reconsidered," a Heartland Institute-funded project which called for more, not fewer, fossil fuel emissions.
"The juxtaposition of the apocalyptic wildfires and the announcement of David Legates' appointment is mind-boggling," Jane Lubchenco, who served as NOAA administrator under President Barack Obama, told the Post. "Just at the time when we need continued truth from the nation's lead climate agency, a climate denier is hired. This is a travesty."
In his new role, Lubchenco warned, Legates will "be in a position to squelch the free flow of accurate scientific information to the public, to distort or manipulate scientific findings, curtail monitoring and research, and create an overall chilling atmosphere for the high-quality science and scientists that the nation needs."
Other examples of Legates' work include a 2007 paper—partially funded by Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and ExxonMobil—which questioned whether the climate crisis is destroying polar bears' habitats as temperatures in the Arctic rise twice as fast as the global average, and sea ice vanishes at a rate of 4% per decade.
Along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Legates spoke in 2016 at a panel discussion on Capitol Hill—when both chambers of Congress were controlled by Republicans—about the documentary "Climate Hustle," which called into question the existence of the scientific consensus regarding human-caused climate change. The panel addressed the question: "Are [scientists] trying to control the climate...or you?"
Brian Kahn, managing editor of Earther, tweeted about a talk Legates gave at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2018 in which the professor posited that the heating of the planet holds benefit for humans and wildlife, such as the growth of larger crabs.
NOAA just hired David Legates, a man who has legitimately said with a straight face that climate change is fine bec… https://t.co/AZh6AY5iaG— Brian Kahn (@Brian Kahn)1599943117.0
Anyways, here's the crab love CO2 slide from when he gave the talk at CPAC. This man is being paid with the public'… https://t.co/kpQ84CNkZB— Brian Kahn (@Brian Kahn)1599943717.0
Legates' presentation was a "total cesspool of misinformation about how carbon dioxide is good, actually," tweeted Kahn.
"He's not just in left field—he's not even near the ballpark," Lubchenco told NPR.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Karin Jäger
"They begin on a fall night, preferring the light of a full moon … Driven by the currents, they're pulled to the mouth of the river and out into the ocean," writes the WWF, rather poetically, of the European eel's long journey from the rivers of Central Europe to the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
Slithering eels don't usually conjure up such lyrical language. But the creature's life journey does have something of an epic quality.
Some 8000 kilometers (4971 miles) from its start point, the European eel meets up with its American counterpart in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic, just east of Florida.
There they lay eggs and die. Their offspring then begin journeys that can take years back to the rivers from which their parents came.
But like any story, the eel's tale has its share of tragedy.
Many don't survive the strenuous journey. Hydropower turbines finish off many, while others fall victim to overfishing, perish in polluted rivers or waste away from parasitic infections. In the last 40 years, Europe's eel population has decreased by 98%.
Think Beyond Borders to Protect Species
When an animal crosses so many territories, how can it be protected? That's where the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS), sometimes known as the Bonn Convention, comes in. Every three years, the European Union and an additional 129 countries signed up to the CMS meet to discuss cross-border measures to protect eels and other animals on the move.
In February 2020, the convention met in Gandhinagar, India, where 10 migratory species, including the Asian elephant, jaguar and the oceanic whitetip shark, were added to the international wildlife treaty for the first time.
Nature's travelers face specific challenges, particularly as humans encroach more on animal habitat and carve up the landscape with roads and settlements, say experts. Wildlife needs to be taken into consideration at the planning stages of such infrastructure projects.
"Improving connections between habitats is important if we want to stop or even reverse extinctions," said Arnulf Köhncke, an ecologist with conservation group WWF. "You need to look at where an area cuts through as few migration routes and habitats as possible and plan and implement corresponding, cross-border (wildlife migration) corridors."
Such planning also requires cooperation between states.
Several bilateral agreements to protect migratory species already exist within the framework of the Bonn Convention. For instance, Chile and Argentina have committed to saving the endangered south Andean deer, which moves up and down the South American Andes, crossing through both countries as it does.
Unprecedented Global Biodiversity Loss
Not all animals move across borders of their own accord. International trade in animals also requires international protection efforts. In the case of the eel, considered a delicacy from Europe to Asia, criminals smuggle young European "glass eels" in and out of countries, although international trade is strictly regulated under CITES, an international treaty governing trade in wildlife.
The trade is in animals caught in the wild. Breeding eels in captivity has so far proved impossible because of their complicated life cycle, which until recently, scientists still knew little about.
It's a lucrative gig and one that is driving down eel numbers. Although, the trade is regulated, enforcement is often lacking. People should avoid eating the animals, according to WWF. And we should avoid consuming too much fish and meat in general to halt species loss, says the conservation group.
Veronika Lenarz, who works with the secretariat of the Bonn Convention, agrees. But several major countries, like the USA, Russia and China, aren't party to the convention, while Japan refuses to sign up because of its whaling industry.
"We are in a crisis that threatens global biodiversity," said Lenarz.
In a major assessment of the world's wildlife published in September 2020, the UN warned of "unprecedented biodiversity loss" and said the global community had failed to fully achieve any of the 20 biodiversity targets set by the international organization 10 years ago.
While migratory animals are also impacted, not enough is known about many of the species to gauge to what extent. Researchers estimate there could be anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 migratory species, ranging from storks and butterflies, to dolphins and wolves.
Climate Change: An Ever-Present Threat
Regions in which the climate is changing most rapidly and on a large scale present a particular danger for migratory species. The animals, following a deeply embedded evolutionary instinct, will search for seasonal habitats in search of food and shelter. However, food is increasingly scarce in these places due to climate change.
Some animals are adapting. Compared to 20 years ago, fewer migratory birds are flying to their wintering grounds. But because these nomads are dependent on the many different habitats they use as resting points on their journeys, they are more vulnerable than their settled counterparts. By staying put, they're also in increased competition for scarce winter food supplies.
And while animals can adapt, not many can keep up with the pace of climate change.
"Reports from the UN climate group IPCC show that only a few species can move with the speed of climate change. And often alternative habitats are already occupied by humans," said Köhncke from the WWF.
The climate crisis and species loss shouldn't be viewed as unrelated issues, because both are damaging to the planet, added Köhncke.
"Migratory species help to maintain life on Earth. They contribute to the structure and functions of ecosystems as pollinators and seed dispersers, deliver food to other animals and regulate the number of species," said Köhncke.
Creating Conditions to Thrive
Ensuring the conditions for the survival of these species should be considered when planning measures for dealing with the consequences of climate change, he added, referring to the WWF study "Wildlife in a Warming World."
Published in 2018, the study found that around 50% of species in some of the world's key natural regions, such as the Amazon, could disappear if climate change continues unabated.
Reindeer for instance, some of which migrate in the northern hemisphere, are no longer able to find enough food. Usually in winter, the animals clear snow with their hooves to uncover the lichens and moss they feed on. But temperatures now vary wildly, causing snow to melt or fall as rain instead. When the ground cools again, ice forms and the reindeer cannot get to their grub.
Simple Solutions to Protect Endangered Species
Looking to the example of Mexico, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has shown protecting endangered migratory species doesn't have to be complicated.
Industrial farming has contributed to the jaguar's habitat shrinking by 50% in South and Central America in the last century. As a result, they began roaming near villages looking for food and attacking villagers' dogs. People retaliated by killing them. The IFAW hired community members to build dog houses, meaning the canines are no longer out roaming at night when they could run into big cat predators.
However, with the global conservation failures of the past decade looming, all eyes will be on the UN Biodiversity Conference scheduled to take place in China in 2021 and whether it can pull off a plan for protecting migratory and non-migratory animals like.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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