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A flock of pigeons flies near the Staudinger coal-fired power plant near Großkrotzenburg, Germany on Aug. 28 2021. Frank Rumpenhorst / picture alliance via Getty Images

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record levels in the atmosphere in 2020 despite a temporary decline in new emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations said on Monday.

The news contained in the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) comes as world leaders prepare to attend the United Nations climate change conference, or COP26. The summit will aim to coordinate global efforts to combat global warming caused by human-made emissions.

"The 'Greenhouse Gas Bulletin' contains a stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26," said WMO chief Petteri Taalas.

"At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius [2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial levels," he said. "We are way off track."

Weather Extremes Becoming the Norm

Climate experts agree that increases beyond this level will exacerbate the already more frequent extreme weather situations that Earth has been experiencing over past years, including floods, drought, hurricanes and prolonged heat waves.

"The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3 to 5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2 to 3°C warmer and sea level was 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) higher than now. But there weren't 7.8 billion people then," said Taalas.

Sea level rise and harm to ocean ecosystems represent further effects of climate change.

Taalas called for a "dramatic increase" in commitments at the COP26 conference beginning on October 31.

A boy rides his bike through floodwaters in Funafuti, Tuvalu.

A boy rides his bike through floodwaters in Funafuti, Tuvalu on Nov. 24, 2019. Mario Tama / Getty Images

What Did the WMO Report Say?

Concentrations of CO2 — the gas responsible for some 66% of the global warming effect — in the atmosphere reached 413.2 parts per million in 2020, up 2.5 ppm over the previous year. This is 149% of pre-industrial levels from 1750, the WMO said.

Averages of methane, the second-most-significant greenhouse gas, reached a new high of 1,889 parts per billion, up 11 ppb on the year before. That represents 262% more than emissions prior to 1750. Some 60% of methane emissions come from human activity, including agriculture and landfills.

The third-most-important climate-damaging gas, nitrous oxide, reached 333.2 ppb, up 1.2 ppb. That is 123% of pre-industrial levels.

The report also emphasized that because CO2 persists in the atmosphere for a long time, the global temperature will stay elevated for some time even if humankind succeeds in reducing emissions to net zero in the near future.

It said that while emissions dropped by 5.6% last year because of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, there had been no discernible effect either on the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or the rate of their growth.

What Have Experts Said?

Euan Nisbet, from the University of London's Greenhouse Gas Group, said the findings showed the Earth was "skidding into a car crash."

"The disaster gets closer and closer, but you can't stop it. You can clearly see the crash ahead, and all you can do is howl," he said.

The director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, Dave Reay, said the WMO report was a "brutally frank" assessment of the achievements of COP summits up to now, which he described as "an epic fail."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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Japan is one of the countries that has tried to make changes to an upcoming UN climate report. Shí Liáng Shí Chuan / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Timothy Jones

Australia, Saudi Arabia and Japan were among countries that have tried to make changes to an upcoming UN climate report outlining ways to curb global warming, environmental organization Greenpeace reported on Thursday, citing a major leak of documents.

The documents seen by Greenpeace's Unearthed team consist of comments made by governments and other interested bodies on the draft report of an internationally composed working group of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report is due to be released next year.

Although most of the comments submitted to the IPCC by national governments were intended to improve the report, several major coal, oil, beef and animal feed-producing nations pressed for changes to suit their economic interests, Unearthed reported.

The attempts at lobbying were brought to light just days before the COP26 climate negotiations open in Glasgow, Scotland. The conference is seen by many as crucial in determining whether human-made global warming will cause irreparable damage to the planet.

Dead animals in a field that has suffered severe drought.

Drought in many countries is being made worse by the effects of global warming.

What Did Some Countries Say?

In one comment seen by Unearthed, a senior official from Australia questioned the report's finding, considered as incontrovertible by scientists, that phasing out coal-fired power stations was a significant step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming. Australia derives a large part of its national income from coal exports.

Major beef and animal feed producers Brazil and Argentina lobbied the IPCC team to remove mention of plant-based diets and reduction of meat and dairy consumption as being beneficial to the climate, Unearthed said.

The leaked comments showed Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Japan and OPEC, a group of petroleum exporting countries, all arguing that carbon capture and storage could be used to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sites rather than stopping CO2 production at the source. This goes against research saying that previously employed methods of keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere have been largely unsuccessful.

OPEC is particularly against phasing out fossil fuels and, according to the leaks, told the report authors to cut the sentence: "More efforts are required to actively phase out all fossil fuels in the energy sector, rather than relying on fuel switching alone."

What Do Climate Scientists Say?

The vast majority of climate scientists are of the opinion that a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels is necessary if the world is not to suffer from the catastrophic effects of global warming, many of which have become apparent in the past years.

In its draft Summary for Policymakers, which was itself leaked earlier this year, the IPCC said limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and 1.5 degrees Celsius will "involve substantial reductions in fossil fuel use, major investments in low-carbon energy forms, switching to low-carbon energy carriers and energy efficiency and conservation efforts."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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The Case for Passive Rewilding: ‘If You Love It, Let It Free’

As ecologists meet to discuss the threat to global biodiversity, some believe that accepting chaos is the best approach.


The patterns seen in the area around Castro Laboreiro aren't unique, with European farmland being abandoned at a rapid pace. estivillml / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Alistair Walsh

Henrique Miguel Pereira likes to tell the story of a grandmother in the northern mountains of Portugal who had never in her life seen a wild boar. She had spent her life in the village of Castro Laboreiro, nestled in the remote peaks of what is now Peneda-Geres National Park.

It should have been prime boar territory, but after centuries of farming and human influence, large mammals had all but disappeared from the area.

It was social and economic upheaval in the 20th century that accidentally transformed the area into a cradle of what is known as passive rewilding — and ecologists have been watching. These days it is almost impossible to avoid seeing wild boar in the region, and even the ibex, which had been regionally extinct for 90 years, has returned.

Passive rewilding is an approach to restoration that allows natural processes to restore themselves. It accepts a certain level of chaos as forests reclaim territory, species return and natural disturbances such as fires, pests and floods kick in.

With global biodiversity being discussed at the United Nations COP15 this week, passive rewilding is one approach that could help reverse catastrophic species loss.

There are three key components to passive rewilding, according to Pereira, a professor of biodiversity conservation at the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research at the University of Leipzig. The first is restoring trophic complexity, or biodiversity, by allowing wildlife to return. This usually means restricting hunting, but in rare cases it does involve some relocation.

The second component is allowing landscapes to reconnect so that plants and animals can move around.

The third — and most crucial step — is allowing for unpredictable disturbances such as fires, pests and floods.

But letting things run wild is anathema to the traditional approaches to restoration and can be very difficult to accept for Europeans.

Pereira's thinking is, "if you love it, set it free."

The Problem With Letting Go

One of the strongest arguments in favor of passive rewilding is the low cost compared to more hands-on approaches, especially on a large scale. But widespread forest expansion can turn into a homogenous landscape. And biodiversity tends to hate homogeneity.

Scientists like Pereira, however, maintain that if nature is left to take its course for long enough, unpredictable natural processes will lead to the diversity needed. Large grazers such as bison can clear areas of land and create open patches where biodiversity can thrive, while wild boar disturb soil as they root around for food.

Though much harder to promote, particularly in the era of climate change, another natural disturbance that can lead to transformation and greater species diversity is wildfires.

"We have to embrace the unpredictable. We don't even know how these landscapes may end up. We want to have these ecosystem functions restored and let nature play its role. But this is hard for many people," Pereira said.

A Model for the Rest of Europe?

The patterns seen in the area around Castro Laboreiro aren't unique, with European farmland being abandoned at a rapid pace.

In the first half of the 20th century, Europe was gripped by rapid urbanization, as shifts in agriculture and globalization made many rural lifestyles unsustainable. Remote, mountainous areas were particularly hard-hit, but it affected any areas with natural and physical limits to agricultural production.

Some estimates say farmland totaling twice the size of Hungary will have been abandoned by 2030, and studies show that 30% of all agricultural land in the EU is at least at risk of abandonment. Climate change and globalization will increase this.

Is Letting Go Always the Answer?

Rewilding is a relatively recent field of study, and ecologists in other parts of the world have taken a different approach.

Henrike Schulte to Bühne — a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Zoology and Imperial College London — said scientists in North America are much more focused on bringing back large herbivores and large carnivores.

"Europe has focused more on the passive approach," she said. "And then in Australia, there's this kind of unique situation where there is quite a lot of native flora and fauna left. But you also have all these invasive species so a passive approach would be quite dangerous in a lot of places."

In Britain, Alastair Driver takes a more active approach to rewilding than in Portugal. He is the former head of conservation for the UK government's Environment Agency for England and Wales, and has spent decades working as a conservationist. He is now the director of Rewilding Britain, a small charity that hopes to turn 5% of British land into areas with no measurable human impact.

"You can't suddenly jump to having huge areas where nature is totally taking care of itself, especially in Britain, where you haven't got apex predators and you haven't got a lot of the large herbivores," he said.

"We don't have wolves and bears moving in, we don't have bison and elk, and we have very few wild boar and beaver. So we're missing a whole trophic layer and a half at the top of the ecosystem."

This lack of species means that, in Britain at least, rewilding efforts require a kick-start. It also allows them to act faster.

"We haven't got time to wait 100 years as things slowly start to come back and natural regeneration starts," he said. "I describe it as a marathon, with a sprint start."

Different Journey, Same Destination

One of the first steps in rewilding at Driver's organization is removing sheep. Unlike other grazers, they are very particular about what they eat and can wipe out wildflowers and other important species.

And in the absence of bison, his organization encourages landowners to let rare cattle breeds roam over large areas, leading to a mosaic effect. Similarly, they use old breeds of pigs as a proxy for wild boar, and even ponies in place of the now-extinct tarpan, also known as the Eurasian wild horse.

And if there is a shortage of local trees and scrubs, his group replants these to encourage their spread. Otherwise, they remove fences, allow rivers to find natural paths, create wetlands and remove non-native species.

And while Driver and Pereira differ in their methods, their end goal is the same.

"Rewilding is about not having a preconceived idea about what is going to appear where and which species you're going to have," said Driver.

You may lose some species from a region, but you'll get lots of winners.

Reposted with permission from Deutsch Welle.

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