415.26 parts per million: CO2 levels hit historic milestone, highest in 3 million years; first time in human history

Getting back to around 350 ppm is required for a safe climate to sustain life as we know it on Earth. The last four years were the four hottest on record and, in spite of the Paris deal and increasing public awareness of the problem, mankind continues to break its own emissions records, year on year.

Read full PhysOrg post here

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which has tracked atmospheric CO2 levels since the late 1950s, on Saturday morning detected 415.26 parts per million (ppm)….

The last time Earth’s atmosphere contained this much CO2 was more than three million years ago, when global sea levels were several metres higher and parts of Antarctica were blanketed in forest.

“It shows that we are not on track with protecting the climate at all. The number keeps rising and it’s getting higher year after year,” Wolfgang Lucht, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), told AFP. It was also the first time on record that the observatory measured a daily baseline above 415 ppm….

….The 2015 Paris Agreement calls on humanity to block the rise in Earth’s temperature at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels, and 1.5C if possible. ….Earth’s average surface temperature has already increased 1.0C since pre-industrial times due to man-made emissions.

Four years after California’s largest dam removal project, Steelhead trout numbers are growing, a model for other projects nationwide

by Paul Roger Read full Mercury News article here

The destruction of the [10-story] San Clemente Dam [along the Carmel River near Monterey], which had blocked the river since 1921, remains the largest dam removal project in California history. It’s still early, but one of the main goals of the project seems to be on track: The river is becoming wilder, and struggling fish populations are rebounding.

…. The 106 foot-tall dam had been located 18 miles up river from Monterey Bay. In 2016, the first year after it was removed, researchers found that no steelhead trout, an iconic type of rainbow trout listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, swam past its former site to a tagging location seven miles upriver. By 2017, seven steelhead had made the trip. Last year, the count was 29. So far this year, 123 steelhead have traveled upriver.

… The broader lesson, scientists say, is one of hope. Despite declines in other species, some wildlife species — from the Great Plains bison to Pacific gray whales to bald eagles — have rebounded significantly, despite plummeting close to extinction, after humans recognized what was killing them and corrected it. For bison and whales, it was hunting. For bald eagles, it was the now-banned chemical DDT. For steelhead trout, dams built across the West over the past century blocked their ability to swim to the ocean and return upriver to spawn, crashing their populations….

… Crews recycled the dam’s steel. They broke the concrete pieces ranging in size from softballs to boulders. They buried the debris in the sediment pile and covered it with willows, sycamores and other native plants. They built rocky step-pools, each one foot higher than the previous one so the fish could migrate upriver more easily. ,,

U.S. Fossil Fuel Subsidies Exceed Pentagon Spending

The world would be richer and healthier if the full costs of fossil fuels were paid, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund. The authors found that if fossil fuels had been fairly priced in 2015, global carbon emissions would have been slashed by 28 percent. Deaths from fossil fuel-linked air pollution would have dropped by nearly half. Fossil fuel subsidies were nearly 10 times what Congress spent on education. Broken down to an individual level, fossil fuel subsidies cost every man, woman and child in the United States $2,028 that year.

by Tim Dickinson Read full Rolling Stone article here

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

The study defines “subsidy” very broadly, as many economists do. It accounts for the “differences between actual consumer fuel prices and how much consumers would pay if prices fully reflected supply costs plus the taxes needed to reflect environmental costs” and other damage, including premature deaths from air pollution….

Dangerous decline of nature and increase in species extinctions unprecedented in human history- New UN report

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” The five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Read Policymakers Summary here (Pdf), press release here and ScienceDaily coverage here.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, per a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)… More than 1,000,000 species- or ~25% of all species- are threatened with extinction. Transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature for our well-being.

Findings include:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production…

….Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point…”

For ease of reference, a number of issues highlighted in the Report are summarized in the ‘Further Information’ section that follows below, specifically on:

…Societal goals – including those for food, water, energy, health and the achievement of human well-being for all, mitigating and adapting to climate change and conserving and sustainably using nature – can be achieved in sustainable pathways through the rapid and improved deployment of existing policy instruments and new initiatives that more effectively enlist individual and collective action for transformative change. Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such fundamental, structural change is called for. By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good. If obstacles are overcome, commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets, supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities at the local level, new frameworks for private sector investment and innovation, inclusive and adaptive governance approaches and arrangements, multi-sectoral planning and strategic policy mixes can help to transform the public and private sectors to achieve sustainability at the local, national and global levels…

The Problem With Putting a Price on the End of the World

The key political advantage [of] performance standards – [they] focus voters on the end goal, rather than on the technocratic mechanism for achieving it. Carbon pricing puts attention on the mechanism, be it a dreaded tax or a byzantine cap-and-trade system. Mechanisms don’t inspire people. 

by David Leonhardt Read full NY Times Magazine story here

…When a product becomes more expensive, people use less of it. Carbon pricing is an elegant mechanism by which market economics can work on behalf of the climate rather than against it….

….As Nordhaus acknowledged in his speech, curbing dirty energy by raising its price “may be good for nature, but it’s not actually all that attractive to voters to reduce their income.” … Climate change may be an existential crisis, but in their day-to-day lives, many people are more worried about the problems created by the most obvious solution than by climate change itself. …

…The province of British Columbia enacted a carbon tax in 2008, and it has worked well. It includes a clever provision to reduce political opposition: Every dollar that is raised is returned to families and businesses through tax credits. An all-star roster of Nobel laureates and former Republican and Democratic presidential appointees — including Treasury Secretaries George Shultz and Lawrence Summers and the Federal Reserve chiefs Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan — recently signed a joint statement in favor of a similar carbon tax for the United States. But it remains a long shot in this era of government distrust. …

….The financial crisis and its aftermath intensified many families’ economic problems. Income growth has since been sluggish. Amazingly, the wealth of the median American household has fallen 30 percent since 2007, according to the most recent Federal Reserve data, making higher energy costs an even harder sell. The second change is political. A decade ago, there was reason to think that carbon pricing could be bipartisan…

…The key political advantage is that performance standards focus voters on the end goal, rather than on the technocratic mechanism for achieving it. Carbon pricing puts attention on the mechanism, be it a dreaded tax or a byzantine cap-and-trade system. Mechanisms don’t inspire people. Mechanisms are easy to caricature as big-government bureaucracy. Think about the debate over Obamacare: When the focus was on mechanisms — insurance mandates, insurance exchanges and the like — the law was not popular. When the focus shifted to basic principles — Do sick people deserve health insurance? — the law became much more so….

…In Nevada, the measure did get on the ballot, and the campaign in favor of it has some lessons for winning future fights. The messages were simple and powerful. They focused on the immediate benefits from clean-energy use, like fewer health problems, lower medical costs and more jobs that pay well. …

….The better bet seems to be an “all of the above” approach: Organize a climate movement around meaningful policies with a reasonable chance of near-term success, but don’t abandon the hope of carbon pricing…
Eventually, Americans may decide to punish politicians who deny or play down climate change. By the time a price on carbon took effect, it might not be so unpopular anymore. But we can’t wait for the politics to change to begin taking action.

Trees crucial to future of cities– the right amount of tree cover can lower summer daytime temperatures by as much as 10 F

-To get the maximum benefit of this cooling service, the study found that tree canopy cover must exceed 40 percent.

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

Carly D. Ziter, Eric J. Pedersen, Christopher J. Kucharik, Monica G. Turner. Scale-dependent interactions between tree canopy cover and impervious surfaces reduce daytime urban heat during summerProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201817561 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1817561116

….Impervious surfaces — like roads, sidewalks and buildings — absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release that heat at night. Trees, on the other hand, not only shade those surfaces from the sun’s rays, they also transpire, or release water into the air through their leaves, a process that cools things down.

To get the maximum benefit of this cooling service, the study found that tree canopy cover must exceed 40 percent. In other words, an aerial picture of a single city block would need to be nearly half-way covered by a leafy green network of branches and leaves….

Healthy Soils to Cool the Planet – A Philanthropic Action Guide

See more here about Breakthrough Strategies and read their excellent new guide here (Pdf)

Background from Ellie: Conservatively, managing agricultural soils for soil organic matter can sequester 5 billion tons (Gt) of CO2e out of the atmosphere globally every year, drawing down 50% of what is needed to return to a safe climate by 2050.

The UN IPCC’s recent 1.5C report called soil carbon sequestration as among the cheapest methods with the greatest potential (http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/). Healthy soils are foundational to human well-being, climate stabilization and vibrant ecosystems. The sustainable management and restoration of soils enhance agricultural productivity, fresh water availability, biodiversity, and climate change preparedness with enormous potential to slow and reverse negative impacts such as droughts, floods and more (von Unger, M. & Emmer, I. 2018. Carbon Market Incentives to Conserve, Restore and Enhance Soil Carbon. Silvestrum & TNC).  

Almost all IPCC scenarios that keep us below 2°C of warming include CO2 removal – typically about 10 billion tons CO2 yr-1. Based on the latest estimates from the IPCC, soils management could conservatively pull 5 billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere annually on croplands and rangelands by 2050, offering 50% of the needed carbon removal, with zero additional land and water use (D. Bossio, TNC; and, Zomer et al. Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soils. Scientific Reports 7.; Vermeulen et al, A Global Agenda for Action on Soil Carbon. Nature Sustainability, Jan 2019). Equally important is avoiding future emissions from soil by protecting existing soil carbon stocks in grasslands and wetlands. 

Currently, only 8 governments include soil health in their efforts to achieve the Paris Climate goals (UNFCCC 2015). Yet boosting soil health at scale should be relatively easy to achieve through low-tech sustainable agricultural practices with policy, funding and technical support. There are other natural climate solutions as well such as climate-smart habitat restoration (https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/59fb62cbe4b0531197b165f8 and Dybala et al. (2018) Carbon sequestration in riparian forests: a global synthesis and meta-analysisGlobal Change Biology. ) and silviculture (https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/silviculture-climate-change).  

CO2 emissions in 18 developed economies fall due to decreasing fossil fuel and energy use, increase in renewables and climate policies in place

University of East Anglia Read full ScienceDaily article here

Efforts to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and tackle climate change in developed economies are beginning to pay off according to new research.

…Policies supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency are helping to reduce emissions in 18 developed economies. The group of countries represents 28 per cent of global emissions, and includes the UK, US, France and Germany.

The research team analysed the reasons behind changes in CO2emissions in countries where emissions declined significantly between 2005 and 2015. The findings, published in Nature Climate Change, show that the fall in CO2 emissions was mainly due to renewable energy replacing fossil fuels and to decreasing energy use.

However, the decrease in energy use was partly explained by lower economic growth reducing the demand for energy following the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Significantly, countries where CO2 emissions decreased the most were those with the largest number of energy and climate policies in place…

  1. Corinne Le Quéré, Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Charlie Wilson, Jale Tosun, Robbie Andrew, Robert J. Andres, Josep G. Canadell, Andrew Jordan, Glen P. Peters, Detlef P. van Vuuren. Drivers of declining CO2 emissions in 18 developed economiesNature Climate Change, 2019; 9 (3): 213 DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0419-7

UNFCCC Katowice Climate Package: Making The Paris Agreement Work For All

Read more here at the UNFCCC website

When delegates adopted the 2015 Paris Agreement to widespread cheers and excitement, it was clear that further details needed to be negotiated on how the agreement would be implemented transparently and fairly for all. Countries set a deadline for themselves to complete these negotiations on the implementation guidelines in 2018 at COP24.

Against the backdrop of rising global emissions and multiplying signs of climate change such as wild fires, droughts and storms, countries began negotiating in 2016. “Recognizing the urgency, governments overcame difficult political and complex technical issues to agree the Katowice Climate Package at COP24,” said the UNs Climate Chief, Patricia Espinosa.

..The Katowice outcome is a complex package, achieved through in-depth technical discussions and political compromise and containing operational guidance on:

  • the information about domestic mitigation and other climate goals and activities that governments will provide in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs);
  • how to communicate about efforts to adapt to climate impacts;
  • the rules for functioning of the Transparency Framework, which will show to the world what countries are doing about climate change;
  • establishment of a committee to facilitate implementation of the Paris Agreement and promote compliance with the obligations undertaken under the Agreement;
  • how to conduct the Global Stocktake of overall progress towards the aims of the Paris Agreement;
  • how to assess progress on the development and transfer of technology;
  • how to provide advance information on financial support to developing countries and the process for establishing new targets on finance from 2025 onwards.