04 Jan 2016:
How Science Can Help to Halt
The Western Bark Beetle Plague
Tens of millions of acres of pine and spruce trees have died in western North America in recent
years as a result of bark beetle infestations spawned by a hotter, drier climate. University of Montana entomologist Diana Six has been working to understand why the genetics of some individual trees enable them to survive even as whole forests around them are turning brown and perishing. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Six explains the root causes of the beetle infestations, discusses why U.S. Forest Service policies may be making the problem worse, and describes why the best hope for Western forests will come from the trees’ capacity to genetically adapt to a new climate regime. Read the interview.
The View From Far Above:
How Earth Changed in 2015
From raging forest fires to dwindling snowmelt to the extraordinary birth of new ocean islands, sometimes the best way to witness planetary happenings — and to gain perspective on them — is from high above. Below are satellite images and aerial photos from the NASA Earth Observatory that capture some of the more dramatic changes that shaped the earth over the past year.
View the gallery.
23 Dec 2015:
Congressional Tax Credits
Expected to Further Boost U.S. Renewables
The renewable energy sector in the United States is finishing 2015 on a high note as Congress has voted to approve significant extensions for tax credits
for renewable energy, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported a surge in wind power installations.
Ending uncertainty about the fate of tax credits for the wind and solar industries, Congress has voted to extend investment tax credits for solar power and production tax credits for wind energy through 2022 and 2020, respectively. Renewable energy companies and analysts praised the extensions, saying that, coupled with rapidly falling prices for wind and solar energy technologies, the tax credits virtually guarantee a boom in the production of renewables in the U.S. Earlier this week, the AWEA said U.S. wind energy production has reached a milestone, with 50,000 turbines providing a generating capacity of 70 gigawatts — enough to power 19 million homes.
Iberian Lynx Is Back from Brink,
But Still Faces Major Challenges
Efforts to help restore the endangered population of the Iberian lynx are showing signs of success. Chief among them are the captive breeding program, which has
An Iberian lynx in the wild
helped increase the animal’s numbers from a critical low of less than 100 individuals to 160 today. The elegant 25-pound predator, a close relative of the American bobcat, still faces a number of challenges including habitat loss of 95 percent, a high vehicular mortality rate, and a genetic exchange stymied by a lack of wildlife corridors. It remains uncertain, as well, if the lynx can acclimate quickly enough to life at higher, cooler climes, where its main prey, the European rabbit, is already beginning to relocate due to climate change. Read more.
18 Dec 2015:
Marshes Likely More Resilient
To Sea Level Rise Than Thought, Study Says
Marshes may be more resilient to climate change and associated rises in sea level than previously thought, according to recent research
An aerial view of Venice showing elevation by color
published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study shows that as levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase, more CO2 gets taken in by marsh plants. This spurs higher rates of photosynthesis and plant growth, causing marsh plants to trap more sediment above ground and generate more organic soil below ground, the researchers explain. The process can increase the rate of soil accretion nearly enough to allow marshes to keep up with rising sea levels. In fact, the researchers say, it may increase a marsh's threshold for water inundation by up to 60 percent. "Essentially, we found it's a self-rising mechanism marshes use to build themselves up," said Marco Marani, a researcher at Duke University who helped conduct the study.
17 Dec 2015:
Severe Toxic Algal Blooms
Likely To Double in Lake Erie with Warming
The number of severe harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie will likely double over the next century, according to
Sampling lake water during a toxic algal bloom
Ohio State University. As soon as 2050, toxic algal blooms like the one that cut off Toledo's drinking water supply in 2014 will no longer be the exception, but rather the norm, the researchers say. Although several states and Canadian provinces have agreed to significantly cut nutrient runoff into the Great Lakes, the study suggests that nutrient reductions alone might not be enough to stop the toxic blooms. That's because factors associated with climate change — less winter snow, heavier spring rains, and hotter summers — supercharge the blooms, the researchers explain. "Those are perfect growing conditions for algae," said Noel Aloysius, a member of the research team. "We can reduce phosphorus by 40 percent, but the algae won't suffer as much as you might hope."
16 Dec 2015:
Five Questions for Bill McKibben
On the Paris Climate Agreement
Activist Bill McKibben was a visible presence during the climate conference in Paris, urging for strong action. Yale Environment 360
caught up with McKibben, the founder of 350.org
, after an agreement was reached and asked him five question about Paris and the road beyond. While the Paris accord “didn’t save the planet,” McKibben says, “it may have saved the chance to save it – that is, it didn’t foreclose the possibility. Actually getting anywhere will now require massive organizing to hold leaders to their promises.”
15 Dec 2015:
China Anti-Pollution Efforts
Lead to Steep Drop in Sulfur Dioxide Levels
Emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that threatens human health and causes acid rain, have dropped sharply in the last decade
China's sulfur pollution has decreased in recent years.
in China, thanks to aggressive air pollution control initiatives by the Chinese government. As these NASA images show, levels of sulfur dioxide in China fell significantly from 2005 to 2014, while emissions of the gas increased in India during the same period. From 2012 to 2014, Chinese SO2 emissions fell especially sharply, by 50 percent. The steady drop in emissions of the noxious gas, released during the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, can be attributed to pollution control measures enacted before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the widespread installation of flue gas desulfurication devices on power plants, the switch to coal with a lower sulfur content, and the closing of coal-fired power plants in favor of less-polluting energy sources such as natural gas, wind, and solar power. India’s sulfur dioxide emissions have risen because of the rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants.
14 Dec 2015:
Accelerating Rock Weathering
Could Help Reduce Atmospheric CO2 Levels
Speeding up the naturally occurring process of weathering rocks to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere could help to
Weathered limestone cliffs in Yorkshire, England
stabilize the climate and avert ocean acidification caused by greenhouse gas emissions, according to
research published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. As rainwater and other environmental conditions naturally break down rocks on the earth's surface, carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere. The process converts CO2 to bicarbonate, a mineral that chemically binds CO2 and is washed away through rivers to the oceans. By modeling the large-scale effects of weathering — which is driven largely by precipitation, vegetation, and soil microbes — the researchers found methods for accelerating this CO2-removal system. Such a strategy could significantly counteract anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions, they say, slowing ocean acidification and protecting delicate ocean ecosystems such as coral reefs.
12 Dec 2015:
Landmark Agreement on Climate
Is Reached in Paris to Cap Warming
Climate negotiators meeting in Paris have achieved a deal
that could change the world. The Paris Agreement commits the
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders
international community to capping global warming to "well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C." To achieve that, the agreement requires the world to "reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" and "to undertake rapid reductions thereafter, in accordance with best available science." The intention is to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the second half of this century. "This agreement is a turning point," said Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Center.
11 Dec 2015:
NASA Detects Carbon Monoxide
Plume as Indonesian Forest Fires Burn
This fall tens of thousands of fires in Indonesia released clouds of particulate matter and toxic gases over the region
Carbon monoxide plumes detected over Indonesia
process that repeats itself year after year as property owners clear their land of debris for farming. This year, however, saw significantly more fires than usual, and many of those fires escaped their handlers and burned uncontrollably for weeks or months. The fires produced a massive plume of carbon monoxide (CO) — a toxic gas that affects both human health and the climate — that could be detected by NASA satellites
. “The 2015 Indonesian fires produced some of the highest concentrations of carbon monoxide that we have ever seen with MOPITT,” the satellite technology that detected the gas, said Helen Worden, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Typically, CO concentrations in that region are roughly 100 parts per billion. Some parts of Borneo, however, saw CO levels of nearly 1,300 parts per billion in September and October.
10 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: An Unexpected Move
Toward Global Target of 1.5 Degrees
It is the big surprise of the Paris talks: the growing acceptance of a call from small nations most vulnerable to climate change
for the conference to declare warming should be halted at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even a few months ago, this seemed unimaginable. Two degrees was the only target on the table. But here it has gained momentum with more than 100 nations, including the U.S. and the EU, agreeing it should be in the final agreement. With more than a day of talks remaining, inclusion is far from a done deal. But it has strong support. A 1.5-degree target “looks much more scientifically justifiable,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Institute.
09 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: U.N. Climate Talks
Could Hasten the Demise of Coal
Is Paris the beginning of the end for coal? Coal burning is declining fast in both of the world's two largest carbon dioxide emitters,
China’s air pollution is pushing it away from coal.
China and the U.S., with resulting declines in emissions for both countries. The fuel looks incompatible with a world that warms by no more than two degrees C, bringing calls for its rapid phaseout as the global economy is "decarbonized." But, with or without a deal in Paris later this week, will the calls be heeded? Has the demise of King Coal been greatly exaggerated? The smart money in Paris is betting that, despite the embrace of coal by some developing countries such as India and Turkey, the dirty fossil fuel’s days are numbered. "The inevitable conclusion we can draw on the future of global thermal coal is that it has none," an energy analyst said in Paris.
08 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Amid Optimism, Key
Issues Remain on Negotiating Table
The centerpieces of a potential climate deal in Paris are the 180 national emissions pledges for the period up to 2030, which
Delegates draft text for the proposed agreement.
were submitted ahead of the conference. What is at issue now are the rules for their implementation, including funding of pledges from poor nations, and whether a procedure can be agreed for upgrading them later to give the world a chance of meeting its two-degree Celsius temperature-rise target. To do all that in the final few days of the conference, negotiators are considering a 48-page draft text that contains numerous brackets, which denote alternative options and text yet to be agreed on. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the final deal to include a review of emissions targets every five years to determine how they are playing out and to allow for increasingly ambitious goals that could secure the two-degree target.
07 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — How ‘Landscape
Carbon’ Can Be Part of a Solution on Climate
A group led by the World Resources Institute has unveiled plans in Paris for a grand restoration of Africa's landscapes that includes
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister
replanting forests and reviving soils. The group, which includes the World Bank and the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development are seeking $2 billion a year to restore 100 million hectares of Africa by 2030 — an area three times the size of Germany. The plans were announced to some 3,000 delegates attending a Global Landscapes Forum in Paris on Sunday. "We need landscape restoration for development and for climate," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister. Some African countries said they are already at work. Ethiopian ministers told the forum they had restored a million hectares of farm soils in the drought-hit Tigray region and elsewhere in the past 20 years, through terracing, irrigation and other activities.
07 Dec 2015:
Soaring Global CO2
Emissions May Have Peaked, Data Show
CO2 emissions in 2015, at 35.7 billion tons, are likely to be exactly where they were two years ago, according to a new study
Global CO2 emissions are projected to fall in 2015.
published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. The flat-lining emissions trajectory is the result of China's recent sharp decline in coal burning and the global surge in renewables like wind and solar power, said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, who led the analysis. The study estimates China's emissions have fallen by 3.9 percent this year. Le Quéré said she does not believe the world has yet hit "peak emissions." Continued rapid industrial expansion by countries such as India that still rely on coal for energy means further rises probably lie ahead, she said. But the evidence is growing that peak emissions may be closer than previously imagined.
04 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Global Financiers Hop
Aboard the Zero-Carbon Bandwagon
Outside the conference hall where the Paris climate negotiations are taking place, a large crowd gathered in the bright sun on
Bank of England governor Mark Carney
Friday morning, chanting for an end to government subsidies for fossil fuels. Yards away, a meeting of financiers and bankers got under way in which a central demand was for, well, much the same thing. Something strange has happened here. The masters of the financial universe are out in force insisting that, though they may not be waving placards or chanting slogans, they are part of the solution. Free markets could deliver a zero-carbon world, they say. And Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England and a leading player in the global financial system, announced the creation of a task force to develop a carbon-disclosure system that could force companies to reveal how heavily their businesses are invested in fossil fuels. He said it could become standard business practice around the world — carbon footprinting for financiers.
03 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — Regular Reviews
Of Carbon Emission Cuts Likely to Be Adopted
An important point of contention at the Paris climate talks — whether to regularly review nations’ pledges on emissions cuts, in
U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres
the hopes of stimulating further reductions — may be close to being resolved. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres says there is a growing consensus that emissions-reduction pledges should be reviewed every five years
, a stance supported by the U.S., China, and the European Union. Other nations, such as India, have been reluctant to commit to such reviews. Figueres, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and other top officials at the Paris talks are urging delegates to begin resolving issues
such as emissions-pledge reviews, as the 50-page draft climate treaty
now contains four to five alternative versions of disputed points. Fabius has given negotiators until Thursday night to deliver a streamlined draft and has set a deadline of noon Saturday to come up with a close-to-final draft.
03 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Is India the Main
Stumbling Block at Climate Talks?
By some measures India has offered a lot to the Paris neogitations. Its pledge on future emissions includes perhaps the
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
most ambitious renewable energy program in the world, with 175 gigawatts of green power, including 100 megawatts of solar panels, by 2022. But many nonetheless see India as the biggest single threat to curbing CO2 emissions in the next few decades. The problem is coal. The speed of India's current industrialization is so fast that, even with a huge surge in solar energy, it still plans the world's fastest rate of construction of coal-fired power stations. India's continued reliance on coal will increase its CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2030. And that addiction to coal is making enemies among countries that India would normally count as its friends – poor nations most at risk from climate change.
02 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: China’s About-Face
Fuels High Hopes for Paris Talks
China has changed everything. After years of sulking about climate change, China is right now diplomatically and technologically
A worker installs solar panels in eastern China.
transforming the chances of slowing global warming. President Barack Obama might wish for a deal here at U.N. climate negotiations in Paris to be his own crowning legacy. But the truth is that this is China's ball. Nobody personifies the transformation better than the head of the Chinese climate delegation for the past nine years, Xie Zhenhua. He spent years pretending climate change was a developing-world problem that the rich nations had to sort out, and he was widely blamed for scuppering the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations. But here in Paris he is quietly confident a deal is about to be done that will be in China's and the world's interests. "China is entering a new normal of energy and resource conservation,” he said. "We can seek a different way [through] ecologically driven wealth generation."
01 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — Business Leaders
Announce 'Breakthrough Energy Coalition'
A group of leading business people and technology entrepreneurs — including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder
Global leaders announced 'Mission Innovation.'
Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Jack Ma of China’s Alibaba Group — have announced in Paris a new initiative to spur investment
in low-carbon energy technologies. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition
says it will work closely with governments and research institutions to “mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future.” The coalition will work closely with governments to invest in and develop the technologies, and at the Paris conference the leaders of 21 nations announced the formation of a Mission Innovation
initiative to make clean energy available worldwide.
01 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: To Save Forests,
A Combination of Carrots and Sticks
Forests must be saved and restored if the world community hopes to slow global warming. That's a given at the Paris climate
Indigenous leaders at a forestry session in Paris.
conference. But how? It's a tough issue for many environment ministers, who know that back home their agriculture, mining, and even forestry ministers have other plans for forest lands. In nations such as Peru and Indonesia, the gap between aspirations for slowing deforestation and the reality on the ground is huge. How to close that gap is a major topic of discussion in Paris, with countries, business groups, and conservationists proposing a combination of carrots and sticks to spur reform. And advocates say that returning many forests to indigenous groups is a key part of any solution.
Complete Coverage of the Paris COP21
Climate Talks From Yale Environment 360
30 Nov 2015:
Paris COP21: For the Poorest
Nations, Questions of Compensation
In a series of side events on the first day of the Paris climate conference, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the
Initiative on Resilience, a program designed to help the world’s poorest countries, which are especially vulnerable to the ravages of global warming. Finance to help developing nations adapt to climate change is potentially the dealbreaker in Paris. Developing nations expect a Green Climate Fund, which would cover adaptation and the cost of moderating their greenhouse gas emissions, to contain $100 billion a year by 2020. If the money is not on the table, they may ditch their promises on emissions — and scupper the deal. Germany, France, and other developed nations promised help in Paris. But the president of Angola, chairing a group of 48 African nations vulnerable to climate change, said $5 billion of such projects were already on hold for want of cash.
30 Nov 2015:
Paris COP21 — Obama, Xi Vow to
Lead In Climate Fight as Paris Talks Open
Joining leaders from 150 nations in Paris, President Barack Obama acknowledged the U.S.’s special responsibility as the major historical emitter
U.N. climate chief Figueres greets President Obama
of greenhouse gases and vowed that the U.S. would take a leading role in fighting climate change, which he called the central challenge of the 21st century. “The United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said at the opening of United Nations climate talks. He vowed that the U.S. and other developed nations would provide aid for renewable energy development and climate adaptation to developing nations, which he said had “contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its most destructive effects.” Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his country would meet its goal of hitting peak emissions by 2030
, with steady declines thereafter.
25 Nov 2015:
Airlines Could Halve Emissions
By 2050 by Making Cost-Saving Changes
Airlines could cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next 35 years by making changes that would actually
Cost-effective changes could cut airline emissions.
save them money, according to
research published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Researchers developed a list of 14 strategies, all based on current technologies, that airlines could pursue to cut emissions, which account for roughly 2 to 3 percent of the total carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year. For example, one recommendation is to keep planes at the gate until takeoff rather than making them idle on the runway, or to use fewer engines — perhaps even electric engines — when taxiing. Emissions could also be cut significantly by reducing aircraft weight, the researchers say, such as by lowering the amount of extra fuel carried or replacing seats and brakes with ones made from lighter materials. Updating flight paths to more direct routes, adjusting altitude and speed to avoid drag-inducing turbulence, and retiring older planes would also cut costs and emissions.
24 Nov 2015:
Transportation and Buildings
Drove Rise in U.S. Energy Emissions Last Year
Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. rose last year by 1 percent, marking the second consecutive year of
Low fuel prices drove higher vehicle emissions.
increased energy emissions despite advances in efficiency and growing use of less carbon-intensive fuels, such as natural gas. The transportation sector and residential and commercial buildings largely drove the increase, the U.S. Energy Information Administration
reports. Lower fuel prices and an improving economy led to more consumption of gasoline and other fuels, the EIA says, which more than offset gains in vehicle fuel economy. Emissions from commercial and residential buildings also rose last year. While residential energy use is mainly driven by weather on a year-to-year basis — the first quarter of 2014 was particularly cold in many regions — both weather and economic gains led to more energy consumption in commercial buildings, the report says. Looking at energy emissions by another measure, the U.S. made better progress, as CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product declined.
23 Nov 2015:
In Major Shift, Alberta
Adopts New Plans to Fight Climate Change
In a sharp reversal from the previous government, Alberta’s recently elected premier has announced a host of new climate measures
, including a tax on carbon, the phase-out of coal emissions by 2030, a transition to
renewable energy sources, and CO2 emissions limits on the province’s massive tar sands industry. Premier Rachel Notley said Sunday that the province will adopt an economy-wide carbon tax of 20 Canadian dollars in 2017, increasing to 30 dollars in 2018. She vowed that two-thirds of the electricity now produced by coal-fired power plants will be replaced with renewable energy. And she said Alberta will impose a carbon emissions limit on the oil sands industry of 100 megatons; the industry currently generates 70 megatons of carbon annually. “This is the day we step up, at long last, to one of the world’s biggest problems: the pollution that is causing climate change," Notley said.
Interview: Why Brazil’s Pledges On
Carbon Emissions Are Not Enough
In recent years, Brazil has been widely praised for reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 75 percent from 2005 to 2014.
Maria Fernanda Gebara
But analysts are now taking a closer look at Brazil’s pledges to cut deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, with some saying there is less there than meets the eye. One of the more outspoken critics of the country’s CO2-reduction policies is Brazilian political scientist Maria Fernanda Gebara. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Gebara, a research associate in the Department for International Development at the London School of Economics, says Brazil’s policies will do little more than stabilize emissions for the next 15 years, will fail to clamp down on illegal logging, and will continue the nation’s dismal record of developing solar and wind power.
Read the interview.
20 Nov 2015:
Global Forest Cover Estimates
Vary Widely Based on Definition, Study Says
Measurements of global forest cover can vary widely — by as much as 6 percent of the planet's land area, a swath equal in size
to China, according to research
from the University of Maryland. The reason behind the discrepancy actually lies in how different researchers and organizations define forest cover, the researchers note. Geographers have long called for the definition to be standardized, but until now, no one had quantified the scope of the variance. The largest ambiguities in forest calculations are driven by uncertainties near savannas, shrublands, mountain ridge forests, and other areas with intermediate tree cover. “It’s not technology’s fault” that forest maps are inconsistent, said lead author Joseph Sexton. But until the definitions are standardized, he said, it will be difficult to properly assess land cover or conservation measures related to climate change and biodiversity.