World and industry leaders talk climate at COP24


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The opening plenary at COP24 in Katowice, Poland (flickr via UNclimatechange). 

Julia Poska| December 7th, 2018

Diplomats and industry leaders from over 200 countries gathered in Katowice, Poland this week for COP24,  a global summit on climate change and carbon reductions that will continue through next week.

The Katowice summit is meant to build on the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by most of the world’s countries at COP21 three years ago. The attendees hope to now agree on standards for reporting carbon cuts and emissions and to push agreed-upon reductions even further in light of recent scientific reports that climate change is moving faster than anticipated.

Most of these targets are still up in the air and will continue to be negotiated in coming days between exhibitions, presentations, workshops and more. Non-governmental bodies have made some declarations already, though, including one signed by over 40 global corporations and environmental groups urging delegates to make firm, clear guidelines for reporting and stating their commitment to supporting carbon reduction measures.

Another non-governmental figure, acclaimed naturalist David Attenborough, narrator and writer of BBC docu-series Life and Blue Planet, is holding the new “people’s seat” to represent the general public at the talks. He spoke Monday on the urgency of tackling climate change, calling it our “greatest threat in thousands of years.”

 

 

Climate change and soil: sink or source?


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Peatlands, or bogs, are wetlands where partially decomposed vegetation accumulates saturated in water. The soil is very rich and productive and contains huge amounts of carbon (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 29, 2018

The world’s soils hold massive amounts of carbon from decomposed plants and animals. In this way the soil acts as a sink, storing carbon that could otherwise end up in the atmosphere, but soil is a source of carbon emissions.

Two studies published this month highlight just how helpful and harmful the the soil’s carbon storage capacity might be in the face of climate change.

The first, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesexamined the changing role of peatlands, also known as bogs or mires, in the carbon cycle. According to author Qianlai Zhuang of Purdue University, peatlands cover about 3 percent of the Earth’s surface but contain 30 percent of soil carbon. This major sink, though, has begun to release large amounts of carbon, too.

When peatlands are drained for human uses like agriculture or mining, they release some of that carbon into the air. The rate of carbon loss is predicted to increase with climate change, even for untouched peatlands.

Northern-hemisphere peatlands in Canada, Siberia and Southeast Asia have already begun releasing significant amounts of carbon, but Zhuang and PhD candidate Sirui Wang found that Amazonian peatlands may soon follow suit, according to a Purdue University media release. The researchers estimate that by the end of the century, peatlands in that area could release an amount of carbon equal to 5 percent of current annual emissions worldwide.

The second study, published in Nature Climate Change, found increased capacity for carbon storage deep within the soil. Much of the soils carbon is stored in a dissolved form; the carbon leaches downwards in the water and attaches to minerals over 6-feet underground.

Little is known about this method of storage, but Washington State University researcher Marc Kramer and Oliver Chadwick from the University of California Santa Barbara have looked at it closely and believe humanity could take advantage of the process to bury more atmospheric carbon deep inside the earth. Unfortunately, they believe climate change will limit this capacity in tropical rainforests, currently the best locations for dissolved carbon storage.

Check out our 2018 Iowa Climate Statement to learn more about the impacts of climate change right here at home.

Smog-producing air pollution declining more slowly


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Catalytic converters have decreased the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by cars dramatically since they were first introduced in the 1970s. (Chris Keating/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 1, 2018

A new study found that levels of two primary pollutants in the U.S. atmosphere have not been declining as rapidly during recent years as they once were.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studied satellite data and ground level measurements of two smog-forming pollutants: nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Levels of these air pollutants decreased dramatically following the implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Requirements of that act pushed automakers and energy-producers to develop new technology which curbed the emissions of these two pollutants.

The study found that concentration of these two pollutants in the atmosphere decreased by seven percent each year between 2005 and 2009. However, from 2011 through 2015, the pollutants’ levels only shrunk by 1.7 percent annually.

Helen Worden is a scientist at NCAR and one of the study’s authors. She said to Phys Org, “Although our air is healthier than it used to be in the 80s and 90s, air quality in the U.S. is not progressing as quickly as we thought. The gains are starting to slow down.”

The study noted that the slower decrease in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides was especially severe in the eastern part of the U.S. This finding dispels notions that the slower pace can be attributed to traveling air pollution from countries like China. The positive news is that the slower decline in carbon monoxide, which is primarily emitted by vehicles, is likely due to the fact that major strides have already been made to reduce vehicle emissions. In short, clean air technology related to cars may have reached a kind of plateau.

This study was funded by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The full journal article can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Carbon emissions on the rise after years of stagnation


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Carbon emissions increased in 2017 for the first time in years. (Sunny Vhaii/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 22, 2018

Global carbon emissions were higher than ever in 2017 according to Global Energy and CO2 Status Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) based in Paris.

Carbon emissions reached a record 32.5 giggatons last year after remaining stable for the three previous years. This figure can be thought of as putting 170 million additional cars on the road. The spike in carbon emissions has been attributed to two factors. First, global energy demand increased by 2.1 percent last year. This is double the average 0.9 percent increase over the previous five years. About seventy percent of this demand was met by emission producing fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal. Second, energy efficiency improvements slowed down during 2017.

“The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said to Reuters. He continued, “For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area.”

Scientists say the carbon emissions need to peak soon and then decrease dramatically by 2020 in order to meet the international climate goal of keep average global temperature rise lower than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Although carbon emissions increased most places, the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan all saw reductions in carbon emissions. Surprisingly, U.S. carbon emissions fell by 0.5 percent, more than any other country.

On The Radio – Cumulative CO2 levels reach record high


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Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels, like coal, are combusted. (Kym Farnik/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 20, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how carbon dioxide levels soared to record highs in 2016. 

Transcript: Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose to a record-high during 2016 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The organization measures carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at 51 sites around the globe. Average accumulated CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year due to human activity and an El Niño weather event, which brought drought to much of the world’s CO2-capturing vegetation. Last year’s increase of CO2 was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Scientists say that Earth has not had the same concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere since about three to five million years ago, when temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were several dozen feet higher.

World Meteorological Organization scientists warn that greenhouse gas emissions should be cut drastically and immediately to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by the end of the century.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Carbon dioxide concentration reaches record-high


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Human activity and El Niño drove carbon dioxide levels up significantly last year. (Zappys Technology Solutions/flickr)
Jenna Ladd |November 1, 2017

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rose to a record-high during 2016 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

The average accumulated CO2 level in Earth’s atmosphere reached 403.3 parts per million last year, thanks to human activity and an El Niño weather event which brought drought to much of the world’s CO2-capturing vegetation. Last year’s increase of CO2 levels was 50 percent higher than average year-to-year increases over the last ten years.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas measurements were taken by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at 51 sites around the globe. Dr. Oksana Tarasova, head of WMO’s global atmosphere watch program, told the BBC, “It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network.”

Tarasova also pointed out that while humans have slowed their greenhouse gas emissions, the cumulative excess CO2 already in the atmosphere will remain problematic for centuries to come.

Scientists say that Earth has not had the same concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere since about three to five million years ago, when temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were several dozen feet higher.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said that urgent and drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions should be made to avoid “dangerous temperature increases” by 2100.

Taalas added, “With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident.”

EPA moves to repeal Clean Power Plan


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The Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, North Carolina closed its doors in 2013. Despite the Trump administration’s pro-coal policy, coal plants are shutting down around the U.S. (Duke Energy/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 11, 2017

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that the Trump administration would begin the process of rescinding the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

President Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce the power industry’s carbon dioxide pollution levels by 32 percent below 2005 levels before 2030. The plan was a part of a larger effort to meet the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, from which President Trump decided to withdraw shortly after taking office.

Gina McCarthy served as EPA administrator during Obama’s second term in office. She said in a statement, “They’re adding more pollution into our air and threatening public health at a time when the threats of climate change are growing and the costs are growing immeasurably higher on our children and their future.”

Pruitt is said to have filed his proposal to rescind the climate policy on Tuesday, but the proposal is subject to public comment for months before it is finalized. Attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts have said they will sue the administration after the repeal goes through. California and New York state have both adopted their own climate smart polices, which include emission-cutting regulations that exceed those outlined by the Clean Power Plan.