Greenland Bans Oil Exploration & Global Weather Extremes

Greenland’s Oil Exploration Ban

Greenland recently announced it is halting oil and gas exploration in the country. See this Commondreams report. The government, the Naalakkersuisut, of the autonomous Danish dependent territory cited the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable power sources. The price of oil extraction is too high according to the Greenlandic government. The price is based upon economic calculations but includes the impact on climate and the environment. These two latter factors have influenced this decision. No oil has been found but there are thought to be vast reserves off the east and west coasts that may equate to 18 billion barrels of oil off the west coast alone.

The government believes it will be better off focusing on sustainable development and should look at the potential for renewable energy. There should be a focus on future business models, not just the “business as usual” approach that perpetuates business solutions of the past.

Greenland is feeling the climate crisis more than other countries with the destabilising effects on the Greenland ice shelf which is reported to be at the brink of collapse. German and Norwegian researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research note a vicious cycle in which melting gradually reduces the height of glaciers, which exposes them to warmer air at lower altitudes, in turn causing further melting. This cycle is known as “melt-elevation feedback”. The research results suggest in the future there will be substantially enhanced melting of the ice sheet.

Previous model results show that the melting of Greenland Ice Sheet is inevitable beyond a critical global mean temperature that ranges from 0.8 to 3.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. When the threshold is passed the whole ice sheet could melt entirely over hundreds or thousands of years. This would potentially lead to a global sea-level rise of more than 7 meters. Additionally, there would be a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The AMOC is responsible for the relative warmth in North America and Europe.

Global Extreme Weather Events

This summer has seen a noticeable increase in extreme weather events that have affected many areas of the world from North America to Europe and China.

North American Wildfires

In the USA a huge wildfire, the Bootleg fire, has burnt an area the size of Los Angeles. The fire is one of the largest recorded in Oregon. By 20 July around 2,000 residents from mostly rural areas had to abandon their homes. At least 160 homes and buildings have been destroyed. The blaze here’s so large that it created its own weather, through the creation of pyrocumulus clouds or fire clouds. These clouds are so intense with heat that they can generate their own weather systems. Further details from this BBC article.

Further fires have been burning in California, also creating their own pyrocumulus cloud storms. The Dixie fire in Butte and Plumas counties combined with another fire, the Fly fire, to produce a huge fire that covers 197,487 acres or around 79,920 hectares (as of 26 July 2021). The fire employed over 97 fire crews involving over 5,400 people.

USA wildfires follow extreme heat in Canada earlier this summer with temperature records being broken. The ‘heat dome’ caused around 777 deaths, which represents around four times the average number of people that died during the same period over recent years (see this Globe & Mail article). The heat dome has been described as a once in a one thousand year event and was a record breaking heat wave in Western Canada and the north western United States. Hundreds of people in British Columbia died prematurely with many deaths amongst the elderly populations.

Germany & European Floods

Whilst the wildfires in the USA burned, parts of Europe experienced extreme weather with intense rainfall causing major flooding that destroyed houses and killed over 160 people in Germany alone. More than 182mm (7.2 inches) of rain fell in 72 hours in some areas between 12 and 15 July. Among the worst-hit parts of Germany, the area of the city of Cologne known as Köln-Stammheim saw more than 153mm of rain on 14 July. This is six times higher than the average heaviest rainfall days for the area during July.

In Belgium where there was flooding near to Liège which had also destroyed buildings. In this area there were at least 31 killed by floods. Belgium held a day of mourning on 20 July for its flood victims. The King and Queen, Philippe and Mathilde paid respects in flood-hit Verviers. There was a minute’s silence and sirens sounded across the country.

A few days later more extreme floods hit the town of Dinant on the River Meuse in the Walloon region of Belgium. A two hour thunderstorm turned the town’s streets in torrents of water which washed cars away and caused much disruption. See this Independent report for further information.

China Floods

China has also experienced extreme flooding in the Henan province where days of rain led to around a year’s average rainfall in just three days. In Zhengzhou, the regional capital, water flooded the city and flowed into underground railway tunnels. People were trapped on trains in the tunnels as water levels rose. Flood water affected around 200,000 people who needed to be evacuated. Several dams and reservoirs had been breached adding to the challenges.

Dam building may have exacerbated climate change in the area here, which is in part of the Yellow river basin. Watercourses have been disrupted as flood plains have had natural routes changed according to this BBC report.

Conclusions

Globally there is a trend to increasing extreme weather events that are disrupting life and livelihoods as well as destroying or damaging cities, towns and property. Greenland’s stand against fossil fuels and its focus on renewable resources is setting the direction for future development. This development will need to be rapidly accelerated and enhanced to reduce risks from the rise in intense and extreme weather events. Future sustainable business models, not ones that are causing destruction and hardship for thousands of people, are the way forward.

Posted in ACD, America, Arctic, China, Climate Change, Earth Science, Energy, Europe, flood, Geography, Germany, Greenland, Phase Transition, Renewable Energy, Resources, Sustainable Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

30% By 2030 Targets

30% By 2030 Initiatives

30% by 2030 is an initiative to protect 30% of land and ocean ecosystems by the year 2030. There has been a recent G7 commitment to reaching these targets under a nature compact. The Campaign for Nature highlights the science behind this initiative. On another front a Rail Freight Forward campaign in the European Union has a vision to transfer 30% of land freight to rail in order to reduce emissions and premature deaths through air pollution.

G7 Nature Compact To Reverse Biodiversity Loss By 2030

The recent G7 meeting in Cornwall, UK has agreed a joint commitment to a historic “Nature Compact”. This aims to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. This announcement, made in June at the Cornwall summit builds on the UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration. The G7 consists of seven members: the UK, USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU) which are all bound by shared values as open, democratic and outward-looking societies.

There is hint for a system wide change that is needed to support a change that will take “ambitious outcomes for nature in 2021”. Addressing our biodiversity loss and working on conservation and restoration of biodiversity will assist with addressing climate change. The report highlights the importance of nature and biodiversity supporting our economies, livelihoods and well-being.

Global system wide change is needed to become net zero and nature positive. This will benefit people and the planet. Biodiversity ultimately underpins the economy, our well being and the economy that takes goods and services from it. Protecting health of humans and animals along with protecting biodiversity may help to stop future pandemics.

The report sets out four core pillars of: 1) transition, 2) investment, 3) conservation and 4) accountability. Each of the pillars has more detail associated with it and need to be mobilised on a “whole-of-government” basis. This represents a more holistic and joined up approach that is needed to meet the net zero and nature positive goals.

The first pillar of transition is to lead the transition to sustainable and legal use of natural resources. It includes tackling deforestation by having sustainable supply chains and support of domestic actions. It includes the idea of due diligence requirements to support the sustainable supply chains whilst breaking the links between agriculture and deforestation. It highlights the benefits of regional sustainable supply chains to protect ecosystems. Some subsidies that can have negative effects on nature would need reforming and working with sustainable agricultural systems would be pursued. Preventing crimes that destroy nature or illegally trade in wildlife is included. Finally it aims to address adverse impacts of human activity such as over fishing and littering.

The second pillar is investing in nature and driving a nature positive economy. This aims to ensure that nature is accounted for in economic and financial decision making. It will encourage ways to take account of nature in economic and financial planning and decision making. (See last month’s blog post on the Dasgupta Review). Increasing contributions to nature based solutions up to 2025. It will ensure that international development aid will not adversely impact nature. The multilateral development banks and development finance institutions will be encouraged to mobilise finance for nature and embed it in decision making processes. Finance and business leaders will be encouraged to have sustainable markets and finance systems that take account of natural capital.

Pillar three is focused on protecting, conserving and restoring nature through ambitious global targets. It aims to protect at least 30% of global land and oceans by 2030. This will be a critical foundation for the 2020s. Local partnerships will be important and includes partnerships with indigenous people. Support the United Nations (UN) Decade on Ecosystems by preventing the loss, fragmentation and degradation of ecosystems. Work to increase species abundance and reduce the overall species extinction risk with the eventual stop of human-induced extinctions. It will drive global cooperation on the ocean given much is outside on national jurisdiction. Along with this is the support of the UN Decade of Science for Sustainable Development.

The final pillar, four, is prioritising accountability and implementation of nature commitments. It includes implementing the compact and embedding plans at national level together with raising commitments where possible. Regular reviews of progress and building a strengthened accountability and implementing all multilateral environmental agreements to which G7 countries are party. It includes having clear and transparent measures along with success indicators as well as ensuring robust reporting.

30% of Land & Ocean Protected By 2030 Initiatives

The Campaign for Nature has a similar 30% by 2030 initiative and it highlights some of the science behind this approach. The papers include biodiversity, habitat destruction, ecosystem services, the benefits of protected areas, indigenous and local communities along with major assessments and reports. Details of the science based approach can be viewed on their website.

The Campaign for Nature sets out various in-depth scientific studies that demonstrate the need for these measures for protecting nature. The benefits will be for humans. By engaging with local communities there are more likely to be a successful outcomes than by not having that engagement; that will benefit both nature and the local populations.

Modal Changes: 30% of European Land Transport to Rail by 2030?

The Railfreight Forward white paper seeks a transport shift to reduce the 275 million tons of CO2 emissions and around 50,000 premature deaths and fatalities are caused each year by European land freight transport. This sector is expected to grow by 30% by 2030. Much of that growth could be on road transport which pollutes much more than rail freight. Rail has a six-times lower specific energy consumption than road, mainly due to its advantage of the low friction of steel wheels running on steel rail. This results in six-times lower external costs than road transport. Multi-modal solutions are the answer and the white paper presented looks at transforming rail freight into a high-performance, efficient and sustainable backbone for the European transport system.

A large proportion of the European road freight’s external costs are not borne by the user but by society. Tipping the balance to benefit road freight should be addressed to account for these externalities. Environmental objectives, such as air quality and pollution for example, should be considered more widely. This white paper is an example of the G7’s accountability to improve environmental factors around the land transport of goods.

Conclusion

There is some good science behind these 30% by 2030 initiatives to protect nature, biodiversity and build a better future that minimises environmental impacts. The key to their success will be massive focused action along with a shift in attitudes. This will need to build upon the G7’s proposed four pillars, the science highlighted by The Campaign for Nature and account for external costs in terms of pollution and early deaths by shifting freight from road to rail.

Posted in Air Quality, Climate Solutions, Europe, Megatrends, Net Zero, Politics, Pollution, railways, Resources, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Trade, Transport | Leave a comment

The Economics Of Biodiversity & Nature-Based Solutions

Putting Biodiversity into Economics

A major new review looking at the economics of biodiversity considers putting biodiversity at the centre of economics and brings together economics and ecology. This will have many benefits for nature and, in turn, us benefitting from that nature. The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review has more than 600 pages and sets out a way forward to put nature, which we are entirely dependent on, back into the equation of our economic system. Since the industrial revolution we have lost that connection with nature to the point it is likely to cause an existential crisis for humans. There has been a huge growth in world GDP and population since around 1820 because of the industrial revolution. Problems that have been exacerbated with this growth include impacts on the biosphere and the climate to name two. The Dasgupta Review highlights human’s place in and as part of nature, and not separate to it or above it.

The contemporary and widespread practice of using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to judge economic performance is based on a faulty application of economics. GDP is a flow (so many market dollars of output per year), in contrast to inclusive wealth, which is a stock (it is the social worth of the economy’s entire portfolio of assets). GDP does not include the depreciation of assets, for example the degradation of the natural environment (the ‘G’ in GDP represents gross output of final goods and services, not output net of depreciation of assets). GDP is indispensable in short-run macroeconomic analysis and management, but it is not suitable for appraising investment projects and identifying sustainable development. GDP was not intended to be used for those two purposes. An economy could record a high rate of growth of GDP by depreciating its assets, but one would not know that from national statistics. In recent decades, the erosion of natural capital has been precisely the means the world economy has deployed for enjoying what is routinely celebrated as ‘economic growth’. Adam Smith, the founding father of economics, wrote The Wealth of Nations; it was not the GDP of nations. The idea of wealth is far richer than the one Adam Smith was able to fashion, but his identification of assets as the objects of interest was exactly correct.

Nature is in large measure mobile. Insects and birds fly, fish swim, the wind blows, rivers flow, and the oceans circulate for example. Economists have long realised that Nature’s mobility is one reason the citizen investor will not take the market prices of natural capital to represent their social worth even when markets for them exist. The Dasgupta Review studies the divide between the prices we pay for Nature’s goods and services and their social worth (or “accounting prices”) in terms of what economists call “externalities”. A rich and extensive literature has identified the measures that can be deployed (the forces of the law and social norms) for closing that divide. The presence of the divide is why the citizen investor will insist that companies disclose activities along their entire supply chain. Disclosure serves to substitute for imperfect markets. We are now beginning to see more of these disclosures in company accounts and sustainability policies for example.

The excess of impact (I) over the biosphere’s regenerative rate (G), is known as the Impact Inequality in the Dasgupta Review. This impact equation needs to bring about balance between I and G at a healthy stock (S) of the biosphere which is defined here as sustainable development.

The review has three main sections: Part 1 – Foundations, Part 2 – Extensions and Part 3 – The Road Ahead. There are 21 chapters with chapters 1-13 covering the foundations, chapters 14-20 looking at the extensions and the final chapter considering the road ahead. Unusually, there is a chapter 0, which is entitled How we got to where we are. It considers economic history “since year 0” and seeks to understand humanity’s contemporary overshoot. The changes will be hard and need to have engagement from government, business, communities and civil societies across the world.

  1. Nature as an Asset
  2. Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services
  3. Biospheric Disruptors
  4. Human Impact on the Biosphere, 4* The Bounded Global Economy
  5. Risk & Uncertainty
  6. Laws and Norms as Social Institutions
  7. Human Institutions & Ecological Systems 1, Unidirectional Externalities & Regulatory Policies
  8. Human Institutions & Ecological Systems 2, Common Pool Resources, 8* Management of Common Pool Resources: A Formal Model
  9. Human Institutions & Ecological Systems 3, Consumption Practices and Reproductive Behaviour
  10. Well-Being Across the Generations
  11. The Content of Well-Being: Empirics
  12. Valuing Biodiversity
  13. Sustainability Assessment and Policy Analysis, 13* Accounting Prices and Inclusive Wealth
  14. Distribution and Sustainability
  15. Trade and the Biosphere
  16. Demand for Provisioning Services and Its Consequences
  17. Managing Nature-Related Financial Risk & Uncertainty
  18. Conservation of Nature
  19. Restoration of Nature
  20. Finance for Sustainable Engagement with Nature
  21. Options for Change

There is much to take from this report but options for change notes that in order to pursue a sustainable future requires a transformative change. This is in our mode of thinking and, importantly, in our actions that we take. COVID-19 has forced transformative changes on our daily lives. We have had warnings of biodiversity loss in contrast to the lack of time to plan for this global pandemic. The extent to which biosphere has been degraded by human activity has created extreme risks and uncertainties. It has endangered our economies and livelihoods and given rise to existential risks for humanity. Causes of biodiversity loss are varied. In order to effect transformative change requires action by governments, but also by businesses, intergovernmental organisations and communities. Local conditions need to be addressed to resolve environmental problems: socio-ecological conditions need to be taken into account.

The summary highlights a number of solutions to our problems such as using natural capital accounting, conservation and restoration of natural assets, improved productivity of extraction from nature and improved recycling and having a global financial system that supports nature for example. These solutions fall into three categories: balancing the impact equation and increase nature’s supply, change the measure of economic success and, thirdly, transformation of institutions and systems.

Economies need to change so there is a shift away from GDP to a system that takes into account the externalities that include natural capital. Since the industrial revolution we have drawn down our natural capital to the point that we have overshot its regenerative rate of replacement. The message from the review is clear – we need to account for biodiversity and nature. There is a clear way to make the changes needed that will benefit the whole of humanity and reverse declines in the biosphere.

Dasgupta, P. (2021), The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review. (London: HM Treasury)

Nature-Based Solutions For Adapting To Climate Change

The European Environment Agency (EEA) emphasise that nature-based solutions should play a key role in climate change. Biodiversity loss, degradation of ecosystems and climate change are linked. They all have devastating consequences for our economic and social stability, health and well-being. Working with nature is increasingly recognised as an efficient way to tackle these growing challenges, according this new EEA report ‘Nature-based solutions in Europe: Policy, knowledge and practice for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.’

Nature-based solutions are shown to benefit society from climate change impacts and slow further warming. Many established approaches exist such as ecosystem approaches, sustainable management and sustainable forest management and natural water retention methods. The mapping of new or restorative nature-based solutions can help to identify areas based upon the desired services. By focusing on the solutions a discussion can help plan and balance biodiversity and climate change impacts. A wide stakeholder involvement is key to success.

Conclusion

Nature-based solutions are being adopted as a way to tackle climate change and offer benefits to us through use of ecosystem services. Changing accounting policies to consider impacts on the environment will alter the existing discourse which has overlooked nature either intentionally, or not, leading to its destruction and pollution. Natural capital should be valued and accounted for as it ultimately benefits us. These two reviews offer insights and solutions to doing so.

Posted in ACD, Climate Solutions, Economic Crisis, Europe, Mapping, Population, Resources, Sustainable Development | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment