Global Carbon Emissions Growth Slows, But Hits Record High
Driven by rising natural gas and oil consumption, levels of CO2 are expected to hit another record high this year – 37 billion metric tons, according to new estimates from the Global Carbon Project, an initiative led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson.
The findings are outlined in three new papers published in Earth System Science Data, Environmental Research Letters, and Nature Climate Change. Although the rate of emissions growth is slower than in the previous two years, the researchers warn emissions could keep increasing for a decade or more unless energy, transportation and industry policies change dramatically across the world.
“When the good news is that emissions growth is slower than last year, we need help,” said Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “When will emissions start to drop?”
The research estimates that global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources – which represent roughly 90 percent of all emissions from human activities – will grow a projected 0.6 percent over 2018 emissions. That compares to 2.1 percent growth a year earlier and 1.5 percent growth in 2017.
Glimmers of hope, such as the dramatic decline of coal use in the European Union and United States, are overshadowed by surging natural gas and oil use around the world, according to the researchers. Per capita emissions in affluent countries remain disproportionately high – a fact that further complicates the picture as developing countries seek greater prosperity through more natural-gas-fueled electricity and gasoline-powered vehicles and air travel.
“Emissions cuts in wealthier nations must outpace increases in poorer countries where access to energy is still needed,” said Pierre Friedlingstein, a mathematics professor at the University of Exeter and lead author of the Global Carbon Budget paper in Earth System Science Data.
The group found that the United States, the European Union (E.U.) and China account for more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions globally. While annual emissions are decreasing slowly in many industrialized regions, including the United States, where they are down a projected 1.7 percent since last year, they are growing in many countries, including China, where they should rise 2.6 percent this year. About 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions were attributable to coal use, 34 percent from oil, 20 percent from natural gas, and the remaining 6 percent from cement production and other sources.
Although still a major factor in global emissions, coal has taken a hit, with global usage down 0.9 percent for the past year. In 2019, consumption of coal is expected to drop 11 percent in the United States – down 50 percent from its peak in 2005 – displaced by cheaper natural gas, wind and solar power, as well as savings from energy efficiency. Coal use should drop a further 10 percent in the E.U. In China, which accounts for half of global coal use, growth slowed to 0.8 percent this year due in part to China’s economic downturn.
“Declining coal use in the U.S. and Europe is reducing emissions, creating jobs and saving lives through cleaner air,” said Jackson. “More consumers are demanding cheaper alternatives such as solar and wind power.”
To counterbalance increasing emissions, the researchers call for stronger national policies and global commitments to help institute carbon pricing, accelerate energy efficiency improvements, reduce energy consumption, deploy electric vehicles, ramp up carbon capture and storage technologies and replace fossil fuels with renewable sources.
As A Way to Fight Climate Change, Not All Soils Are Created Equal – Study
As the planet warms due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a solution for drawing down that carbon – or at least a major part of it – lies silently below us, scientists say.
Soil organic matter – made of decomposing plant, animal and microbial tissue – is what distinguishes healthy, vibrant soil from just plain dirt. Making up about 3% of productive agricultural soils, soil organic matter is an effective “carbon sink” that can store, in the ground, the carbon dioxide plants pull from the atmosphere. Along with reducing fossil fuel emissions, employing soils as vast carbon sinks is considered a key strategy in combating climate change.
On the left is cambisol, a type of grassland soil, and on the right is podzol, an example of a forest soil. Provided/Francesca Cotrufo
Accruing soil organic matter effectively and sustainably requires a deeper understanding of its formation, persistence and function. And according to Colorado State University scientists, not all soil organic matter is created equal.
A set of studies led by CSU soil scientist Francesca Cotrufo offers a newly nuanced understanding of different soil organic matter components that can be increased through varied management strategies.
Publishing in Global Change Biology, Cotrufo and co-authors Jocelyn Lavallee and Jennifer Soong establish a framework for classifying soil organic matter into two broad categories that are fundamentally different in origin and makeup. In a related study in Nature Geoscience,Cotrufo led an experimental and statistical survey of these soil organic matter components across European forests and grasslands.
Only by recognizing the diversity of soil organic matter can science, government and agriculture move forward with carbon sequestration to help reverse the tide of climate change while increasing the health of our soils, the scientists say.
“Because of thousands of years of historical land use and conventional agriculture, we have contributed to consuming soil organic matter and emitting carbon from the soil into the atmosphere,” says Cotrufo, a professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and senior scientist in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory. “Now, we have the opportunity to put it back.”
That opportunity, Cotrufo and colleagues say, comes with thinking of soil organic matter as having two major components.
The first is called “particulate organic matter,” made up of lightweight, partly decomposed plants and fungi residues that are short-lived and not well protected.
The second is “mineral-associated organic matter,” largely made of byproducts of the decomposition of microbes that chemically bind to minerals in the soil. This type of matter is more resilient and able to persist in the ground for centuries.
Insights around the formation of these different classes of soil sprouted from previous work Cotrufo published in 2013, establishing a “microbial-efficiency mineral-stabilization framework” that transformed the way scientists understand how organic matter persists in soils. Cotrufo and colleagues proposed that microbial decomposition of plant matter can act as a stabilizer for soil organic matter; it was previously thought that preserving carbon in soil would require halting decomposition.
Cotrufo calls particulate organic matter the “checking account” of soils. It turns over continuously and supports nutrient cycling but requires regular deposits to stay vital. Mineral-associated organic matter, then, is the “savings account”: it gets a smaller fraction of deposits but is inherently more stable.
Conventional agriculture, Cotrufo says, has caused us to exhaust our checking account and start living off our savings. This happens because of farms selecting few crops with minimal root production, harvesting much of the above-ground biomass, and maintaining few and chemically homogenous plant inputs into the soils.
By taking cues from nature and understanding how natural prairies and forests manage their soil checking and savings accounts, more forward-thinking strategies are possible for upending farming and land use to be more sustainable, Cotrufo says. To regenerate healthy soil that can capture excess carbon, both types of soil pools must be augmented, she adds.
Writing in Nature Geoscience, the researchers showed that European grasslands and forests with symbiotic partnerships between fungi and plants store more soil carbon in nitrogen-demanding mineral-associated organic matter. But forests that depend on symbiosis with other fungal species store more carbon in particulate organic matter, which is more vulnerable to disturbance, but has a lower nitrogen demand and can accumulate carbon indefinitely.
USDA Invests $237 Million in REAP Funds for 640 Projects Nationwide
USDA is investing $237 million in Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funds to help farmers, ag producers and rural-based businesses to lower energy costs, officials announced Dec. 10. The department is providing 640 awards to applicants in all 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Western Pacific.
“Businesses grow and create more jobs when their energy costs are lower,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald LaVoy, who added that the department “is committed to being a strong partner to rural businesses, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”
Recipients can use REAP funding for energy audits and to install renewable energy systems such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower and solar. The funding can also be used to increase energy efficiency by making improvements to heating, ventilation and cooling systems; insulation; and lighting and refrigeration.
- Vicksburg Forest Products LLC in Vicksburg, Miss., will receive a $250,000 grant to upgrade lighting and make improvements to a compressed air system, which will lower electrical consumption by an estimated 63 percent a year, enough to power 462 homes.
- Panek Farms, in Albion, N.Y., is receiving a $185,470 grant to purchase and install a 320-kilowatt solar array. The project will save the farm $32,675 each year and replace enough demand to power 36 homes.
- In Alaska, four commercial fishing boat operators will receive a total of $74,153 to purchase equipment to reduce energy costs and keep their catch fresh. One of the operators, Jasper P. Allbrett, in Sitka, will receive a $48,618 grant to upgrade the insulation of fish holds, pumps, the refrigeration unit’s electrical system and the auxiliary generator on his boat. The REAP grants will save each operator about $5,000 annually and will reduce fuel oil consumption by an estimated 34 percent per year.
In April 2017, President Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities.
In January 2018, Perdue presented the task force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Supporting the rural workforce was a cornerstone recommendation of the task force.
To view the report in its entirety, click HERE. In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, click HERE.
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.
Some Western U.S. Forests Crucial for Climate Change Mitigation
A study by Oregon State University researchers has identified forests in the western United States that should be preserved for their potential to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration, as well as to enhance biodiversity.
Those forests are mainly along the Pacific coast and in the Cascade Range, with pockets of them in the northern Rocky Mountains as well. Not logging those forests would be the carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent of halting eight years’ worth of fossil fuel burning in the western lower 48.
The research boosts the premise that making land stewardship a higher societal priority is crucial for altering climate change trajectory.
The findings, published in Ecological Applications, are important because capping global temperature increases at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as called for in the 2016 Paris Agreement, would maintain substantial proportions of ecosystems while also benefiting economies and human health, scientists say.
“The greater frequency and intensity of extreme events such as wildfires have adversely affected terrestrial ecosystems,” said study co-author Beverly Law, professor of forest ecosystems and society in the OSU College of Forestry. “Although climate change is impacting forests in many regions, other regions are expected to have low vulnerability to fires, insects and drought in the future.”
Law, Oregon State forestry professor William Ripple, postdoctoral research associate Polly Buotte and Logan Berner of EcoSpatial Services analyzed forests in the western United States to simulate potential carbon sequestration through the 21st century.
The five-year study supported by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture identified, and targeted for preservation, forests with high carbon sequestration potential, low vulnerability to drought, fire and beetles, and high biodiversity value.
Largely through the burning of fossil fuels, which releases the greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere, the Earth has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius. Arctic sea ice is declining at the fastest rate in 1,500 years, sea levels have risen more than 8 inches since 1880, and extreme weather events are becoming more common and damaging.
Atmospheric CO2 has increased 40 percent since the dawn of the Industrial Age. According to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s Global Monitoring Division, the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration on Jan 1, 2019, was 410 parts per million, higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.
“Smart land management can mitigate the effects of climate-induced ecosystem changes to biodiversity and watersheds, which influence ecosystem services that play a key role in human well-being,” said Buotte, the study’s corresponding author.
Preserving temperate forests in the western United States that have medium to high potential carbon sequestration and low future climate vulnerability could account for about a third of the global mitigation potential previously identified for temperate and boreal forests, the authors say.
“At the same time, it would promote ecosystem resilience and maintenance of biodiversity,” Law said. “We are in the midst of a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis. Preserving these forests is one of the greatest things we can do in our region of North America to help on both fronts.”
Compliance with Paris Pact Would Limit Loss of Ag, Fishing Productivity
Scientists show that most of the global population may face decreases in productivity for both agriculture and fishing if greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)are not reduced. On the other hand, most countries are in a position to limit these losses if emissions are drastically cut, as stipulated by the Paris Agreement.
An international team of scientists led by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and involving the University of Montpellier in France has studied the impact of climate change on agriculture and fishing by applying climate models to worldwide data on employment, the economy and food security.
(CNRS study map art)
Their findings, published in Science Advances in November, show the wide breadth of potentially decreased productivity wrought by unchecked GHGs, while also showing the potential to limit the losses.
By combining climate models with global emloyment, economic, and food security data, researchers analyzed the potential effects of climate change on the world’s two key food sectors (agriculture and fishing).
Under a scenario of no reduction in GHGs, the team shows that roughly 90 percent of the worldwide human population – for the most part living in those countries most vulnerable to climate change and less able to adapt to it – would likely face productivity losses for agriculture and fishing, while less than 3 percent of the population would see simultaneous gains in productivity in their regions of the world by 2100.
This extreme scenario offers little room for adaptation. It would be impossible to offset the impact on agriculture by developing fishing, or vice versa: both sectors would be hit hard, the researchers say.
Yet if the Paris Agreement is honored, which would entail a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the scientists conclude that the majority of countries – not just the most vulnerable, but also the majority of those responsible for the greatest emissions – would come out ahead. Though productivity would still be lost in many cases (affecting 60 percent of the population), the magnitude of this blow would be considerably lower.
The most vulnerable nations would see only a fifth to a fourth of the losses they would otherwise suffer, giving them ample slack to implement adaptive strategies – for example, diversification within an affected sector (by developing varieties that would be viable in the climate of tomorrow) or investment in sectors relatively unscathed by changing climate conditions, or even benefiting from them.
The findings suggest that making societies less vulnerable to the future effects of climate change requires quick action to attenuate it, along with strategic adaptation in regions where negative impacts appear inevitable.
Argonne Shows Benefits of Better Corn Residue Management Strategies
As the global population swells, boosting the demand for both food and energy, land management has never been more important. Now, scientists at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory are conducting pivotal research that will help keep soil healthy now and into the future.
There are more than 2 million farms in the United States alone with more than 90 million acres planted for corn. The national statistics reflect a global phenomenon: Corn production comprises 13 percent of the world’s arable land.
Scientists have long known that corn residue or stover — meaning the above-ground portions of the corn plant remaining after harvest — plays a critical role in soil health.
Corn stover is mostly left on the field either in its entirety or in a lesser amount, depending on the farmer’s practice and soil type.
It serves many critical functions: It protects the surface of the soil by improving soil structural stability and reducing soil erosion, maintains agronomic productivity by replenishing soil organic matter, and conserves soil moisture to facilitate crop growth.
Corn stover is a promising biofuel feedstock. The key question is whether corn stover removal may affect soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil health.
Researchers, aware of the problem, have been studying it for years, but their findings have varied. While excessive stover removal is not a preferred practice, leaving too much corn stover could also harbor diseases, tie up nitrogen in the soil, and impede soil warm-up, which is important for planting in the spring. Scientists say a balance must be struck between beneficially leaving some corn stover on the fields and collecting damaging excess.
Scientists at Argonne, who also had been examining the issue, led a pioneering collaboration to screen 3,380 papers published between 1990 and 2018 to quantify the overall response of soil carbon to stover removal and to identify key drivers that can help with maintaining soil health.
They collected and analyzed 409 data points from 74 stover harvest experiments sites around the world.
Teamed up with researchers from the USDA and universities, they came to important conclusions that could help farmers manage their fields in a sustainable way.
“We wanted to complete a systematic assessment to address these concerns so we could provide suggestions for relevant stakeholders and industrial leaders,” said Hui Xu, environmental analyst at the Systems Assessment Center in Argonne’s Energy Systems division. “With so much of the earth’s land devoted to farming, it’s critical that we develop best practices to make sure we don’t exhaust this finite resource.”
This type of analysis has already improved scientists’ understanding of SOC implications for bioenergy production. While many believed that stover removal may reduce SOC, this study showed that careful stover removal could maintain or even marginally increase SOC stock.
Researchers say that findings from the study can serve as inputs to a suite of models designed to evaluate a critical issue regarding cellulosic feedstocks production including crop residue, dedicated energy crops, and forest residues.
Scientist say the new study also adds to the effectiveness of the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation Model, or GREET, which provides a transparent platform from which energy and vehicle producers, researchers and regulators can evaluate vehicle technologies and energy systems. Several Argonne scientists helped develop GREET, which is used by industry, researchers, and regulators to evaluate the energy and environmental footprint of biofuels.
“Every piece of new information we glean from our research bolsters GREET and reduces uncertainty about the environmental effects of biofuels,” said Michael Wang, original developer of the GREET model and the manager of the Systems Assessment Center at Argonne. “These are living documents. We update the GREET model annually based on creditable new data.”
World-Scale Manure-to-Fuel Facility Has Successful Start-Up
Threemile Canyon Farms and Equilibrium successfully opened and is now operation Oregon’s only dairy manure renewable natural gas production facility – one of the largest in the United States.
The facility, located near Boardman, OR, uses the manure from 33,000 dairy cows to feed an anaerobic digester system, followed by a biogas clean-up system that injects renewable natural gas (“RNG”) into the natural gas grid.
The RNG is used as a transportation fuel to eliminate about 130,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which equates to removing 28,000 cars from the road.
The $55-million project began injecting RNG into the grid in July of 2019 and the RNG is currently being used as transportation fuel in California.
Iogen Corporation provided the project with a structured RNG offtake agreement that helped maximize project returns within risk boundaries.
Under a 10-year agreement, Iogen is providing an investment-grade floor price for RNG with market upside sharing, and is managing all fuel compliance activities, including generating and monetizing D3 RINs under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and LCFS Credits under the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard program.
“When our farm recently converted our methane digester to produce RNG, Iogen’s industry experience and long-term business relationships were pivotal to the project’s success,” said Marty Myers, General Manager for Threemile Canyon Farms. “This project was significant because it further demonstrates our commitment to environmental stewardship and takes our regenerative farming philosophy to the next level. Iogen’s technical knowledge and expertise added considerable value to the project.”
Converting waste manure to RNG is a winning combination for dairy farms and the environment. The use of an anaerobic digester not only reduces farms’ methane emissions by converting manure into a low carbon emissions sustainable vehicle fuel, but also creates clean and comfortable bedding for the dairy cows and produces a natural fertilizer used to enrich the soil for organic and feed crops.
“Equilibrium’s Water, Waste, and Energy investment team is pleased to be working with Threemile Canyon Farms and Iogen on this Project,” said Raimund Grube, principal. “This project is one of the largest of its kind in the United States, serving a dairy that is committed to sustainable and best in class operations. Both Iogen and Threemile Canyon Farms are leaders in their industry with the deep experience and proven capabilities that we seek in all of our partners.”
Iogen is a Canadian company specializing in the production of renewable fuels. The firm develops and invests in low carbon intensity fuel projects that use biogas or cellulosic residues as a feedstock.