IPCC Special Report on 1.5ºC Warming Issues Call for Immediate Action
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that significant action must be taken – and taken now – to limit the increase in global temperature to no more than the targeted 1.5 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels to avoid increased volatile weather patterns that will make tens of millions around the globe more vulnerable to longer and wider droughts, more wildfires, increased flooding and damaging winds.
The report says the rate of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) is increasing to levels that will push temperatures above the limits targeted by world leaders through the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement much sooner than anticipated. The IPCC says action to immediately begin curbing emissions must include rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in the energy, transportation and agriculture sectors.
Global temperatures today are already 1 degree warmer than preindustrial levels, and the report maintains that unless drastic measures are taken to reduce emissions over the next 10 years, global temperatures will cascade beyond the 2050 target of 1.5-degrees – possibly even as early as 2030 – and dramatically increase risks to communities, regions and nations.
The IPCC is the leading world body for assessing the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options.
Panel leaders say the report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people’s needs. To add critical perspective to the report’s recommendations, a co-chair of one of the panel’s working groups observed: “The next few years are probably the most important in human history.”
Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far- reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, the IPCC said in the new assessment released last month. With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to the 2ºC-degree target laid out in Paris three years ago would go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC.
Adopted by the IPCC on Saturday in Incheon, Republic of Korea, the report will be a key scientific input into the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, when governments review the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.
“With more than 6,000 scientific references cited and the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide, this important report testifies to the breadth and policy relevance of the IPCC,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.
Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared the IPCC report in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015.
The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 centimeters lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.
The report also examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5ºC, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences could be.
The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.
The Paris Agreement adopted by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the UNFCCC in December 2015 included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre- industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
A Summary for Policymakers (SPM) presents the key findings of the Special Report, based on the assessment of the available scientific, technical and socio-economic literature relevant to global warming of 1.5°C.
Global Leaders Call for Urgent Acceleration of Climate Adaptation Solutions
On the heels of one of the deadliest summers of climate-related weather disasters affecting countries all over the world, an unprecedented gathering of global leaders last month launched the new Global Commission on Adaptation to catalyze a global movement to bring scale and speed to climate adaptation solutions.
The new commission is led by Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations secretary-general; Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank. It includes 17 convening countries and 28 commissioners, including Ban, Gates and Georgieva, representing all regions of the globe and all sectors of development and industry.
Last month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius asserts that damaging climate change impacts are being felt now, much sooner and more powerfully than previously projected.
The commission says adaptation is about managing the risks associated with climate change – from floods and droughts to sea level rise and storms. Through its work, the commission aims to elevate the visibility and political importance of climate adaptation and encourage solutions – smarter investments, new technologies and better planning – to become more resilient to climate-related threats.
Commission founders say the world is currently at a moment of high risk, but great promise as well. They say that without urgent adaptation action, there is a risk of undermining food, energy and water security for decades to come. Investing more in adaptation can better insure economic growth and reductions in global poverty despite the challenges, the leaders say, also asserting that policies are needed to support innovation that will help vulnerable populations adapt.
The commission identified four major roadblocks slowing adaptation that members will work to address:
- Decision makers and the wider public are not yet aware of all the opportunities to be gained from becoming more resilient and less vulnerable to climate impacts and natural hazards;
- Governments and businesses fail to incorporate climate change risks into their social and economic development plans and investments;
- Adaptation efforts fall short of those who need them most, the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people; and
- Although adaptation is a global challenge, global leadership on the issue is scarce. In short, the world is falling short of the transformation required to adapt to a changing climate.
In its first year, the Commission will oversee preparation of a flagship report and present its findings and recommendations at the 2019 UNSG Climate Summit. The report will be informed by input from the world’s leading scientific, economic and policy analysis institutes; and will set out why adapting to climate risks and accelerated action is essential, what new actions are needed and what must be done differently; and how governments, companies and citizens can start working today to make the world a safer, better place.
The Commission also will convene key champions, coalitions, private sector and civil society actors to advance activities aligned to several action tracks, including food security and rural livelihoods, global supply chains, cities, infrastructure, finance, social protection and nature-based solutions.
Countries that have taken the lead in creating the Global Commission on Adaptation are Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, Senegal, South Africa and the UK.
The managing partners of the commission are the Global Center on Adaptation, a resiliency advocacy policy group, and the World Resources Institute, a global research organization that advocates measures aimed at improving the environment, economic opportunity and human well-being.
Designing a More Productive Corn Able to Cope with Future Climates
An international research team has found they can increase corn productivity by targeting the enzyme in charge of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
In a report published in the journal Nature Plants, researchers note that corn is a staple food for billions of people around the world, with more of the grain crop grown annually than rice or wheat.
“We developed a transgenic [corn] designed to produce more Rubisco, the main enzyme involved in photosynthesis, and the result is a plant with improved photosynthesis and hence, growth,” said lead researcher Robert Sharwood, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, led by The Australian National University (ANU). “This could potentially increase tolerance to extreme growth conditions.
Sharwood and his team note that in Australia, for example, corn has the widest geographical spread of all the field crops, but its output remains small compared to wheat or rice. However, the lead researcher says, it is a crop that has all the key elements to become the food and fuel crop of the future.
“There is an urgent need to deliver new higher-yielding and highly adapted crop species, before crops are affected by the expected climate change conditions,” Sharwood added. “These conditions will increase the threats against global food security, and the only way to prepare for them is through international research collaborations.”
Every plant on the planet uses photosynthesis to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but not all plants do it in the same way. Plants like wheat and rice use the ancient, less efficient C3 photosynthetic path, while other plants such as corn and sorghum use the more efficient C4 path.
C4 plants include some of the world’s most important food, feed and biofuel crops, accounting for 20-25 percent of the planet’s terrestrial productivity. These plants are specially adapted to thrive in hot and dry environments, like the ones that are expected to be more prevalent in future decades.
Central to this process is Rubisco, the main enzyme of photosynthesis, which is in charge of converting CO2 into organic compounds. In C4 plants, Rubisco works much faster and they are more tolerant to heat and drought through better water use efficiency.
“[Corn] has one of the most efficient Rubiscos and they need less nitrogen to work,” said co-researcher David Stern, from the Boyce Thompson Institute, an affiliate of Cornell University. “So, our main question was: If we increase Rubisco content in maize, what would it do for the plant? We found that by boosting Rubisco inside the maize cells, we get an increase in crop productivity.”
The research team says the finding is exciting because it shows that there is room for improvement even in the more productive C4 crop species.
“In our study we improved CO2 assimilation and crop biomass by 15%, but now we know that we can also increase the pool of active Rubisco and these numbers will increase even higher,” Sharwood said.
“Our next step is to do field trials to see how our corn behaves in real field conditions,” Sharwood added. “We have tested them in glasshouse and cabinet conditions, but now we need to go into the next phase.”
Modern Bioenergy Leads Growth of All Renewables to 2023: IEA Forecast
Modern bioenergy will have the biggest growth in renewable resources between 2018 and 2023, underscoring its critical role in building a robust renewable portfolio and ensuring a more secure and sustainable energy system, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest market forecast.
Renewables will continue their expansion in the next five years, covering 40 percent of global energy consumption growth, according to the IEA’s Renewables 2018 market analysis and forecast report. Their use continues to increase most rapidly in the electricity sector, and will account for almost a third of total world electricity generation in 2023.
Because of weaker policy support and additional barriers to deployment, renewables use expands far more slowly in the transport and heat sectors.
While the growth in solar PV and wind is set to continue in the electricity sector, bioenergy remains the largest source of renewable energy because of its widespread use in heat and transport, sectors in which other renewables currently play a much smaller role.
“Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy field,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Its share in the world’s total renewables consumption is about 50 percent today, in other words as much as hydro, wind, solar and all other renewables combined. We expect modern bioenergy will continue to lead the field, and has huge prospects for further growth. But the right policies and rigorous sustainability regulations will be essential to meet its full potential.”
The focus on bioenergy is part of the IEA’s analysis of “blind spots” of the energy system – issues that are critical to the evolution of the energy sector but that receive less attention than they deserve – such as the impact of air conditioners on electricity demand, or the growing impact of petrochemicals on global oil demand.
Assuming strong sustainability measures are in force, the report identifies additional untapped potential for bioenergy to “green” and diversify energy usage in the industry and transport sectors.
China leads global growth in renewable energy as a result of policies to decarbonise all sectors and reduce harmful local air pollution, and becomes the largest consumer of renewable energy, surpassing the European Union by 2023.
Of the world’s largest energy consumers, Brazil has the highest share of renewables by far – almost 45 percent of total final energy consumption in 2023, driven by significant contribution of bioenergy and hydropower.
Meanwhile, solar PV dominates renewable electricity capacity expansion. Renewable capacity additions of 178 gigawatts (GW) in 2017 broke another record, accounting for more than two-thirds of global net electricity capacity growth for the first time. Solar PV capacity expanded the most (97 GW), over half of which was in China. Meanwhile, onshore wind additions globally declined for the second year in a row, and hydropower growth continued to decelerate.
Solar PV capacity is forecast to expand by almost 600 GW – more than all other renewable power technologies combined, or as much as twice Japan’s total capacity, reaching 1 terawatt (TW) by the end of the forecast period.
Despite recent policy changes, China remains the absolute solar PV leader by far, holding almost 40 percent of global installed PV capacity in 2023. The United States remains the second-largest growth market for solar PV, followed by India, whose capacity quadruples.
Wind remains the second-largest contributor to renewable capacity growth, while hydropower remains the largest renewable electricity source by 2023. Similar to last year’s forecast, wind capacity is expected to expand by 60 percent. Meanwhile, spurred by technological progress and significant cost reductions, offshore wind capacity triples, with growth moving beyond Europe to Asia and North America.
Even with renewable energy technologies becoming increasingly competitive, appropriate policies and market design are critical. Under an accelerated case, which assumes greater supportive government measures, the expansion of renewables in electricity and in transport could be 25 percent higher.
Untapped potential of bioenergy in cement, sugar and ethanol industries is also significant. Bioenergy growth in the industry, transport and electricity sectors combined could be as considerable as that of other renewables in the electricity sector. A significant proportion of this potential relies on wastes and residues that offer low lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigate concerns over land-use change. In addition, using these resources can improve waste management and air quality.
Redesigning Poplar Trees to Take the Drought … and the Salt and the Heat
Poplar saplings being grown at the University of California Davis are not expected to survive the rigorous conditions simulating prolonged droughts and heat waves that are being imposed on them. But they are helping a team of researchers make ones that can.
Poplar provides a fast-growing woody feedstock for biofuels.
Stresses, such as high temperatures and a lack of freshwater, can cause reduced crop growth or even complete loss. The rising frequency of these stressful periods inspires a race to find more tolerant plants. But traditional plant breeding methods are slow, requiring trial and error across multiple generations.
Now, a collaborative group of researchers is redesigning poplar, a bioenergy crop, based on its specific genome in just a few years.
The growing human population is placing increasing demands on uses of all types of land. For the biofuel industry to compete with conventional fuel sources it must use land resources, but ideally not require the same premium lands used to grow food. If biofuel crops are designed to be more stress tolerant, they can maintain high biomass production on marginal lands – keeping the industry competitive.
Last year, DOE’s Office of Science awarded $5.5 million to improve poplar biomass production to the multi-institutional team of the UC Davis, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and two other universities: University of Tennessee (UT) and West Virginia University (WVU).
The five-year project aims to develop some poplar trees by a transgenic approach that are tolerant to multiple stresses at the same time,” says co-principal investigator Amir H. Ahkami, a plant molecular biologist with the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a DOE Office of Science user facility at PNNL.
Past studies have only focused on one abiotic stress – water deficiency, elevated temperature or soil salinity – at a time, explains Ahkami. In reality, plants can suffer from a combination of stresses simultaneously. So, finding a poplar-specific solution under these circumstances is the project’s target.
The trick may be developing a series of synthetic promoters – promoters control gene expression – that turn on the appropriate stress-tolerant genes. But getting there will take a combination of advanced approaches and novel technologies.
“We are bringing together cell biologists, molecular biologists, physiologists and a national lab in a common effort,” says plant biologist Eduardo Blumwald, the lead principal investigator and a distinguished professor of cell biology at UC Davis. “This is a multi-disciplinary approach, and I think that this is the most important element.”
Ahkami adds, “And we brought together a really good group of experts for this project.”
Plant transformation requires a DNA sequence that combines a promoter and a gene. Starting with plants that have been placed under stress conditions will help in identifying the important stress-responsive genes and proteins. Blumwald is applying controlled stress tests to poplar plants in a research greenhouse at UC Davis. The treatments include reducing the water availability, lowering the water quality and turning off greenhouse cooling.
On specific dates throughout the treatments, Blumwald samples leaves and roots from the poplar specimens and ships them to PNNL for cell- and tissue-specific omics analysis. Transcriptomics is the study of the complete set of RNA transcripts produced by an organism’s genome, while proteomics is the study of its proteins. The cell-type specific omics approach is unique and will be informative.
Using this multiomics approach, Ahkami can identify the highly differentially expressed genes and proteins under stress conditions-which are expressed more or less compared to those under normal conditions. Then, using a genetic engineering tool, he can verify the function of a gene of interest.
He can then identify stress-responsive promoters based on the stress-induced genes and proteins and, in collaboration with experts at UT, use bioinformatics to discover a particular regulatory element, or a motif, that guides the engineering of a promoter.
By engineering their own synthetic promoters, the researchers are not restricted to only those promoters found in nature. They can design ones that are specific to the species and cell type so that they turn on the right genes only when needed.
“We want to interfere the least as possible with the development of the tree,” says Blumwald. “If we are going to express a gene constitutively all the time, we run the risk that the gene will make the plants a bit smaller, for example.”
Smithfield Announces ‘Landmark’ Investment to Reduce GHG Emissions
Smithfield Foods Inc. last month announced the expansion nationwide of its renewable energy platform through the conversion of existing anaerobic treatment lagoons to covered digesters or by constructing new covered digesters to capture biogas.
The biogas will be transported to central processing facilities to be converted into renewable natural gas (RNG) in North Carolina, Missouri and Utah.
Smithfield Renewables was formed a year ago to help meet the food giant’s plan to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25 percent by 2025, a goal set in concert with the Environmental Defense Fund.
The enhanced biogas facilities aim to implement “manure-to-energy” projects across 90 percent of Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in North Carolina and Utah, and nearly all Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in Missouri over the next ten years. Company officials say the timeline will aid them in achieving – and exceeding – its “25 by ’25” commitment.
Smithfield’s announcement of its emission-reduction measures “is the culmination of decades spent studying and perfecting the commercial viability of ‘manure-to-energy’ projects,” said company President and CEO Kenneth Sullivan. “Our investment in these projects underscores our longstanding commitment to sustainability, as well as our promise to produce good food in a responsible way.”
He called the scale of the projects “audacious,” but said that through partnerships with a broad coalition of stakeholders, including family farmers, government and energy partners, among others, the company is confident “we can bring about sustainable, revolutionary progress in our effort to minimize our environmental footprint.”
EDF President Fred Krupp says Smithfield’s commitment “marks a welcome turning point for the industry” and demonstrates leadership by investing in solutions that build climate resilience and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“Smithfield’s commitment to deploy technologies that convert methane into renewable biogas will substantially reduce emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas and create economic opportunities for rural communities,” Krupp said.
Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer, said the dedication of team members, technological advancements and a viable market for RNG, ‘manure-to-energy’ projects are a sustainable endeavor for hog farms.
In North Carolina, Smithfield, in concert with several of its contract farmers, spearheaded in March a pilot program – Optima KV – that uses five anaerobic digesters to capture and clean biogas collected from in-ground digesters at five of Smithfield’s contract hog farms. The gas is then transported to a central facility to be converted into RNG. The facility is located on Smithfield property and operated by Cavanaugh & Associates, a consulting engineering firm, in partnership with swine waste-to-energy project developer, OptimaBio LLC.
Optima KV is the first to leverage Smithfield’s relationship with its contract farmers, who raise and care for Smithfield’s hogs, and will create enough RNG to power 1,000 homes each year. It is also the first project to both source and create RNG in North Carolina.
In Missouri, Smithfield and Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE) are launching the second phase of a project that currently converts manure collected from company-owned farms into RNG, enough to power 15,400 homes per year. By the end of this phase, Smithfield and RAE will have jointly installed biogas infrastructure across all company-owned finishing farms in Missouri. In ten years, nearly 100 percent of Smithfield’s company-owned hog finishing spaces in Missouri will have the capabilities to produce RNG, the company says.
And in Utah, Smithfield is directly investing in RNG production by building 26 hog farms equipped with covered lagoons specifically designed for anaerobic digestion. The project marks the first time that Smithfield is building U.S. hog farms equipped with renewable energy technology. The engineering includes in-ground digesters to collect biogas that will be refined and pumped into the natural gas pipeline. Once complete, the project will create enough RNG to power 4,000 homes each year. Smithfield is constructing the farms, which will ultimately be owned and operated by contract growers, providing new economic opportunities to local Utah farmers.
CDFA Awards $69.9 Million for Dairy Digester Projects
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded $69.9 million in grant funding to 40 dairy digester projects across the state. The projects, which are part of the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP), will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from manure on California dairy farms.
Dairy manure produces methane when it decomposes. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps more than 80 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Dairy digesters help capture methane emissions, which can be used to produce electricity or natural gas.
“Dairy operations in California continue to step up to ensure the agriculture sector contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “These collaborative efforts between the State, dairy operations and developers are making California a national and international leader in supporting on-farm methane reductions using climate-smart agriculture management approaches that also generate renewable energy.”
Financial assistance for the installation of dairy digesters comes from California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that uses funds from the state’s Cap-and-Trade program to support the state’s climate goals. CDFA and other state agencies are investing these proceeds in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide additional economic and environmental benefits to California communities. Dairy digester grant recipients will provide an estimated $95.5 million in matching funds for the development of their projects.
The DDRDP ) is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of Cap and Trade dollars to work reducing GHG emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment – particularly in disadvantaged communities. State officials say that at least 35 percent of the investments are located within and benefiting residents of disadvantaged communities, low-income communities and low-income households across California. They say the Cap-and-Trade program also creates a financial incentive for industries to invest in clean technologies and develop innovative ways to reduce pollution.
California Climate Investments projects include affordable housing, renewable energy, public transportation, zero-emission vehicles, environmental restoration, more sustainable agriculture, and recycling, among others.