Climate change may actually bring deserts back to life – and arid parts of California, central Asia, the Sinai, Southern Africa and central Australia may see more frequent downpours. Researchers say that climate change is already driving an increase in extremes of rainfall and snowfall across most of the globe, even in arid regions, and this trend will continue as the world warms. The article in Nature Climate Change says the role of global warming in unusually large rainfall events in countries from the United Kingdom to China has been hotly debated, but the latest research shows that climate change is driving an overall increase in rainfall extremes. “In both wet and dry regions, we see these significant and robust increases in heavy precipitation,” says Markus Donat, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, who is the study’s lead author. John Connor, Chief Executive of the Climate Institute in Australia pointed out that in Queensland what were ‘once in 100 years’ downpours were now happening every 2 or 3 years. The results suggest that both annual precipitation and extreme precipitation increased by 1–2% per decade in dry regions, including western North America, Australia and parts of Asia. Wet areas, including eastern North America and Southeast Asia, show similar increases in the size of extreme precipitation and smaller increases for annual totals. More here and Nature Climate Change here.
The world is on track to reach dangerous levels of global warming much sooner than expected, according to new Australian research that highlights the alarming implications of rising energy demand. University of Queensland and Griffith University researchers have developed a “global energy tracker” which predicts average world temperatures could climb 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by 2020. That forecast, based on new modelling using long-term average projections on economic growth, population growth and energy use per person, points to a 2C rise by 2030. The UN conference on climate change in Paris last year agreed to a 1.5C rise as the preferred limit to protect vulnerable island states, and a 2C rise as the absolute limit.
And February smashed a century of global temperature records by a “stunning” margin, according to data released by Nasa. The unprecedented leap led scientists, usually wary of highlighting a single month’s temperature, to label the new record a “shocker” and warn of a “climate emergency”. Record-breaking temperatures ‘have robbed the Arctic of its winter’ and the Nasa data shows the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35C warmer than the average temperature for the month between 1951-1980, a far bigger margin than ever seen before. The previous record, set just one month earlier in January, was 1.15C above the long-term average for that month. More here.
An £800 pollution tax should be put on sales of new diesel cars, with the proceeds used for a scrappage scheme for older diesels, according to the thinktank Policy Exchange. The move, proposed ahead of George Osborne’s budget on 16 March, would encourage motorists to move towards lower emission vehicles and significantly reduce air pollution, according to the thinktank, which is close to Osborne. The idea is also backed by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and an influential committee of MPs.
Falling coal use in China and the US and a worldwide shift towards renewable energy have kept greenhouse gas emissions level for a second year running, one of the world’s leading energy analysts has said. Preliminary data for 2015 from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have levelled off at 32.1bn tonnes even as the global economy grew over 3% . Electricity generated by renewable sources played a critical role, having accounted for around 90% of new electricity generation in 2015. Wind power produced more than half of all new electricity generation, said the IEA
And the UK government has slapped down a suggestion by a minister that coffee shop cups could be taxed to prevent millions of them being thrown away. Rory Stewart told MPs there was a “huge” problem with unrecyclable, plastic-lined paper cups. He said the plastic bag tax had been a success and cups would be a “very good thing to look at next”. Mr Stewart’s department Defra released a statement saying there were “no plans” for a tax. Campaigners say that disposable coffee cups handed out in their billions are “virtually impossible” to recycle despite major cafe chains claiming theirs are eco-friendly.
The Obama administration abandoned its plan for oil and gas drilling in Atlantic waters on Tuesday, after strong opposition from the Pentagon and coastal communities. The announcement from Sally Jewell, the interior secretary, to bar drilling across the length of the mid-Atlantic seaboard reverses Obama’s decision just a year ago to open up the east coast to oil and gas exploration, and consolidates his record for environmental protection.
The US theme park operator SeaWorld says it is ending its controversial orca breeding programme. The decision means the orcas currently at the parks will be “the last generation”, the company said. SeaWorld, which has 12 parks across the US, has faced heavy criticism over alleged poor treatment of its captive orcas, also known as killer whales. Activists have called for the orcas to be released into the wild but SeaWorld claims they would likely die. “For as long as they live, the orcas at SeaWorld will stay in our parks,” the company said in a Los Angeles Times article. The company it would also also scrap plans for a $100 million project called “Blue World” that would have enlarged its orca habitat at SeaWorld San Diego. So the whales stay, in captivity, in misery.
The Guardian reports that fishermen could soon be given carte blanche to overfish without needing to worry about restoring fish populations to a healthy state under a leaked European commission proposal seen by the Guardian. If it is approved, the blueprint for the Baltic Sea could soon be applied to the North Sea too, potentially threatening the future of some cod species, MEPs say. The plan would add exemptions to catch limits that are supposed to become mandatory by 2020 and practically remove a commitment to restoring fish stocks to healthy levels by the same year. “With this proposal, overfishing will continue and, in a worst case scenario, [Baltic] cod will disappear. It is that serious,” Linnéa Engström, the vice-chair of the European parliament’s fisheries committee told the Guardian.
A mutiny by several EU states has forced the postponement of a vote in Brussels on relicensing a widely used weedkiller that the World Health Organisation has found is probably carcinogenic. Italy joined France, Sweden and the Netherlands in opposing a new 15-year licence for glyphosate at a meeting which had been expected to rubber stamp its reapproval on Tuesday. The European Commission may now bring forward a new proposal to cut the licence’s length, or create a list of “co-formulants” whose use can be limited or banned. These surfactants increase a plant’s uptake of glyphosate, and can be more dangerous than the herbicide alone. But the Netherlands is calling for the relicensing to be put on hold until after a separate evaluation of glyphosate’s toxicity next year.
Hunters in Malta will be permitted to shoot 5,000 turtle doves this spring despite the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently adding the migratory bird to the “red list” of species at risk of being wiped out. The Maltese government, the only EU member to allow recreational spring hunting, said it was taking “special measures” to minimise the impact of its shoot on the bird’s plummeting population, cutting the shooters’ allowance from 11,000 birds. But conservationists said continuing the spring hunt went against the best scientific advice and appealed for the EU to take action against Malta.
WELL DONE FRANCE: France have announced plans to completely ban the use of pesticides due to unusually high bee deaths worldwide, which French authorities claims pesticides are responsible for. Lawmakers have approved plans to ban some of the most popular pesticide products on the market, going above and beyond European Union requirements. The French outright ban on neonicotinoid pesticides was adopted by a narrow majority late on Thursday by France’s National Assembly as part of a draft bill on biodiversity that also contains an additional tax on palm oil. The senate still needs to approve the new law.