The amount of carbon dioxide that we can still emit while limiting global warming to a given target is called the “remaining carbon budget,” and it has become a powerful tool to inform climate policy goals and track progress towards net-zero emissions targets.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the global environment knows all is not well. But just how bad is the situation? Our new paper shows the outlook for life on Earth is more dire than is generally understood.
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas. Scandinavia was still mostly covered in ice, and across Europe the mountains had many more, and larger, glaciers than today.
The catastrophic fires in Australia in early 2020 were actually a holdover from 2019, but they were soon followed by flooding in Indonesia, a super-cyclone hitting the coast of India and Bangladesh and then more flooding, this time in Kenya and wide swaths of Central and West Africa.
The bleak history of whaling pushed many species to the brink of extinction, even in the remote waters of the north and south poles. Over 1.3 million whales were killed in just 70 years around Antarctica alone.
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a beach at low tide with gentle waves beyond. And yet there are no tides.
The year 2020 will no doubt go down in history for other reasons, but it is also on target to be one of the warmest on record. And as the climate warms, natural hazards will happen more frequently – and be ever more lethal.
As global temperatures rise, snowy winters could become a thing of the past in much of the UK, according to a recent Met Office analysis.
The year 2020 will be remembered for many reasons, including its record-breaking wildfires that turned San Francisco’s skies an apocalyptic shade of red and blanketed large parts of the West in smoke for weeks on end.
Producers and retailers of everything from toilet paper to homes want you to believe that their product is “green”. More are “greenwashing” their products. Greenwashing is the misleading claims of environmental benefits...
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of 450℃ (the temperature of an oven’s self-cleaning cycle) and an atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide (96 per cent) with a density 90 times that of Earth’s.
Creative destruction “is the essential fact about capitalism”, wrote the great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942.
Global emissions are expected to decline by about 7% in 2020 (or 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide) compared to 2019 — an unprecedented drop due to the slowdown in economic activity associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Salt storms are an emerging threat for millions of people in north-western Iran, thanks to the catastrophe of Lake Urmia.
Climate change is now climate crisis and a climate sceptic now a climate denier, according to the recently updated style guide of The Guardian news organisation.
The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Was A Record-Breaker, and It's Raising More Concerns About Climate Change
We’re looking back at a trail of broken records, and the storms may still not be over even though the season officially ended on Nov. 30.
Temperature and day length were traditionally accepted as the main determinants of when leaves changed colour and fell, leading some scientists to assume that warming temperatures would delay this process until later in the season.
Every winter, the ice that forms on lakes, rivers and oceans, supports communities and culture. It provides transportation across winter roads, hunting and fishing, and recreational activities, such as lake ice festivals, skating, hockey and ice fishing.
The first climate models were built on fundamental laws of physics and chemistry and designed to study the climate system.
With global travel curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding comfort in planning future trips.
Greenland is the largest island in the world and on it rests the largest ice mass in the Northern Hemisphere. If all that ice melted, the sea would rise by more than 7 metres.
The Arctic Circle became unbelievably hot on June 20, 2020. In the Russian community of Verkhoyansk, temperatures topped 38C (over 100F), marking what may be the highest air temperature ever recorded within the Arctic.
The gold standard of research in science is the randomised controlled trial. The COVID-19 restrictions may at times seem random and most certainly feel like a trial. But are they controlled enough to learn from?
Australia doesn’t currently export renewable energy. But an ambitious new solar project is poised to change that. The proposed Sun Cable project envisions a ten gigawatt capacity solar farm...
With a recession looming, it’s time to come up with a good recovery plan. There is no point in simply reinventing an outdated economic model, and recent research by economists and health experts has underlined how instead a “green recovery” could benefit not just the climate but also human health and prosperity.
Australia doesn’t yet export renewable energy. But the writing is on the wall: demand for Australia’s fossil fuel exports is likely to dwindle soon, and we must replace it at massive scale.
High fire risk days have been common this year as the 2020 wildfire season shatters records across the West.
The idea of a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is gaining traction around the world. The UK recently pledged to invest £350 million to cut emissions from heavy industry.
The onus to live sustainably has never been greater. It drives everyday actions from making sure we recycle our rubbish to carrying reusable cups and bottles with us wherever we go.
Restoring California's Forests To Reduce Wildfire Risks Will Take Time, Billions of Dollars and Broad Commitment
As California contends with its worst wildfire season in history, it’s more evident than ever that land management practices in the state’s forested mountains need major changes.
Social Distancing Is Making Public Transport Worse For The Environment Than Cars – Here's How To Fix It
During lockdown, travel restrictions caused car and public transport use to plummet across the UK. On April 12 2020, the number of daily trips by car fell to 22%, compared to a typical day the year before. Public transport use dropped too.
Why has Earth’s climate remained so stable over geological time? The answer just might rock you.
Even before the pandemic, the proportion of people working from home was slowly but steadily increasing. But COVID-19 has put the practice into hyper-drive.
Greenland is the largest island on Earth, and about 80% of it is covered by a giant sheet of ice. Slowly flowing glaciers connect this massive frozen reservoir of fresh water to the ocean, but because of climate change, these glaciers are rapidly retreating.
If the world is to transition to a climate-compatible future, much will turn on new innovations in clean energy and whether they can be deployed at a large scale.
For years, scientists have been stressing the need to act quickly and effectively on climate change. And as part of my work as a media psychology academic, I’ve seen the way media outlets along with readers have discussed climate change over the past decade.
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44 million square miles (3.74 million square kilometers) – the second-lowest value in the 42 years since satellites began taking measurements.
For the last few decades, the consensus among leading economists has been that putting a price on carbon is the most efficient way to reduce emissions.
All over the world, architects and engineers are crafting cutting-edge skyscrapers from one of the most renewable and sustainable materials available to humanity — wood.
Forests are thought to be crucial in the fight against climate change – and with good reason. We’ve known for a long time that the extra CO₂ humans are putting in the atmosphere makes ...
I am wondering about the climate impact of vegan meat versus beef. How does a highly processed patty compare to butchered beef? How does agriculture of soy (if this is the ingredient) compare to grazing of beef?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says negative emissions technologies will be needed to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 2℃. In other words, just cutting emissions is not enough – we must also take existing greenhouse gases from the air.
What is the impact of temperature increases in the tropics? How likely is it that regions along the Equator will be uninhabitable due to high wet bulb temperatures such as 35℃ and more in places like Singapore? Do we have models that suggest how likely this is and at what time frames?
Summer and fall are wildfire season across the western U.S. In recent years, wildfires have destroyed thousands of homes, forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate and exposed tens of millions to harmful smoke.
As Hurricane Sally headed for the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, forecasters warned of a potentially life-threatening storm surge, with water levels that could rise as high as 7 feet in some areas.
What is driving the wildfires that are ravaging California, Oregon and Washington? President Trump and state officials have offered sharply different views.
Methane is a shorter-lived greenhouse gas - why do we average it out over 100 years? By doing so, do we risk emitting so much in the upcoming decades that we reach climate tipping points?
It was a grim record. On June 20 2020, the mercury reached 38°C in Verkhoyansk, Siberia – the hottest it’s ever been in the Arctic in recorded history.
Our approach to climate change for the past 30 years is simply not working. Greenhouse gas emissions in Canada in the year 2018 (the last year for which we have statistics) were almost exactly where they were in the year 2000.
As the world warms and the atmosphere becomes increasingly fertilised with carbon dioxide, trees are growing ever faster.
Seven millennia since its invention, leather remains one of the most durable and versatile natural materials. However, some consumers question the ethical ramifications and environmental sustainability of wearing products sourced from animals.
Extreme weather and climate events causing extensive damage are a fact of the Canadian climate, and this year is no exception.
Ice cores are columns of ice drilled through glaciers that are highly versatile and detailed recorders of Earth’s climate and environment that cover hundreds to many thousands of years.
Anyone who’s tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and “outplanting,” or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.
Are we headed for a period with lower Solar activity, i.e. sunspots? How long will it last? What happens to our world when global warming and the end of this period converge?
The demand for cheaper, greener electricity means that the energy landscape is changing faster than at any other point in history.
How often do you strike up a conversation with an older relative about the past? You might switch off when someone begins a sentence with “back in my day…”,
Thirty years ago, in a small Swedish city called Sundsvall, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its first major report.
Hurricane Laura blew up quickly as it headed for the Louisiana coast, intensifying from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in less than 24 hours.
Thunderstorms are common across North America, especially in warm weather months. About 10% of them become severe, meaning they produce hail 1 inch or greater in diameter, winds gusting in excess of 50 knots (57.5 miles per hour), or a tornado.
We Pieced Together The Most Precise Records Of Major Climate Events From Thousands Of Years Ago. Here’s What We Found
Massive ice-sheets covered northern Europe and northern Asia, and about half of North America, and global sea-levels were as much as 130 meters lower than today.
As the global population has doubled to 7.8 billion in about 50 years, industrial agriculture has increased the output from fields and farms to feed humanity.
Peatlands cover just a few percent of the global land area but they store almost one-quarter of all soil carbon and so play a crucial role in regulating the climate.
In new research, we have identified what we call 12 “discourses of delay”. These are ways of speaking and writing about climate change that are commonly used by politicians, media commentators and industry spokespeople.
Humanity is not doomed, not now or even in a worst-case scenario in 2030. But avoiding doom — either the end or widespread collapse of civilisation — is setting a pretty low bar. We can aim much higher than that without shying away from reality.
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames dancing at the tops of vertical pipes.
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains uncertain.
Since 2010, wind energy has seen sustained growth worldwide, with the amount of energy generated by offshore wind increasing by nearly 30% each year.
I would like to know how much difference we could make to our commitment under the Paris Agreement and our total greenhouse gas emissions if we removed all cows and sheep from the country and grew plants in their place
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
Private sector banks in the UK should have a central role in financing climate action and supporting a just transition to a low carbon economy.
Demand for fossil fuels collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdown measures were introduced. In the second quarter of 2020,
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around four million years ago during a geological period known as the Pliocene Era (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago).
Jules Verne sent his fictional submarine, the Nautilus, to the South Pole through a hidden ocean beneath a thick ice cap.
The Arctic heat wave that sent Siberian temperatures soaring to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the first day of summer put an exclamation point on an astonishing transformation of the Arctic environment that’s been underway for about 30 years.
Heat may kill more people in the US than previously reported, according to a new study.
There is a lot of discussion on the benefits of electric cars versus fossil fuel cars in the context of lithium mining. Please can you tell me which one weighs in better on the environmental impact in terms of global warming and why?
Every car has an optimal speed range that results in minimum fuel consumption, but this range differs between vehicle types, design and age.
For airlines, the reckoning is no longer far away on the horizon. It’s now a jumbo jet meters from the runway, landing gear down.
The Australian government’s investment roadmap for low-emissions technologies promises more taxpayers’ money to the gas industry but fails to deliver the policy needed for people to support a transition to renewable energy.
If I were to buy an electric vehicle it would add to the load on the national grid. Is the only way we are currently able to add the extra power to burn more coal?
Ice shelves, massive floating bodies of ice, are well-known for their buffering effect on land-based ice sheets as they slow their flow towards the sea.
Green growth has emerged as the dominant narrative for tackling contemporary environmental problems.
The tornadoes that swept across the Southeast this spring were a warning to communities nationwide:
Summer temperatures in Chicago normally peak in the low 80s, but in mid-July 1995 they topped 100 F with excessive humidity for three days straight.
COVID-19 has radically changed our travel habits in just a matter of weeks. Walking and cycling are up, as people enjoy their daily exercise or take essential journeys they might otherwise have made by public transport.
When the southern Great Plains of the US were blighted with a series of droughts in the 1930s, it had an unparalled impact on the whole country.
The numbers of people cycling and walking in public spaces during COVID-19 has skyrocketed.
The explosive growth and success of human society over the past 10,000 years has been underpinned by a distinct range of climate conditions.
Climate scientists use mathematical models to project the Earth’s future under a warming world, but a group of the latest models have included unexpectedly high values for a measure called “climate sensitivity”.
Earth had several periods of high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and high temperatures over the last several million years.
Humans are amazing creatures, in that they have show they can live in almost any climate.
Changes in ocean circulation may have caused a shift in Atlantic Ocean ecosystems not seen for the past 10,000 years, new analysis of deep-sea fossils has revealed.
Agriculture has long been framed in the global climate action discussion as a sector whose activities conflict with meeting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets.
Politicians and business people are fond of making promises to plant thousands of trees to slow climate change. But who actually plants those trees, and who tends them as they grow?
The Australian summer just gone will be remembered as the moment when human-caused climate change struck hard. First came drought, then deadly bushfires, and now a bout of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef – the third in just five years. Tragically, the 2020 bleaching is severe and the most widespread we have ever recorded.
Coral bleaching at regional scales is caused by spikes in sea temperatures during unusually hot summers. The first recorded mass bleaching event along Great Barrier Reef occurred in 1998, then the hottest year on record.
Since then we’ve seen four more mass bleaching events – and more temperature records broken – in 2002, 2016, 2017, and again in 2020.
This year, February had the highest monthly sea surface temperatures ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef since the Bureau of Meteorology’s records began in 1900.
Not a pretty picture
We surveyed 1,036 reefs from the air during the last two weeks in March, to measure the extent and severity of coral bleaching throughout the Great Barrier Reef region. Two observers, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, scored each reef visually, repeating the same procedures developed during early bleaching events.
The accuracy of the aerial scores is verified by underwater surveys on reefs that are lightly and heavily bleached. While underwater, we also measure how bleaching changes between shallow and deeper reefs.
Of the reefs we surveyed from the air, 39.8% had little or no bleaching (the green reefs in the map). However, 25.1% of reefs were severely affected (red reefs) – that is, on each reef more than 60% of corals were bleached. A further 35% had more modest levels of bleaching.
Bleaching isn’t necessarily fatal for coral, and it affects some species more than others. A pale or lightly bleached coral typically regains its colour within a few weeks or months and survives.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
But when bleaching is severe, many corals die. In 2016, half of the shallow water corals died on the northern region of the Great Barrier Reef between March and November. Later this year, we’ll go underwater to assess the losses of corals during this most recent event.
Compared to the four previous bleaching events, there are fewer unbleached or lightly bleached reefs in 2020 than in 1998, 2002 and 2017, but more than in 2016. Similarly, the proportion of severely bleached reefs in 2020 is exceeded only by 2016. By both of these metrics, 2020 is the second-worst mass bleaching event of the five experienced by the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.
The unbleached and lightly bleached (green) reefs in 2020 are predominantly offshore, mostly close to the edge of the continental shelf in the northern and southern Great Barrier Reef. However, offshore reefs in the central region were severely bleached again. Coastal reefs are also badly bleached at almost all locations, stretching from the Torres Strait in the north to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
For the first time, severe bleaching has struck all three regions of the Great Barrier Reef – the northern, central and now large parts of the southern sectors. The north was the worst affected region in 2016, followed by the centre in 2017.
In 2020, the cumulative footprint of bleaching has expanded further, to include the south. The distinctive footprint of each bleaching event closely matches the location of hotter and cooler conditions in different years.
Of the five mass bleaching events we’ve seen so far, only 1998 and 2016 occurred during an El Niño – a weather pattern that spurs warmer air temperatures in Australia.
But as summers grow hotter under climate change, we no longer need an El Niño to trigger mass bleaching at the scale of the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve already seen the first example of back-to-back bleaching, in the consecutive summers of 2016 and 2017. The gap between recurrent bleaching events is shrinking, hindering a full recovery.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
After five bleaching events, the number of reefs that have escaped severe bleaching continues to dwindle. Those reefs are located offshore, in the far north and in remote parts of the south.
The Great Barrier Reef will continue to lose corals from heat stress, until global emissions of greenhouse gasses are reduced to net zero, and sea temperatures stabilise. Without urgent action to achieve this outcome, it’s clear our coral reefs will not survive business-as-usual emissions.
About The Author
Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University and Morgan Pratchett, Professor, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
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Humanity has only recently become accustomed to a stable climate. For most of its history, long ice ages punctuated with hot spells alternated with short warm periods.