June 2022

1.  Ocean Mass Extinction: can it be avoided, or not

Justin Penn and Curtis Deutsch, “Avoiding ocean mass extinction from climate warming,” Science (28 April 2022).  bit.ly/3y1N9oL


“Global warming threatens marine biota with losses of unknown severity. Here, we quantify global and local extinction risks in the ocean across a range of climate futures on the basis of the ecophysiological limits of diverse animal species and calibration against the fossil record. With accelerating greenhouse gas emissions, species losses from warming and oxygen depletion alone become comparable to current direct human impacts within a century and culminate in a mass extinction rivaling those in Earth’s past. Polar species are at highest risk of extinction, but local biological richness declines more in the tropics. Reversing greenhouse gas emissions trends would diminish extinction risks by more than 70%, preserving marine biodiversity accumulated over the past ~50 million years of evolutionary history.”

See also: Catrin Einhorn, “Study Warns of a Mass Extinction at Sea if Emissions Aren’t Cut,” The New York Times (30 April 2022). nyti.ms/3Lyzrxy


2.  Collection of recent research papers on horrific outcomes of biodiversity loss and mass extinction

Kristoffer Tigue, “ ‘Apocalypse Papers’: Scientists Call for Paradigm Shift as Biodiversity Loss Worsens,”  inside climate news (29 April 2022).  bit.ly/3vVM7rv

“In the last two weeks alone, a slew of research papers predicting horrific outcomes of biodiversity loss and mass extinction were published in major journals at an alarming pace, underscoring warnings from the scientific community that the consequences of global warming are becoming more intense and accelerating far faster than previously understood.”

See the article for a synopsis of a number of these studies.

3Benzene Pollution at Petroleum Refinery Fencelines in US

Environmental Integrity Project, Benzene Pollution at Petroleum Refinery Fencelines: Refinery Benzene Data: January 2018 – December 2021 (May 12, 2022).   bit.ly/3Linw61

See also, Aliya Uteuova, “US oil refineries spewing cancer-causing benzene into communities, report finds,” The Guardian (14 May 2022).  bit.ly/3sATT9s

“Analysis shows alarming level of benzene at fence-line of facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Indiana and US Virgin Islands…  A dozen US oil refineries last year exceeded the federal limit on average benzene emissions.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 6.1 million people in the US live within three miles of a refinery, with low-income people and people of color represented at rates nearly twice that of the general population.

Out of 129 operable oil refineries in 2021, 118 reported benzene concentration registered at or near the site, otherwise known as the fence-line.

Nearly half of these refineries released benzene levels above 3 micrograms per cubic meter, which the Environmental Integrity Project defines as a long-term potential health threat.”


4.  New UK environmental watchdog warns that government not doing enough to prevent tipping points

UK Office for Environmental Protection, Taking stock: protecting, restoring and improving the environment in England (12 May 2022).  bit.ly/39nYLZ0

See also, Damian Carrington, “Environment tipping points fast approaching in UK, says watchdog,” The Guardian (12 May 2022).  bit.ly/3wx5Q0X

“Potential tipping points – where gradual decline suddenly becomes catastrophic – include loss of wildlife, fisheries collapse and dead, polluted rivers, the watchdog said. The OEP is a new official body set up after Brexit to hold the government to account. Its first report, published on Thursday, says ministers have shown ambition but that action is too slow.”

“The government launched a 25-year environment plan in 2018, but the OEP says persistent and worrying declines continue and minister must take the opportunities provided by the new Environment Act to implement urgent and coherent measures.

The first 25-year environment plan was an ambitious attempt to confront the challenges facing the environment, but progress towards delivering that ambition has been too slow. “We continue to see worrying and persistent trends of environmental decline. But with the Environment Act, the government has a precious opportunity.”


5.  Critical to stop existing developed fossil fuel extraction as well as cease licensing and developing new facilities

Existing fossil fuel extraction would warm the world beyond 1.5 °C , Kelly Trout et al 2022 Environ. Res. Lett. 17 064010

“Going beyond recent warnings by the International Energy Agency, our results suggest that staying below 1.5 °C may require governments and companies not only to cease licensing and development of new fields and mines, but also to prematurely decommission a significant portion of those already developed.”

See also Damien Carrington, “Shut down fossil fuel production sites early to avoid climate chaos, says study,” The Guardian (17 May 2022).  bit.ly/39wOwBH

The researchers calculated that 40% of developed fossil fuels must stay in the ground to have a 50-50 chance of global temperature rise stopping at 1.5C. Half the emissions would come from coal, a third from oil and a fifth from gas. The researchers found that almost 90% of developed reserves are located in just 20 countries, led by China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US, followed by Iran, India, Indonesia, Australia and Canada.

6.  Water shortages on the rise

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), DROUGHT IN NUMBERS 2022 – restoration for readiness and resilience.  bit.ly/3FQBRW4

See also, Caroline O’Doherty, “World’s water shortages up almost a third in 20 years,” Irish Independent (12 May 2022). bit.ly/3whFAZH

“The number and length of extreme water shortages worldwide have risen by almost a third in just 20 years, a new drought study has shown.

It says more than 2.3 billion people are facing water stress this year, and in just eight years’ time an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of having to leave their home regions to find water.

By 2050, droughts may affect more than three-quarters of the world’s population, and up to 5.7 billion people will live in areas severely affected for at least one month each year.

The impacts are already worldwide, with 12 million hectares of land lost to drought and desertification each year.”


7.  “Climate change is a real game changer when it comes to heat waves.”

Mariam Zachariah, et al., Climate Change made devastating early heat in India and Pakistan 30 times more likely,” World Weather Attribution (23 May 2022).  bit.ly/3z6CCcm

The 2022 heatwave is estimated to have led to at least 90 deaths across India and Pakistan, and to have triggered an extreme Glacial Lake Outburst Flood in northern Pakistan and forest fires in India. The heat reduced India’s wheat crop yields, causing the government to reverse an earlier plan to supplement the global wheat supply that has been impacted by the war in Ukraine. In India, a shortage of coal led to power outages that limited access to cooling, compounding health impacts and forcing millions of people to use coping mechanisms such as limiting activity to the early morning and evening.

To increase the data available and determine the role of climate change in the observed changes we combine observations with 20 climate models and we conclude that human-caused climate change made this heatwave hotter and more likely.  Because of climate change, the probability of an event such as that in 2022 has increased by a factor of about 30.

See also Henry Fountain, “Warming Of Planet Is Fueling Heat Waves,” The New York Times (24 May 2022).  nyti.ms/3GB2yPa


8.  Stranded fossil-fuel assets can cost individual and pension funds substantial loses

Gregor Semieniuk, et. al, “Stranded fossil-fuel assets translate to major losses for investors in advanced economies,” Nature Climate Change (26 May 2022).  go.nature.com/3lT5UU3

See also, Damian Carrington “People in US and UK face huge financial hit if fossil fuels lose value, study shows,” The Guardian (26 May 2022). bit.ly/3M1O9MJ

Strong climate action could wipe $756bn from individuals’ pension funds and other investments in rich countries.

The researchers estimated that existing oil and gas projects worth $1.4tn (£1.1tn) would lose their value if the world moved decisively to cut carbon emissions and limit global heating to 2C. By tracking many thousands of projects through 1.8m companies to their ultimate owners, the team found most of the losses would be borne by individual people through their pensions, investment funds and share holdings.

The analysis also found that financial institutions have $681bn of these potentially worthless assets on their balance sheets, more than the estimated $250-500bn of mispriced sub-prime housing assets that triggered the 2007-08 financial crisis.

9.  Sewage and livestock and unsafe bathing rivers

Oxford Rivers Project, Sewage pollution makes popular Oxford bathing site unsafe after rainfall, study findsbit.ly/3NGEiNJ

See also, Sandra Laville, “Only one bathing river spot around Oxford has bacteria within safe levels, study finds,” The Guardian (25 May 2022).  bit.ly/3POfTrv

“Only one popular river spot for bathing and water sports in and around Oxford has bacteria within safe levels, a survey by a campaign group has found.

The other seven locations in rivers which are regularly used by swimmers, punters, rowers and kayakers, were found to have concentrations of harmful bacteria one and a half to three times above recommended safe levels, a study by the Oxford Rivers Project funded by Thames Water has found.

The study concluded that at most of these locations the pollution was from sewage, although some locations were also affected by livestock.”

10.  Cutting methane to avoid worst climate crises

Gabrielle B. Dreyfus, et al., “Mitigating climate disruption in time: A self-consistent approach for avoiding both near-term and long-term global warming,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  bit.ly/3tqXo2X

See also, Fiona Harvey, “Sharp cut in methane now could help avoid worst of climate crisis,” The Guardian (23 May 2022).  bit.ly/3t5LE5z

“CO2 is the greenhouse gas most responsible for heating the planet, with most of it coming from the burning of fossil fuels … However, other greenhouse gases also have a sizeable warming effect, and if we ignore them we will fail to keep temperatures within globally accepted limits…”

“The study found that cuts to CO2 alone could not achieve the reductions needed to stay within 1.5C of pre-industrial temperatures.

But cutting methane and other “short-lived climate pollutants” (SLCPs) such as soot would reduce the global heating effect in the near term, thus giving the world “a fighting chance” of staving off climate catastrophe, the scientists said. Methane warming effect is as much as 80 times that of C02, although it quickly degrades in the atmosphere.”


EDITORS NOTE (August 2021) re revision to Reports section

In August 2021, we revised the Reports section of the magazine.   In the past we used the Reports section to provide digests of generally long, complex and usually technical discussions of environmental issues or developments.  The authors of these reports were typically environmental agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), or academics.  The intent was to make these reports more accessible to a wide, general audience so readers could get a sense of what the reports covered and what they concluded. Readers then could connect to the link for the reports and delve further into the details and findings.

Over the past dozen years publications of technical reports have included executive summaries, often written in simpler language than the reports themselves.  At the same time there has been a rapid growth in environmental studies across the globe and just finding relevant or interesting reports through the internet is a challenge.

So we have converted the Reports section to a list of ten of the most interesting, long form examples of writing on key environmental issues and developments.  We will include the information necessary to find the writing — authors, title and link to publication — and we will add a short subheading to provide more clues about what is covered in the writing, much like a subheading expands on the headline for a newspaper article.  We interpret the term “reports” liberally to include almost any format that provides us with data, information, and opinion on environmental matters.  For instance, in the first of these new reports, we included a website, The Geography of Future Water Challenges, derived from a written report by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency with the same name and found at bit.ly/3fgSK0n

On one level this list of reports will do for long-form writing what our News section does for newspaper articles.

With the explosion of information across the internet, just finding what’s out there can be difficult.  We hope this new version of the Reports is helpful.

As with the other material in the irish environment magazine, the focus is on environmental matters on the island of Ireland, and that necessarily requires coverage of developments in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.  We will also continue to include material from across the globe as developments everywhere can inform developments anywhere.


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