December 2021

1.  Record greenhouse gas concentrations on the rise
World Meteorological Organization, State of the Global Climate 2021: WMO Provisional report (2021).  bit.ly/3w3Aoa9

Atmospheric concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, continued to increase in 2020 and 2021. The growth rate of all three greenhouse gases in 2020 was above the average for the last decade despite a 5.6% drop in fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2020 due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global mean temperature in 2021 (January to September) is around 1.08 ±0.13 °C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average and the year is likely to be between the 5th and 7th warmest year on record. 2021 is cooler than recent years owing to La Niña conditions early in the year.

The rate of global sea level rise has increased since satellite altimeter measurements began in 1993, reaching 4.4 mm/yr between 2013 and 2021. Global mean sea level reached a new record high in 2021.

Ocean heat content reached new record highs in 2019 and then 2020, the latest year for which a comprehensive analysis is available. Ocean warming rates show a particularly strong increase in the past two decades.

Western Europe experienced some of its most severe flooding on record in mid-July. The worst-affected area was western Germany and eastern Belgium, where 100 to 150 mm fell over a wide area on 14-15 July over wet ground. The highest daily rainfall was 162.4 mm at Wipperfürth-Gardenau (Germany). Numerous rivers experienced extreme flooding, with several towns inundated, and there were also several landslides. 179 deaths were reported in Germany and 36 in Belgium, with economic losses in Germany exceeding US$20 billion.

See , also, Kevin O’Sullivan, “Record greenhouse gas concentrations pushing Earth into ‘uncharted territory’ – report,” The Irish Times (1 Nov 2021).  bit.ly/3nM9Nut
The past seven years are on track to be the seven warmest on record, according to the provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report.

Global sea level rise accelerated since 2013 to a new high in 2021, with continued ocean warming and ocean acidification.

It highlights impacts on food security, population displacement and crucial ecosystems that are undermining progress towards the UN sustainable development goals.

From the ocean depths to mountain tops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events, ecosystems and communities around the globe are being devastated

2.   Ireland’s Waste Water Challenges

Irish EPA, Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2020 (Nov 2021).  https://bit.ly/3wbteAP

Waste water must be treated to make it clean and safe before it is released back into our rivers, estuaries, lakes and coastal waters. While there has been progress recently, waste water treatment at many areas is still not as good as it needs to be. This is putting our environment and public health at risk. Based on current investment levels and Irish Water’s current rate of delivery of infrastructure it will take at least two decades to bring Ireland’s waste water infrastructure up to the necessary standards. Priority must be given to areas where improvements are most needed and will deliver the greatest benefits.

Some of the key achievements in 2020 include a reduction from 19 to 12 in the number of large towns failing to comply with European Union (EU) treatment standards. Irish Water also brought the discharge of raw sewage from Killala, County Mayo to an end by providing a new treatment plant to serve the village.

In this report the EPA identifies where waste water treatment must improve, as a priority, to protect our environment and public health from the harmful effects of waste water discharges. The priority areas range from Ireland’s largest treatment plant at Ringsend in Dublin to small towns and villages where waste water is adversely affecting the local environment. Irish Water is making progress in resolving environmental issues and the
number of priority areas has reduced by one-third over the past four years. However, there is still a long way to go to bring all deficient treatment systems up to standard.


3.  The gap in what needs to be done and what we’re planning for adaptation to climate breakdown

UNEP, UNEP DTU Partnership, World Adaptation Science Programme (WASP), UNEP Adaptation Gap Report

See, also, Rachel Ramirez, “The world is not adapting fast enough to the climate crisis, UN reports,” CNN (4 Nov 2021).   cnn.it/3GPMN6q

Estimated costs to adapt to the worst effects of warming temperatures such as droughts, floods and rising seas in low-income countries are five to 10 times higher than how much money is currently flowing into those regions.

There is a commitment to contribute $100 billion a year to poorer nations to move away from fossil fuel and adapt to climate change-fueled disasters.  But the report found that $100 billion a year — a pledge which wealthy nations have so far been unable to achieve — isn’t even enough to match the demand. Adaptation costs for low-income countries will hit $140 to 300 billion each year by 2030 and $280 to 500 billion per year by 2050, UNEP reports.

In 2019, only $79 billion of climate financing flowed into developing nations, according to the latest analysis.

One way to tackle this, according to the report’s authors, is to use Covid-19 recovery stimulus packages as an opportunity to deliver green and resilient adaptation measures to developing countries. The twin crises of climate change and the pandemic have stretched economic and disaster response thin, but authors say it proves the world can adapt to the worst impacts of warming temperatures.


4. What are people willing to do to save the planet

Emmanuel Rivière, Director of International Polling and Political Advisory, “Sharing the responsibility for climate action: an individual and collective commitment,” Kantar Public (Sept-Oct 2021).  bit.ly/3BOtNS5
Multi-country research conducted by Kantar Public between 22 September and 1st October among 9,000 adults aged 18+ (1,000 respondents per country) in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, and New Zealand.

See, also, Jon Henly, “Few willing to change lifestyle to save the planet, climate survey finds,” The Guardian (7 Nov 2021). bit.ly/3EQ5pSb
Citizens are alarmed by the climate crisis, but most believe they are already doing more to preserve the planet than anyone else, including their government, and few are willing to make significant lifestyle changes, an international survey has found.

The survey found that 62% of people surveyed saw the climate crisis as the main environmental challenge the world was now facing, ahead of air pollution (39%), the impact of waste (38%) and new diseases (36%).

About 36% rated themselves “highly committed” to preserving the planet, while only 21% felt the same was true of the media and 19% of local government. A mere 18% felt their local community was equally committed, with national governments (17%) and big corporations (13%) seen as even less engaged.

Respondents were also lukewarm about doing more themselves, citing a wide range of reasons. Most (76%) of those surveyed across the 10 countries said they would accept stricter environmental rules and regulations, but almost half (46%) felt that there was no real need for them to change their personal habits.


5.  About half of the world’s fossil fuel assets will be worthless by 2036 under a net zero transition

J. F. Mercure, et al., “Reframing incentives for climate policy action,” Nature Energy (2021).  go.nature.com/3bQFHAA

See, also, Jonathan Watts et al., “Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition,” The Guardian (4 Nov 2021). bit.ly/3CTvezX

About half of the world’s fossil fuel assets will be worthless by 2036 under a net zero transition,  according to research.

Countries that are slow to decarbonise will suffer but early movers will profit; the study finds that renewables and freed-up investment will more than make up for the losses to the global economy.

It highlights the risk of producing far more oil and gas than required for future demand, which is estimated to leave $11tn-$14tn (£8.1tn-£10.3tn) in so-called stranded assets – infrastructure, property and investments where the value has fallen so steeply they must be written off.

The most vulnerable assets are those in remote regions or technically challenging environments. Most exposed are Canadian tar sands, US shale and the Russian Arctic followed by deep offshore wells in Brazil and elsewhere. North Sea oil is also relatively expensive to extract and likely to be hit when demand falls.


6.  New modelling shows that a shift to renewable energy will lead to cost-savings on a massive scale.

Rupert Way, Matthew C. Ives, Penny Mealy, and J. Doyne Farmer, Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition, University of Oxford (14 September 2021).  bit.ly/3nPjlpK

Rapidly decarbonising the global energy system is critical for addressing climate change, but concerns about costs have been a barrier to implementation. Most energy-economy models have historically underestimated deployment rates for renewable energy technologies and overestimated their cost. The problems with these models have stimulated calls for better approaches and recent efforts have made progress in this direction. Here we take a new approach based on probabilistic cost forecasting methods that made reliable predictions when they were empirically tested on more than 50 technologies. We use these methods to estimate future energy system costs and find that, compared to continuing with a fossil-fuel-based system, a rapid green energy transition will likely result in overall net savings of many trillions of dollars – even without accounting for climate damages or co-benefits of climate policy. We show that if solar photovoltaics, wind, batteries and hydrogen electrolyzers continue to follow their current exponentially increasing deployment trends for another decade, we achieve a near-net-zero emissions energy system within twenty-five years. In contrast, a slower transition (which involves deployment growth trends that are lower than current rates) is more expensive and a nuclear driven transition is far more expensive. If non-energy sources of carbon emissions such as agriculture are brought under control, our analysis indicates that a rapid green energy transition would likely generate considerable economic savings while also meeting the 1.5 degrees Paris Agreement target.

See also, Dan Gearino, “The Clean Energy Transition Enters Hyperdrive:  Researchers argue that the shift to carbon-free energy is gaining momentum, largely because of economic benefits, Inside Climate News (25 Nov 2021).  bit.ly/2ZmnAQe

After decades in which governments and industry groups have often assumed that the shift to renewable energy will be a financial burden, economists and analysts are increasingly making a case that the opposite is true: The transition will lead to cost-savings on a massive scale that will add to its momentum.

A recent paper by University of Oxford economists and mathematicians finds that a rapid transition to renewable energy would lead to global savings of $26 trillion compared to the costs of maintaining the current energy mix.

The paper’s authors sought to understand why so many high-profile forecasts have underestimated the pace of cost decreases for renewable energy, especially solar power. They found that most economic models do not adequately grasp the tendency of technologies to get much cheaper at times of rapid expansion and competition, and that models tend to be built in ways that are more likely to show gradual change.

7.    We are near an irreversible, tipping point in the amazon rainforests

Science Panel for the Amazon, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Amazon Assessment Report

See, also, Jonathan Watts, “Transform approach to Amazon or it will not survive, says major science report,” The Guardian (12 Nov 2021). bit.ly/3CQPvpj

The world’s approach to the Amazon rainforest must be transformed to avoid an irreversible, catastrophic tipping point, according to the most comprehensive study of the region ever carried out.

More than 200 scientists collaborated on the new report, which finds that more than a third of the world’s biggest tropical forest is degraded or deforested, rainfall is declining and dry seasons are growing longer.

What jumps out among the many hundreds of pages in the initial study is the extraordinary capacity of the Amazon to support life in and beyond the borders of the rainforest. It says new species in the region are being discovered every other day. The diversity of plants, insects and animals confers stability and resilience to local ecosystems, plays a critical role in global water cycles and regulates climate variability. The basin produces the largest river discharge on Earth, accounting for 16% to 22% of the world’s river input to the oceans.

The authors say tipping points may already have been passed in some areas, such as the south-east Amazon and on the border between northern Brazilian states Maranhão and Pará, where more than 70% of the rainforest has gone and once-abundant species are endangered.


8.  Funding for “loss and damage” — unavoidable, irreversible harms caused by climate breakdown

Markandya A., González-Eguino M. (2019), ”Integrated Assessment for Identifying Climate Finance Needs for Loss and Damage: A Critical Review,” In: Mechler R., Bouwer L., Schinko T., Surminski S., Linnerooth-Bayer J. (eds) Loss and Damage from Climate Change. Climate Risk Management, Policy and Governance. Springer, Cham. doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-72026-5_14

See, also, Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis, “Their crops won’t ripen and their springs run dry: Poor communities say they are paying for the wealthy world’s choices,” The Washington Post (8 Nov 2021).

Funding for “loss and damage” — unavoidable, irreversible harms caused by climate change — has long been a rallying cry of civil society groups and vulnerable nations at international climate talks. But as rising seas, devastating heat waves and shifting seasons claim more lives and livelihoods in parts of the world, the issue has become more of a sticking point than ever at the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland.


9.  The return of carbon dioxide emissions

Pierre Friedlingstein et al., Global Carbon Budget 2021, Earth System Science Data.  bit.ly/3re908Y

See, also, Nicholas Kusnetz, “New Report Expects Global Emissions of Carbon Dioxide to Rebound to Pre-Pandemic High This Year: Coal use is resurging, particularly in China and India, pushing emissions toward the all-time high, despite the Covid-driven drop in oil consumption,” Inside Climate News (3 Nov 2021).  bit.ly/314d7JU

As world leaders and diplomats wrap up the climate negotiations in Scotland in the coming days they will be confronted by new data showing that global carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise sharply this year, possibly tying the all-time high reached before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new data, compiled by the Global Carbon Project and published Wednesday in the journal Earth System Science Data, highlights the key factors that are driving global emissions, including China and India’s resurgent use of coal, and points to the big challenges nations face to curb warming.

10.  Current status of water stress in Europe

European Environment Agency (EEA), Water resources across Europe — confronting water stress: an updated assessment (2021).  bit.ly/3p7VHo0

Current status: water stress in Europe is significant.

• Water stress affects 20 % of the European territory and 30 % of the European population on average every year, while droughts cause economic damage of up to EUR 9 billion annually and additional unquantified damage to ecosystems and their services.

• Southern Europe faces severe water stress problems, which occur throughout the year in many river basins, with water consumed by agriculture, public water supply and tourism being the key pressure on water resource availability. The pressures from these economic sectors reach a significant seasonal peak in summer.

• In other parts of Europe, water stress is usually not a permanent issue, as it mainly occurs occasionally and in
specific hotspots, where the key pressures are water consumed by cooling processes in electricity and industrial
production, public water supply and mining.

• Water use efficiency has increased in agriculture, electricity production, industry, mining, public water supply and
tourism. Water consumption by these sectors was 16 % lower in 2017 (the last year for which EU-wide statistics are
available) than in 1995 (baseline), while production in these sectors grew by 20 % in terms of net value added.

• The 2000 EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) provides a suitable framework for acting on the policy options to
reverse water scarcity and drought, as set out in the Commission communication on water scarcity and drought, but their implementation has been slow. The 2021 EU strategy on climate change adaptation could provide a new impetus to achieve this goal.


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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