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World Can’t Afford to Build Any More Fossil Fuel by Burning Plants

The world can't afford to build any more fossil fuel burning plants if it hopes to avoid catastrophic climate change

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FILE - The coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation's top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Juliette, Georgia, June, 3, 2017. VOA

The world can’t afford to build any more fossil fuel burning plants if it hopes to avoid catastrophic climate change, according to a new study in the journal Nature.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the power plants, factories, furnaces and vehicles the world has already built will warm the planet into dangerous territory, past the target set in the Paris climate agreement, the researchers find.

Any new plants — and some older ones — will either have to close early, before they are paid off, or install costly carbon-capture gear, the researchers say.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels have already warmed the planet about 1 degree Celsius on average. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires and rainstorms have grown more intense, and sea levels are rising. Impacts will get worse as the planet warms, scientists say.

World, Fossil Fuels, Plants
FILE – A plume of smoke billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire, Jan. 20, 2015. VOA

In Paris, negotiators agreed to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees, and to aim for 1.5 degrees.

To meet that target, the world can produce at most another 580 gigatons of carbon dioxide, according to a U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate.

But the new study finds that existing fossil fuel infrastructure will produce more than that over its lifetime: about 658 gigatons total. (One gigaton equals a billion tons.)

Additional plants that are planned, permitted or under construction will add another 188 gigatons, putting the world about two-thirds of the way to 2 degrees.

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“If we want to stay under one and a half degrees, we’d need to stop building new stuff immediately and retire a fair amount of our already existing stuff before the end of its operating lifetime,” said study co-author Steve Davis, Earth science professor at the University of California, Irvine.

The study adds detail to an IPCC report last October, which said global emissions need to fall 45 percent by 2030 to keep below the 1.5 degree target.

There is some wiggle room in the estimates.

Another study earlier this year gave a 64 percent chance that the world would stay below 1.5 degrees of warming if all existing plants were phased out starting in 2018.

World, Fossil Fuels, Plants
A solar panel array collects sunlight, with the Fremont, Nebraska, May 31, 2018, with a power plant seen behind it. VOA

“The message is still consistent,” said lead author Chris Smith, a climate researcher at the University of Leeds. “Basically, we need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Both studies assume that no more fossil plants will be built. Davis calls that assumption “laughable.”

“Research like this makes it obvious that we can’t fight climate change and continue burning oil and gas at the same time,” said Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Janet Redman, “but the United States continues to expand drilling, fracking, and mining for fossil fuels.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the main U.S. oil and gas industry trade group, said in a statement that the industry “is already driving emissions to 25-year lows—more than any nation on earth—made possible by the growing use of clean natural gas for power. The U.S. and the world can continue that progress, meet record consumer energy demand, and protect the environment by investing in modern natural gas and oil infrastructure.”

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The new study is a follow-up to one Davis co-authored in 2010. It found that the world was on track for 1.3 degrees of warming, and “sources of the most threatening emissions have yet to be built.”

That was before China went on a coal-plant building binge.

Today, the study finds, nearly half of the world’s industrial and electricity generation emissions come from China.

As the cost of wind and solar energy plummet, however, “we have an opportunity to retire some of these things early, and it might not even be that far-fetched,” Davis said. “That’s the piece that is a little more hopeful.”

With the cost of renewables declining and health care costs from fossil fuel air pollution mounting, “Many governments have recognized that the economics of coal power…make new coal power economically and socially unfavorable,” said the World Resources Institute’s Kelly Levin.

Nearly 31 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity was taken out of service worldwide in 2018, compared with about 2 gigawatts in 2006, according to Global Energy Monitor.

But early retirements will be expensive and hard to swallow, Davis acknowledged, even for those with good intentions.

Davis is working with the University of California’s 10-campus system to meet its goal to be carbon neutral by 2025. The schools recognize that one of the biggest challenges will be replacing the seven on-campus natural gas combined heat and power plants.

“I’ve had conversations with the administrators where they say, ‘Well, let’s go ahead and make a plan for when this thing is fully paid for,” he said.

“This is exactly what our paper gets at is, we can’t just wait for the end of these things’ lifetime to make a decision. We actually need to hasten that.” (VOA)

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Study Says, World’s Oceans Were Warmest in 2019

Humans can work to reverse their effect on the climate, but the ocean will take longer to respond than atmospheric and land environments

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The researchers used a relatively new method of analysis to account for potentially sparse data and time discrepancies in instruments that were previously used to measure warmth in oceans, especially from the ocean surface to 2,000 metres deep. Pixabay

The world’s oceans were the warmest in 2019 than any other time in the recorded human history — especially between the surface and a depth of 2,000 metres, an international team of 14 scientists from 11 institutes has revealed, with a warning that global ocean temperature is not only increasing but speeding up.

The past 10 years were the warmest on record for global ocean temperatures, with the past five years holding the highest record, said the authors in the study published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences — with a call to action for humans to reverse climate change.

2019 broke the previous records set in prior years for global warming, and the effects are already appearing in the form of more extreme weather, rising sea levels and harm to ocean animals.

According to the study, the 2019 ocean temperature is about 0.075 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average. To reach this temperature, the ocean would have taken in 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (228 Sextillion) Joules of heat.

“That’s a lot of zeros indeed. To make it easier to understand, I did a calculation. The Hiroshima atom-bomb exploded with an energy of about 63,000,000,000,000 Joules. The amount of heat we have put in the world’s oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions,” elaborated Lijing Cheng, lead paper author at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

“This measured ocean warming is irrefutable and is further proof of global warming. There are no reasonable alternatives aside from the human emissions of heat trapping gases to explain this heating,” Cheng added.

The researchers used a relatively new method of analysis to account for potentially sparse data and time discrepancies in instruments that were previously used to measure ocean warmth, especially from the ocean surface to 2,000 metres deep.

The newly available data allowed the researchers to examine warmth trends dating back to the 1950s.

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The world’s oceans were the warmest in 2019 than any other time in the recorded human history — especially between the surface and a depth of 2,000 metres, an international team of 14 scientists from 11 institutes has revealed, with a warning that global ocean temperature is not only increasing but speeding up. Pixabay

They found that over the past six decades, the more recent warming was over 450 per cent that of the earlier warming, reflecting a major increase in the rate of global climate change.

“It is critical to understand how fast things are changing,” said John Abraham, co-author and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas in the US.

“The key to answering this question is in the oceans — that’s where the vast majority of heat ends up. If you want to understand global warming, you have to measure ocean warming.”

Humans can work to reverse their effect on the climate, but the ocean will take longer to respond than atmospheric and land environments.

Since 1970, more than 90 per cent of global warming heat went into the ocean, while less than 4 per cent of the heat warmed the atmosphere and land where humans live.

“Even with that small fraction affecting the atmosphere and land, the global heating has led to an increase in catastrophic fires in the Amazon, California and Australia in 2019, and we’re seeing that continue into 2020,” Cheng said.

The global ocean warming has caused marine heat waves in Tasman Sea and other regions.

One such marine heat wave in the North Pacific, dubbed “the blob,” was first detected in 2013 and continued through 2015.

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2019 broke the previous records set in prior years for global warming, and the effects are already appearing in the form of more extreme weather, rising sea levels and harm to animals in Oceans. Pixabay

Kevin Trenberth, co-author and distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US, said that a hot spot in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017 spawned Hurricane Harvey, which led to 82 deaths and caused about $108 billion in damages.

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“The price we pay is the reduction of ocean-dissolved oxygen, the harmed marine lives, strengthening storms and reduced fisheries and ocean-related economies,” Cheng said. (IANS)