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National greenhouse gas reporting needs an overhaul – it's time to directly measure the atmosphere

How much greenhouse gas is emitted by any individual country? With global emissions of carbon dioxide hitting a record of 36.8 billion tonnes this year, and delegates gathering in Madrid for the latest UN climate talks, it’s a pressing question.

One might assume that we know precisely how much is emitted by any given country, and that such figures are rigorously cross-checked and scrutinised. And in some respects, this is true – countries are required to report their emissions to the UN, based on exhaustive guidelines and with reams of supporting data.

Yet these reports are based on what are known as inventory (or “bottom-up”) methods. To simplify, this means that governments figure out how much greenhouse gas is emitted by a typical car, cow, or coal plant, and then add up all the cows, cars and so on to get an overall emissions figure.


While this method is essential to understand the make-up of a country’s emissions, it is ultimately reliant on accurate and comprehensive informati…

Are we all invested in climate crisis? USS, Shell and us

This week, academic and some professional services staff at the University of Bristol will be on strike. The industrial action relates, amongst other demands, to the terms of our pension benefits and contributions. Bristol is the first UK University to declare a climate emergency and the School of Education has developed its own Climate Strategy. Yet, our pension fund, USS, holds substantial shares in the fossil fuel industry. Let us use the time on the picket lines to build a climate Ethics for USS campaign.

USS investments in fossil fuels According to the USS 2019 annual report, 40.9% of the Pension fund’s £64.7 billion assets, what is known as its implemented portfolio, is invested in private equities (i.e. shares in private companies). Its website lists the top 100 equity investments (as of 31 March). Number one on the list is Royal Dutch Shell plc with equities valued at £538 million. Shell is the sixth largest extractor of fossil fuels in the world by volume. In total, I recogn…

The East Asian monsoon is many millions of years older than we thought

The East Asian monsoon covers much of the largest continent on Earth leading to rain in the summer in Japan, the Koreas and lots of China. Ultimately, more than 1.5 billion people depend on the water it provides for agriculture, industry and hydroelectric power.

Understanding the monsoon is essential. That is why colleagues and I recently reconstructed its behaviour throughout its 145m-year history, in order to better understand how it acts in response to changes in geography or the wider climate in the very long term, and what that might mean for the future.

Our study, published in the journal Science Advances indicates that the East Asian monsoon is much older and more varied than previously thought. Until quite recently the general consensus was that the monsoon came into being around 23m years ago, some time after the Tibetan Plateau was formed.

However, we show that it has been ever present for at least the past 145m years (except during the Late Cretaceous: the era of T. Rex),…

An insight into aviation emissions and their impact on the atmosphere

The proliferation of aviation has brought about huge benefits to our society, enhancing global economic prosperity and allowing humanity to travel faster, further and more frequently than ever before. However, the relentless expansion of the industry is a major detriment to the environment on a local, regional and global level. This is due to the vast amounts of pollution produced from the jet fuel combustion process, that is required to propel aircraft through the air and to sustain steady level flight.

Aircraft impact the climate largely through the release of CO2, which results in a direct contribution to the greenhouse effect, absorbing terrestrial radiation and trapping heat within the atmosphere, leading to rising temperatures. However, it is also vital not to overlook the non-CO2 aircraft emissions such as NOx, soot and water vapour, which result in alternative climate change mechanisms – the indirect greenhouse effect, the direct aerosol effect and aviation induced cloudiness…

To fly or not to fly? Towards a University of Bristol approach

We've published a short video on air travel at the University of Bristol. 



Here is a blog to accompany the video to give you more detail on the biggest issues that the university (and other similar organisations who rely on air travel) are facing as it works towards making itself carbon neutral by 2030. Caboteer Eleni Michalopoulou, who features in the video, explains more...

The effects of climate change now have almost a daily mention in the news as they become all the more frequent and evident by various studies, reports, blogs and pictures from all over the world. And as the climate crisis escalates, it was of course a matter of time before scientists pointed out the irony of flying to a conference in order to discuss the urgency and issues related to climate change. Of course, there is here an irony within the irony that led to a lot of finger pointing of scientists that do fly and a narrative of ‘unethical scientists’ that ‘don’t practice what they preach’  but we will come b…

UK science policy in a changing Arctic: The Arctic Circle Assembly 2019

The Arctic is one of the most rapidly changing regions on Earth. Its lands and oceans are undergoing unprecedented transitions, from permafrost melting to sea ice thinning, and its people are vulnerable to the knock-on effects of climate change.

At the same time, Arctic governments (state, regional and local) are looking towards the future of economic development, broadened participation and connectivity, and improved health and education. All of these socioeconomic and environmental challenges are going on against the background of a complex governance structure and heightened geopolitical pressures.


Unlike the Antarctic, there is no one treaty or agreement that underpins Arctic governance, which is instead reliant on the Arctic Council and a plethora of bilateral and multilateral agreements.

The Arctic Circle is a not-for-profit organisation that forms the largest “network of international dialogue and cooperation on the future of the Arctic”, with the ambitious aim to promote open…

Flooding in the UK: Understanding the past and preparing for the future

On the 16th of October 2019, Ivan Haigh ­Associate Professor in Coastal Oceanography at the University of Southampton - gave a presentation on the “characteristics and drivers of compound flooding events around the UK coast” at the BRIDGE research seminar in the School of Geographical Sciences. He began by outlining the seriousness of flood risk in the UK - it is the second highest civil emergency risk factor as defined by the Cabinet Office - before moving on to the first section of the talk on his work with the Environment Agency on its Thames Estuary 2100 plan (TE2100)[1].
Thames Estuary 2100 plan: 5-year review The construction of a Thames barrier was proposed after severe flooding in London in 1953, and it eventually became operational 30 years later in 1983. Annually, the Thames barrier removes around £2bn of flood damage risk from London and is crucial to the future prosperity of the city in a changing environment.

Flood defences in the Thames estuary were assessed in the TE210…

Uncomfortable home truths: Why Britain urgently needs a low carbon heat strategy

A new report backed by MPs and launched by Minister for Climate Change Lord Duncan on 15 October 2019, calls for an urgent Green Heat Roadmap by 2020 to scale low carbon heating technologies and help Britain’s homeowners access the advice they need to take smarter greener choices on heating their homes.  The year-long study by UK think-tank Policy Connect warns that the UK will miss its 2050 net-zero climate target “unless radical changes in housing policy, energy policy and climate policy are prioritised”. Dr Colin Nolden was at the launch on behalf of the Cabot Institute for the Environment and blogs here on the most interesting highlights of the report and questions raised.
---------------------------------- Policy Connect had invited a range of industry, policy, academic and civil society representatives to the launch of their Uncomfortable Home Truths report. The keynote, no less than Lord Duncan of Springbank, Minister for Climate Change, and the high-level panel consisting of Ma…