The link below is to an article that looks at 5 ways to deal with ticks – which also mentions those great pests of the Aussie bush, the drop bears.
Last year we found that the growth in global fossil fuel emissions have stalled over the past three years. But does this mean we are on track to keep global warming below 2℃, as agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement?
In our study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change today, we looked at how global and national energy sectors are progressing towards global climate targets.
We found that we can still keep global warming below 2℃ largely thanks to increasing use of clean energy, a global decline in coal use, improvements in energy efficiency, and a consequent stalling of emissions from fossil fuels over the past three years.
Nations need to accelerate deployment of existing technologies to lock in and build on the gains of the last three years. More challenging, is the needed investment to develop new technologies and behaviours necessary to get to net-zero global emissions by mid-century.
World moving away from fossil fuels
We looked at several key measures, including carbon emissions from fossil fuels, the carbon intensity of the energy system (how much carbon is produced for each unit of energy) and the amount of carbon emitted to produce one dollar of wealth.
The world share of energy from fossil fuels is starting to decline. There has been no growth in coal consumption and strong growth in energy from wind, biomass, solar and hydro power. The emerging trend is therefore towards lower carbon emissions from energy production.
Energy efficiency has also improved globally in recent years, reversing the trends of the 2000s. These improvements are reducing the amount of carbon emissions to produce new wealth.
From all these changes, global fossil fuel emissions have not grown over the past three years. Remarkably, this has occurred while the global economy has continued to grow.
As the global economy grows, it is using less energy to produce each unit of wealth as economies become more efficient and shift towards services.
These promising results show that, globally, we are broadly in the right starting position to keep warming below 2℃.
But modelling suggests that stringent climate policy will only slightly accelerate this historical trend of improvements in energy intensity. And to keep warming below 2℃ will require deep and sustained reductions in the carbon intensity of how energy is produced.
China leading the charge
We also looked at the countries that will have the greatest global impact.
The slowdown in global emissions in the past three years is due in large part to the reduced growth in coal consumption in China. Fossil fuel emissions in China grew at 10% per year over most of the 2000s, but have not grown since 2013. This signals a possible peak in emissions more than a decade earlier than predicted.
China is showing a significant decline in the share of fossil fuels in its energy sector. This has been driven by the decline in coal and the growth of renewable energies. The carbon intensity of fossil fuels has also been falling, for instance by burning coal more efficiently.
The United States has also reduced emissions in the last decade, with significant declines in coal consumption, particularly in the last few years. These declines have several causes, including a weaker economy in the last decade and continued improvements in energy efficiency, which have led to lower energy demand.
Emissions in the US have further declined due to a decline in carbon intensity of fossil fuels driven by the shift from coal to natural gas and the growth in renewables.
Emissions have declined in the European Union for several decades, most notably in the past 10 years as a weaker economy, along with continual improvements in energy efficiency, has led to declines in emissions. These declines are speeding up with the growing share of renewables in the energy sector.
India has sustained an emissions growth of 5-6% per year and is expected to continue growing, with little change in the underlying drivers of emissions growth.
Australia’s fossil fuel emissions have been stable or declining since 2009 as a result of the combined decline in the energy intensity of the economy and the carbon intensity of energy. However, fossil fuel emissions have grown since 2015.
The devil is in the detail
There is one big “but” in our analysis. We found that current fossil fuel trends are consistent with keeping warming below 2℃ because the future climate scenarios we use – assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – allow for relatively large amounts of fossil fuels use in the future.
These scenarios assume that large amounts of the carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels will be removed using carbon capture and storage (CCS).
CCS is also widely used together with bioenergy to produce a technology that in effect removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In this process, plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, burning these plants produces bioenergy, and the resulting CO₂ emissions are captured and stored underground. The plants grow again and the cycle is repeated.
Most scenarios rely on large-scale deployment of CCS, in the order of thousands of CCS facilities by 2030, to keep warming under 2℃. At present, just a few tens of facilities are being planned. There is also a lack of commitment to CCS in most pledges under the Paris Agreement for 2030.
Although many of the current indicators are consistent with limiting warming to 2℃, there is now an urgent need for deployment of CCS to avoid the divergence from those pathways. That is unless technological alternatives can be deployed to cover the mitigation gap that is quickly emerging.
Many emissions scenarios also include removing large amounts of CO₂ from the atmosphere. Although bioenergy with CCS is the preferred technology in those scenarios, there is an equally urgent need to invest in the research and development of alternative negative emission technologies, potentially with a smaller environmental footprint.
Turning the slowdown into a decline
It is significant that emissions growth has slowed in the last three years. This is necessary to move onto an emission pathway consistent with keeping global average temperatures below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels.
The short-term challenge is to lock in this slowdown from declining coal use, switching coal for gas, and the increasing share of clean energy. This will reduce the risk of emissions rebounding if the global economy grows more strongly in the short term.
However, our research shows that for emissions to move onto a downward trend at the required speed will require emission reductions in a broader range of sectors and more rapid deployment of existing low-carbon technologies.
Ultimately, reaching zero emissions this century will require a rapid program of research and development to support a wide range of low-carbon technologies, including systems to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Pep Canadell, CSIRO Scientist, and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, Professor, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, and Glen Peters, Senior Researcher, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo
Fans of the movie Finding Nemo may remember the terrifying fish that scares Dory (a blue tang) and Marlin (a clown fish) at the bottom of a trench.
But in reality this “monster”, a black seadevil, is only about 9 cm long, which would make it about a third of the size of Dory and potentially smaller than Marlin or Nemo.
In 2014, researchers at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute began studying a single black sea devil. It was caught and moved to a special darkroom laboratory designed to simulate its dark and cold natural habitat.
While this misconception or inaccuracy may seem harmless, it could pose problems for future conservation efforts, as people are more likely to support conservation of cute rather than creepy-looking animals.
While the angler fish is easily turned into a scary monster, the similar-sized tiny Pac-Man looking octopus is cute and popular with the public.
Deep sea commercial fishing nothing to celebrate
From 2000-2010, scientists described about 1,200 new species in the Census of Marine Life Program. While this figure may seem astounding, a further 5,000 individual dead creatures are in specimen jars, waiting to be described. The scientific process of describing new species is slow.
Specimens must be methodically collected, identified, and then the identity of new deep-water species must be confirmed.
People have always had a fascination for unusual creatures that they may never see. Many exotic land animals can be seen in zoos around the world, but few deep sea species are on display in aquaria. In the meantime, people on social media are hungry for images of strange and exotic animals of the sea.
As a result, a Russian fisherman working on deep sea commercial trawlers last year gained huge numbers of social media followers after posting photos and videos of some of the deep sea creatures caught on his ship, with some even stuffed by craftsmen on board.
Presumably, many of these specimens are bycatch, accidentally caught in nets trawling for other species popular with consumers. Sometimes bycatch, which includes marine mammals, is thrown back into the sea but it may end up on consumer plates.
If images are posted on social media by laypeople in a way that appears sensational and even heartless, and without any accurate information about the animals, then there is no resulting respect for these sea creatures or educational value. Simply viewing these creatures as freaks, ignores the importance of their role in keeping our oceans healthy.
Deep in danger
Most people will never spend time on a trawler fishing in deep oceans, but marine conservation and management policy depends on all of us being aware of the risks that human activities pose to marine ecosystems, such as deep water fishing, off shore mining and pollution.
If we call unusual deep sea animals monsters or demons or freaks, then we may harm their conservation as people are unlikely to connect with them or care about saving them.
On the other hand, their rarity clearly makes them popular on social media sites. For other species, this has resulted in increases in illegal trafficking for exotic pets, and aquariums. Deep sea species may potentially become illegally sourced taxidermy curiosities or food. Humans may end up eating these animals of the deep to extinction before their species are even known to science.
Saving our ‘blue heart’
We still have so much to learn about deep marine ecosystems and their inhabitants, which have special adaptations for living in these typically cold and dark waters. With new submarines and technology, scientists are able to explore the ocean more easily.
The deepest part of any ocean is the Challenger Deep valley in the Mariana Trench, part of the Pacific Ocean, which is about 11,000 metres deep. By comparison, Mount Everest is about 8,550 metres tall.
The cold water of the North Atlantic, down to depths of about 1,800m, is home to the Greenland Shark, which can live for as long as 400 years!
A new species of beaked whale has also been discovered recently. It is smaller and darker than other beaked whales, perhaps because it forages for deep sea fish and giant squid at depths of up to 3,000m below sea level.
Every habitat on earth is interconnected, and whatever we as humans do on the ground, or in the oceans has an impact on marine ecosystems. Removing deep sea predators and prey, and disturbing deep sea habitats, will change marine ecosystems in ways that we do not yet understand.
Some experts have compared the rapid global spread of unsustainable fishing technologies and practices to a pathological disease outbreak. Oceans are sometimes called the lifeblood of our planet, while rainforests are its lungs.
In reality, about 80% of our oxygen is produced by microorganisms in the oceans. This makes our oceans both the lungs and lifeblood of our planet. In fact, oceans are the blue heart of our planet and we must all try harder to save them.
Welcome to Australia, a place that is the focus of regular reports that nearly every creature is ready and waiting to pounce. If it rains, it brings warnings of venomous snakes. If the weather is dry, then giant spiders can set up house in your power box.
But as Australia prepares once again to welcome many new citizens this Australia Day, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at how deadly our creatures really are.
There is no doubt Australia harbours venomous animals and encounters that can be traumatic and need a rapid emergency response.
We must we careful not to understate the impact of any encounters with venomous animals on families and the sufferers themselves. Nor must we play down the highly specialised management, effective treatment and medical care required.
But is this reputation of a land of deadly and aggressive creatures well founded?
Detail in the data
My colleagues and I recently published a review of hospital admissions and deaths caused by venomous animals in the Internal Medical Journal.
We sourced data from 2001-2013 from national hospital admissions and national coronial information, which showed more than 42,000 hospitalisations from venomous sting or bites. Most – not all – are shown in the graph, below.
Over the 12 years that’s an average 3,500 people admitted to hospital every year for a venom-related injury. This can be loosely averaged 0.01% of the Australian population per year, or roughly one in 10,000 Australians.
Allergy or anaphylaxis from insect stings such as bees or wasps were responsible for about one-third (33%) of hospital admissions, followed by spider bites (30%) and snake bites (15%).
Over the 12 years, 64 people were killed by a venomous sting or bite, with more than half of these (34) caused by an allergic reaction to an insect bite that brought on anaphylactic shock.
Of these, 27 deaths were the result of a bee or wasp sting, with only one case of a beekeeper being killed. Anaphylaxis to tick and ant bites combined caused five deaths, the box jellyfish caused three deaths and two deaths were from an unidentified insect.
Given there are 140 species of land snakes in Australia, snake bite fatalities are very rare, at 27 for the study period. To put that in perspective, the World Health Organization estimates that at least 100,000 people die from snake bite globally each year.
While it’s natural to be frightened of snakes, the reality is the number of deaths from snake bites in Australia is very small. In the same time frame, for example, figures from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) show nearly 5,000 people died from drowning and 1,000 from burns in Australia.
Nevertheless, snake bites do hold the crown as the most common cause of death, with nearly twice as many deaths per hospital admission than any other venomous injury, making snakebite one of the most important issues to address.
Deadly creatures elsewhere
Understandably, living in a country with creatures that can potentially kill us is a daunting prospect. As you can see from the figures, though, they don’t kill as many people as you might think and other countries have their own potentially deadly creatures.
A sturdy Australian would surely quake at the thought of being faced with an offensive grizzly, with no amount of Crocodile Dundee-esk buffalo hypnotism techniques going to get us through that encounter.
Sure Australia also has sharks and crocodiles, but it’s important to note that the majority of our critters do not come after you.
Minimising the minimal risk
Our report, while giving a broad overview of envenoming trends in Australia, does raise more questions than it answers. Questions such as: who is most at risk and how can we support them? Do we need more localised guidelines? And how do we maintain knowledge for such a rare injury?
This work seeks to initiate new conversations in regard to potential gaps in knowledge in both the public and health domains, and find solutions. We’re currently seeking funding to continue this research.
From an individual or national public health perspective, we can’t make informed decisions until we have a much clearer picture of what’s going on. The big question is how can we manage this coexistence with the creatures around us, without being detrimental to people and the creatures themselves.
It comes down to understanding, appreciating and respecting the amazing diversity nature has provided us. We need to learn about prevention methods and understand correct first aid.
This, together with the ongoing research and improvements in clinical care and the accessibility, affordability, effective management and treatment of bites and stings in Australia, actually make it one of the safest places in the world, and certainly not one of the deadliest.
As Australia’s energy debate heats up, some politicians are calling for cleaner and more efficient coal power stations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told ABC radio on Tuesday that “ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants actually drive down the carbon footprint by up to 40%”.
And last week Resources Minister Matt Canavan referenced a report, as yet not released by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, which claims that Australia can meet its carbon emission targets by replacing existing coal generators with ultra-supercritical coal generation.
So, is this a reasonable strategy to reduce Australia’s emissions?
Australia’s coal generation fleet is ageing and needs replacing. Two-thirds of the 25 gigawatts in operation (after Victoria’s Hazelwood power station is retired this year) is more than 30 years old, according to ACIL Allen’s generator report. By 2025 a further 18% of the fleet will be more than 30 years old.
That means that in 2025 a mere 4GW of our existing coal power will still be considered adequately efficient. This is important because efficient generation affects not only how much generators are paying for fuel, but also carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions.
Modern coal power plants feed pulverised coal into a boiler to combust. Tubes in the boiler walls then absorb the heat and the steam generated in these boiler tubes turns the steam turbine and generates electricity.
The difference between subcritical, supercritical and ultra-supercritical boilers is in the steam conditions created in the boiler. Supercritical and ultra-supercritical boilers are often referred to as high-efficiency, low-emissions technologies.
Ultra-supercritical power stations are designed to operate at higher steam temperature and pressure. This improves efficiency, and has been made possible by new materials that can cope with higher temperatures.
Ultra-supercritical coal power stations operate under steam conditions above 593-621℃ and 28.4 million pascals (a measure of pressure). You can find further detail in this report.
Using higher temperatures means greater efficiency, producing more electricity using less coal. Australia’s most efficient coal power station, Kogan Creek, is able to convert 37.5% of the gross energy, or calorific value, of coal into electricity. Hazelwood converts only 22%. The remaining energy is lost as heat.
By comparison, ultra-supercritical coal stations are able to convert up to 45% of the gross energy of coal to electricity.
Advanced ultra-supercritical coal generation is expected to convert over 50% of the gross energy of coal to electricity, but the expensive alloys required to accommodate the very high temperature requirements make the plants very expensive. Before advanced ultra-supercritical coal plants can be deployed, new design changes like this will first need to be tested and evaluated in pilot implementations.
Reducing fuel use reduces emissions. Hazelwood’s reported CO₂ emission intensity from 2014-15 was 1,400kg of greenhouse gas for every megawatt-hour of electricity it produced. Kogan Creek emitted 831kg per megawatt-hour.
The greater efficiency of ultra-supercritical generators can reduce emissions intensity to 760kg per megawatt-hour for black coal. Advanced ultra-supercritical generators can reduce emissions even further. Upgrading or replacing Victoria’s brown coal generators to ultra-supercritical would reduce emissions intensity to 928kg per megawatt-hour.
So greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced if ultra-supercritical generators replaced Australia’s old, inefficient coal generators.
But is it enough?
The problem is just how much CO₂ emissions can be reduced. Emissions from coal power are the largest contributors to Australia’s total emissions.
In 2013-4, coal generators emitted 151 million tonnes of greenhouse gas, generating 154 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. Details can be found here. This is 29% of Australia’s total emissions in 2013-14 of around 523 million tonnes. (Transport contributed around 18% to total emissions.)
Let’s assume the current fleet of power stations is operating at 80% capacity, considered to be an economic optimum for coal power. This would generate 176 gigawatt-hours of electricity and 165 million tonnes of emissions. This allows for a 14% increase in consumption of electricity by 2030, which is likely given projections of population and economic growth.
If we then replace the entire 25GW, both black and brown, with ultra-supercritical generation, according to the assumptions included in the Australian Power Generation Technology Report, emissions would total 139 million tonnes. This would represent a 16% reduction in coal emissions, but a mere 5% reduction in Australia’s total emissions in 2013-4.
And then we would have those ultra-supercritical power stations for the next 30-40 years, incapable of reducing our emissions further as global targets tighten.
If Australia were to wait until advanced ultra-supercritical coal power is tested and trialled, then we could speculate that emissions from coal generation could reduce by a further 10% to 124 million tonnes. This would be a more promising 25% reduction in coal emissions, but still only a 7.7% reduction in Australia’s total emissions.
Understanding Australia’s emission reduction target
Australia’s emission reduction target for 2030 is 26-28% below 2005 levels.
Emissions in 2005 were 594 million tonnes. Australia’s climate target would require emissions to reach around 434 million tonnes in 2030, a reduction of 160 million tonnes.
If coal power stations were to reduce emissions by 26-40 million tonnes through a shift to ultra-supercritical generators, then Australia would still be a very long way from meeting its committed targets.
The only way shifting to ultra-supercritical coal power could meet Australia’s 26-28% climate target is if carbon capture and storage (CCS) were applied.
Ultra-supercritical coal plants are expected to generate electricity at A$80 per megawatt-hour, according to the Australian Power Generation Technology Report. This is 45% more expensive than the average wholesale cost of electricity for 2015-16. If CCS is added, then the projected cost swells to A$155 per megawatt-hour, nearly three times last year’s wholesale cost of electricity.
These costs eventually get passed on to electricity bills, and it’s unlikely that consumers will be willing to see electricity prices rise that much.
Until we see more detail underpinning the current enthusiasm for “clean coal”, we’ll have to speculate on the assumptions of the report referenced by minister Canavan.
Australia’s wheat yields more than trebled during the first 90 years of the 20th century but have stalled since 1990. In research published today in Global Change Biology, we show that rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, in line with global climate change, are responsible for the shortfall.
This is a major concern for wheat farmers, the Australian economy and global food security as the climate continues to change. The wheat industry is typically worth more than A$5 billion per year – Australia’s most valuable crop. Globally, food production needs to increase by at least 60% by 2050, and Australia is one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters.
There is some good news, though. So far, despite poorer conditions for growing wheat, farmers have managed to improve farming practices and at least stabilise yields. The question is how long they can continue to do so.
While wheat yields have been largely the same over the 26 years from 1990 to 2015, potential yields have declined by 27% since 1990, from 4.4 tonnes per hectare to 3.2 tonnes per hectare.
Potential yields are the limit on what a wheat field can produce. This is determined by weather, soil type, the genetic potential of the best adapted wheat varieties and sustainable best practice. Farmers’ actual yields are further restricted by economic considerations, attitude to risk, knowledge and other socio-economic factors.
While yield potential has declined overall, the trend has not been evenly distributed. While some areas have not suffered any decline, others have declined by up to 100kg per hectare each year.
We found this decline in yield potential by investigating 50 high-quality weather stations located throughout Australia’s wheat-growing areas.
Analysis of the weather data revealed that, on average, the amount of rain falling on growing crops declined by 2.8mm per season, or 28% over 26 years, while maximum daily temperatures increased by an average of 1.05℃.
To calculate the impact of these climate trends on potential wheat yields we applied a crop simulation model, APSIM, which has been thoroughly validated against field experiments in Australia, to the 50 weather stations.
Climate variability or climate change?
There is strong evidence globally that increasing greenhouse gases are causing rises in temperature.
Recent studies have also attributed observed rainfall trends in our study region to anthropogenic climate change.
Statistically, the chance of observing the decline in yield potential over 50 weather stations and 26 years through random variability is less than one in 100 billion.
We can also separate the individual impacts of rainfall decline, temperature rise and more CO₂ in the atmosphere (all else being equal, rising atmospheric CO₂ means more plant growth).
First, we statistically removed the rising temperature trends from the daily temperature records and re-ran the simulations. This showed that lower rainfall accounted for 83% of the decline in yield potential, while temperature rise alone was responsible for 17% of the decline.
Next we re-ran our simulations with climate records, keeping CO₂ at 1990 levels. The CO₂ enrichment effect, whereby crop growth benefits from higher atmospheric CO₂ levels, prevented a further 4% decline relative to 1990 yields.
So the rising CO₂ levels provided a small benefit compared to the combined impact of rainfall and temperature trends.
Closing the yield gap
Why then have actual yields remained steady when yield potential has declined by 27%? Here it is important to understand the concept of yield gaps, the difference between potential yields and farmers’ actual yields.
An earlier study showed that between 1996 and 2010 Australia’s wheat growers achieved 49% of their yield potential – so there was a 51% “yield gap” between what the fields could potentially produce and what farmers actually harvested.
Wheat farmers are closing the yield gap. From harvesting 38% of potential yields in 1990 this increased to 55% by 2015. This is why, despite the decrease in yield potential, actual yields have been stable.
Impressively, wheat growers have adopted advances in technology and adapted them to their needs. They have adopted improved varieties as well as improved practices, including reduced cultivation (or “tillage”) of their land, controlled traffic to reduce soil compaction, integrated weed management and seasonally targeted fertiliser use. This has enabled them to keep pace with an increasingly challenging climate.
What about the future?
Let’s assume that the climate trend observed over the past 26 years continues at the same rate during the next 26 years, and that farmers continue to close the yield gap so that all farmers reach 80% of yield potential.
If this happens, we calculate that the national wheat yield will fall from the recent average of 1.74 tonnes per hectare to 1.55 tonnes per hectare in 2041. Such a future would be challenging for wheat producers, especially in more marginal areas with higher rates of decline in yield potential.
While total wheat production and therefore exports under this scenario will decrease, Australia can continue to contribute to future global food security through its agricultural research and development.