More than three billion people live in agricultural areas with high levels of water shortages and scarcity, the UN agriculture agency said in a new report launched on Wednesday.
The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) flagship report, noted that available freshwater resources have declined globally by more than 20 per cent per person over the past two decades, underscoring the importance of producing more with less, especially in the agriculture sector – the world’s largest user of water.
“With this report, FAO is sending a strong message: Water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly if our pledge to achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] is to be taken seriously”, emphasized FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in the foreword of the report.
Paths for action
From investing in water-harvesting and conservation in rainfed areas to rehabilitating and modernizing sustainable irrigation systems in irrigated areas, actions must be combined with best agronomic practices, the report stressed.
These could involve adopting drought-tolerant crop varieties and improving water management tools – including effective water pricing and allocation, such as water rights and quotas – to ensure equitable and sustainable access.
However, effective management strategy must start with water accounting and auditing.
Mapping the SDG target
Achieving the internationally agreed SDG pledges, including the zero hunger, “is still achievable”, maintains the SOFA report, but only by ensuring more productive and sustainable use of freshwater and rainwater in agriculture, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of global water withdrawals.
Against the backdrop that FAO oversees the SDG indicator that measures human activities on natural freshwater resources, the report offers the first spatially disaggregated representation of how things stand today. Meshed with historical drought frequency data, this provides a more holistic assessment of water constraints in food production.
SOFA reveals that some 11 per cent of the world’s rainfed cropland faces frequent drought, as does about 14 per cent of pastureland.
Meanwhile, more than 60 per cent of irrigated cropland is water-stressed and 11 countries, all in Northern Africa and Asia, need to urgently adopt sound water accounting, clear allocation, modern technologies and to shift to less thirsty crops.
Did you know?
Total water withdrawals per capita are highest in Central Asia.
In least developed countries, 74 per cent of rural people do not have access to safe drinking water.
While 91 countries have national rural drinking water plans, only nine have implementation funds.
Around 41 per cent of global irrigation impacts the environmental flow requirements that are essential for life-supporting ecosystems.
Biofuels require 70 to 400 times more water than do the fossil fuels they replace.
As important sources of water vapor for downwind areas, forests such as in the Amazon, Congo and Yangtze river basins are crucial to rainfed agriculture.
Although “the inherent characteristics of water make it difficult to manage”, the SOFA report upholds that it “be recognized as an economic good that has a value and a price”.
“At the same time, policy and governance support to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable access for all is essential”.
Noting that the rural poor can benefit substantially from irrigation, the report recommends that water management plans be “problem-focused and dynamic”.
Despite that water markets selling water rights are relatively rare, SOFA says that when water accounting is well performed, rights well established and beneficiaries and managing institutions participating, regulated water markets can provide equitable allotments while promoting conservation.
On the one hand, there are fossil fuels, the long-proven, relatively simple technologies of which provide abundant, affordable, reliable, instant-on-demand conventional energy. Indeed, they provide over 80 percent of all energy used in the world today.
On the other hand, there are “renewable energy sources.” Don’t think of the old reliable ones like hydro, wood, and dung, but of what Bjørn Lomborg, in his new book False Alarm, calls “new renewables,” mainly wind turbines and solar panels. Unlike fossil fuels, wind and solar are diffuse, providing less energy per area of land, and intermittent. Consequently, they are less abundant, more expensive, unreliable, and—when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine—often completely unavailable.
Countries don’t face this decision by choice.
The United Nations’ (UN) collective decision, under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, to wage war on fossil fuels required a draconian energy policy. First it tried the Kyoto Protocol—under which almost no nation lived up to its commitments. Ironically, the United States, which never ratified it, had the world’s best record at reducing greenhouse gas emissions during the period Kyoto covered.
With the Kyoto Protocol’s expiration in 2012, the UN needed a replacement. It came up with the Paris Agreement in 2015. Over 190 nations had signed on by early 2016, and by 2019 nearly every nation had ratified and submitted its plans for greenhouse gas reductions.
But before then, the Paris Agreement lost its biggest cash cow. United States President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that his nation would withdraw from the agreement. By the terms of the Agreement, the withdrawal becomes effective November 4, 2020—a day after America’s next Presidential election, but two-and-a-half months before the winner is inaugurated.
The key element of the Agreement is for member states to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions, which come mainly from fossil fuel use. Countries submitted individual deadlines to the Agreement and were expected to achieve those goals.
But almost all major European member states have failed to meet their emission reduction deadlines, and they remain unaccountable. Even economic powerhouses like Germany and France, both of which championed the treaty, continue to lag behind their emission reduction targets.
Moreover, advanced member states such as Japan and Australia have shown no restraints towards fossil fuels. The US has been on a fossil-fuel spree, emerging with a superior energy sector that is less dependent on oil from the Middle East.
Developing countries are in a difficult position economically. Some of their GDPs are much smaller than the European giants, all have GDP per capita below the developed countries, and poverty in them is widespread and often severe.
Developing countries understandably are reluctant to suppress their own growth by depending on expensive, intermittent, unreliable wind and solar when developed nations don’t. Some of the developing nations have expressed this through their domestic policy decisions.
The two largest developing nations, India and China, with a combined 2.8 billion people, together are the highest users of coal in the world. They have defied international pressure to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Economists say that this continued reliance on fossil fuels and the “economic growth from expanded use of fossil fuels will add thousands of dollars of annual income to the poor in India.” Ditto in China.
Quite simply, fossil fuels lifted the West out of poverty over the last 170 years. Developing countries understandably see no reason why they shouldn’t have the same benefit. Freeing up the billions of dollars these developing countries currently spend on renewable technology would speed their conquest of poverty.
Developed countries that provide them this fund are not immune from “energy poverty” themselves. Energy poverty (also called “fuel poverty” and defined in the United Kingdom as when a household must spend over 10 percent of its income solely on home heating—jeopardizing its ability to provide adequate food and other necessities) exists even in the UK and US, where the vulnerable population experience serious morbidity and mortality from their inability to pay energy bills.
In 2018, 2.40 million households in England were classified as fuel poor. Hundreds die each year in the English winter due to their inability to pay heating bills.
Reports indicate that energy poverty is a very real problem in the US, too. In 2015, “17 million households received an energy disconnect/delivery stop notice and 25 million households had to forgo food and medicine to pay energy bills.”
Developed countries must not fall into an imaginary abyss where they aggravate this widespread energy poverty. They, like the developing countries, must stop their investments in renewables and instead focus on making affordable energy.
Developing countries can begin by following the US example, pulling out of the Paris Agreement, which not only mandates reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but also forces them to spent billions for renewable installations that cannot provide the abundant, affordable, reliable energy indispensable to overcoming poverty.
Michael Dwyer‘s Choice – the Courageous Outrageous Posted on , is about the difficult times that await us, humans in the future.
The human race is moving into very difficult times. We all know it but how to deal with the future is the question. We know climate change has started and it will increase in intensity. Australians remember the fear, pain and loss when 18 million hectares burnt in the summer of 2019 – 20. The west coast of the USA and Siberia are also suffering the same catastrophes. Bangladesh, China, India and states in Africa have suffered record flooding. The world temperature is rising. From an all-time high of 54.4°C in the USA’s Death Valley to an Antarctic temperature of 20°C recorded in January 2020, to the June temperature of 38°C inside the Arctic circle. We have the warmest temperatures now for the last 12,000 years.
Something needs to be done.
David Attenborough agrees. He said we have a manmade disaster on a global scale. When enough polar ice has melted, the fresh water added to the sea water will halt the ocean circulation streams. Then weather patterns will be lost as the fundamental rhythms supporting humanity disappear.
We can choose. We could do nothing and let Nature decide our future but Nature can be cruel indeed. Alternately we can make the transition to the future as painless as it is possible to make it. We can choose to accept the trajectory this planet is heading in; I didn’t say fix it, I said accept it. The dramatic changes happening will get worse so we either change the way we live and prepare for a new world or do nothing and let it annihilate every one of us.
As the effects of climate change get worse, more land will become uninhabitable through drought, flood, fire and destructive storms. Desperate people will become refugees because to remain in their old countries means death, war or slow starvation. It has always been so, people have always moved to where the living is easier and the climate for growing food is good. Climate change refugees are already increasing. We, in our privileged first world rich countries will contend with uninvited refugees coming to live in our local neighbourhoods.
We have a number of issues we may choose to address. The first of these is a rising world consumer population. How many people are aware that a yearly increase of 2 percent means a mathematrical doubling of any population in a mere 35 years? Australia’s increase in 2019 was 1.2% (this means Australia’s Population will double in about 60 years.). World population is increasing annually by 1.1% per year (it will also double in about 60 years). And South Australia has a consumer population increase of .8% (doubling in about 90 years) contrary to so many who have been convinced that the state’s population is falling. This planet can’t handle today’s consumer population. And yet we are headed to double it in such a short time!
So many of us, particularly politicians and real estate developers, cheer the rising consumer population because it means jobs and wealth. But increasing consumption increases greenhouse gases which is changing the climate. Climate change is the big issue now. It’s not about who has a job and who can afford yet more consumer stuff, it’s about whether we can continue to live on this planet. If we choose to address climate change cleverly, there must be no increase or better still, a quick worldwide decline in the consumer population. I am assuming we still have the time to enact a fall in the consumer population growth but we may not have that luxury.
Let’s go back to the choice. Do we leave it to nature to make the calls or do we use our intellects to soften the blow? Instead of addressing the rising population we can address consumerism directly. (It is not the number of people that builds the climate change disaster, it is the greenhouse gases produced by the numbers TIMES the individual personal greenhouse gas productions of each of us). Consumerism requires an ever increasing input of raw materials; water, food, arable land, coal, oil and mined metals and minerals. And somewhere to dump the rubbish like the greenhouse gases. As David Attenborough and a thousand scientists say, we should choose to accept the reality that we are destroying this planet. And there is no planet B to migrate to.
The 2020 Federal Government has put its hope in having a carbon neutral future by championing five technologies; clean hydrogen, energy storage, carbon capture and storage and soil carbon. With these it intends to maintain business as usual. In TV’s ‘Fight for Planet A’, Craig Reucassel suggests a more believable approach. We are able to live much more energy-frugal lives and avoid some greenhouse gas production. In one example in ‘Fight for Planet A’, he particularly notes that cows and sheep produce methane and do as much greenhouse gas damage as half our transport system. Like the Morrison Government, he argues we can still have our cake and eat it too, we can live as we are but be frugal about it. Both he and the Morrison government are wrong. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We will eventually lose the cake and a lot more besides, if we make a half-hearted attempt to live exactly as we do now but with minor tweaks.
Choice. The first step is to convince the public of the gravity of the situation. Mass advertising will inform and persuade both the public and business leaders of the need for the radical changes to be implemented. Jobs and businesses will be lost in the re-adjustment of our culture and way of living and life will get difficult. Wealth and opulence will be gone forever but though we may live materially poorer lives, with care we can be happy living more meaningful lives with a real sustainable future ahead of us. We can plan what the next two thousand years might be like.
If we accept the reality of a fundamentally changed future there are so many ways to proceed. I mention two physically and technically possible approaches.
Rationing of greenhouse gases at the consumer level is a good approach. This brings it home to the individual, not government and not the businesses. Rationing at the consumer level will unleash the power, innovation and creativity of every individual.
Income tax and other taxes as well as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be abandoned. They will be replaced by a system of Greenhouse gas rationing. The total number of greenhouse gas tokens issued per year to a person will be defined according to a ten year decreasing budget which will address the problem.
All consumers are issued with some greenhouse gas tokens reflecting the amount of greenhouse gas production tolerated that year. These tokens are used on all transactions and are passed from business to business like the GST currently operating. The number annually issued will decrease in order to match the ongoing greenhouse gas budget.
No greenhouse gases can be produced without the correct number of tokens. For example, when oil is sold to a business at the oil well, that business must pay tokens (and money) to the product producer. Those tokens are then passed back by the oil driller to the greenhouse gas token ‘bank’ and will be totalled against the year’s greenhouse gas allocation.
Those who are frugal with their greenhouse gas tokens will have enough tokens to sell to those who are desperate for more. When a person or business runs out of greenhouse gas tokens, more may be purchased from the central body though the price will always be higher than the publicly traded greenhouse gas token price. Businesses can borrow from the central token body however, the borrowing will still be matched to future overall token issuing i.e. greenhouse gas future production.
This approach will ensure greenhouse gas production falls to zero and further, then proceeds to remove existing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere such that the climate stabilises.
To illustrate the effect of these climate change responses upon the consumer, a taxi driver will pay greenhouse gas tokens via his bank card as well as fuel at the bowser and will charge the token cost to the person who needs a taxi ride via bank card. The persuasion to avoid greenhouse gases are clear, the taxi must run on little or no fossil fuels and the consumer will avoid the use of taxis as much as possible.
All industries will be examined for their greenhouse gas production. Cutting down trees and clearing land is responsible for greenhouse gas production and is to be measured. Beef and lamb are also huge sources of greenhouse gases. Therefore they will attract a greenhouse gas token cost to be paid by the consumer. As the animal leaves the farm, the greenhouse gas token cost will be levied and passed onto the wholesaler at the abattoir. The transport greenhouse gas token cost and the abattoir token cost will also be added. Clearly, the industry will shrink.
Overseas goods will be much more expensive when compared to locally made goods because they need more transport. The entertainment industry will become much more local and it will often be within walking distance. As will sports. Education will go largely online enhanced with local gatherings of students for tutorials.
Governments too pay the greenhouse gas bank for its greenhouse gas tokens. One obvious candidate for government is carbon sequestration. A new natural technique is worthy of investment. Greenhouse gases can be sequestered using the seaweed kelp, because it lives on CO² and grows at a prodigious two feet per day absorbing huge amounts of CO². Trees on land are not as good because they can be cut or burnt thus releasing the CO².
The facility will have two functions, foremost, kelp grows absorbing CO². When dead the kelp sinks to the ocean floor away from oxygen and remains there safely for hundreds of thousands of years. additionally the kelp farm will be a source of seafood and edible seagrasses.
Our whole economy is geared to the building industry and economic growth but this effort will no longer make sense. Jobs everywhere will disappear. But new jobs will arise when the mechanised harvesters and industrial food production systems go, huge amounts of physical labour will be necessary to plant, grow and distribute food. Crops too will change to avoid the new greenhouse gas cost of fertilisers, chemical sprays and energy.
Is such a change in the fundamentals of our culture possible? We have Nature to thank for showing us it is certainly possible by bringing us the coronavirus pandemic. This crisis proved we are capable of killing fundamental sacred cows of our culture. True happiness does not come from bank balances and ever higher levels of consumption. Happiness comes from relationships and meaningful lives. The ‘impossible’ shutting down of the world economy was carried out because the corona virus threat was big enough. Now we have an even greater threat.
There will be happy spinoffs to the painful adjustments. People will become much more healthy and lose weight as happened in Cuba when they lost their oil supply in 1990. We eat far too much red meat for our health and red meat will become a rarity. Plus food will become cleaner when the chemicals and flavour enhancers in our diet are no longer necessary in the locally grown food. People of this future will ride bicycles or walk as a normal part of their lives. The pace of life will be less frantic and people will be more relaxed.
Some transport will be necessary and will run on solar batteries but there is still a greenhouse cost to all manufacturing to be priced in. The internet however must remain with its support infrastructure. This will ensure the innovation, ideas and information on the how and why of the culture change disseminates to everyone.
Are we prepared for a future such as this? The change will shock us. Visiting a relative in another town will be nearly as difficult an operation as it was two hundred years ago. Large cities will become either difficult or deadly to live in so people will move back to the neglected small towns.
We must aim for harmony to help with the ‘catastrophic’ experience of the changing times. Climate change refugees in their millions must be looked after and settled well in their new lands. Otherwise there will be bloodshed as mistakes are made and resources become short. New local cultures with respect for every individual must be encouraged. War, aggressive and exploitive philosophies, like those espoused by trumpists, must be guarded against.
There will be problems and difficulties whether we choose to do nothing or choose to be pro-active. But we have the knowledge now to make life much easier than it was two hundred years ago before the use of fossil fuels. Though there are many questions and details to be worked out, life may well become more enjoyable than today because it will be more meaningful.
The CLS Blue Sky Blog (COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL’S BLOG) published on , this article titled ‘Climate Change as Systemic Risk’ written by Barnali Choudhury, professor of law at University College London.
Governments have tended to treat climate change as primarily an issue of environmental policy. Recent climate change-related events, ranging from hurricanes to forest fires to floods, and their devastating effects on the global economy, however, are gradually alerting regulators and governments to the risks of climate change to financial stability. This has spurred action in several countries, as well as globally, to address climate change as a financial risk. Nevertheless, the U.S. has been notably absent from these efforts despite being the home to several large financial markets.
Covid-19 has also highlighted the perils of ignoring seemingly non-financial risks. Perhaps this is the reason U.S. regulatory, and other, bodies are suddenly paying attention. In late September, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission became the first U.S. regulatory body to link climate change to financial stability. Its report concluded that “climate change [can] pose systemic risks to the U.S. financial system.” Months before, the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis report reached a similar conclusion.
Despite the lack of wide-scale acknowledgement in the U.S., there is little doubt that climate change poses risks to financial stability and is poised to cause a shock to the economic system. The shock could arise from either a physical risk, such as a series of severe hurricanes or forest fires, or a transition risk, most likely in the form of policy changes to carbon emissions once global warming crosses a certain threshold. That shock could then impair the flow of capital, for instance, by stranding carbon-intensive assets, which could eventually threaten financial stability.
Yet the antidote has primarily been to recommend – but not mandate – climate change disclosure. Global initiatives such as the G20-appointed Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and the central banks-created Network for Greening the Financial System, for example, advocate for non-mandatory enhanced climate change disclosure for both financial institutions and corporations. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has similarly touted the importance of improved climate change disclosure.
Disclosure certainly has many benefits. It enables companies to make early assessments of climate change financial risks, plan how to mitigate such risks, and make considering them routine. It also enables financial institutions and investors to price climate-related risks, allowing for a more efficient allocation of capital. However, studies have shown that compliance with climate change disclosure is weak, that some companies are using it to obscure poor climate change performance, and that it may not be providing adequate market discipline. Disclosure is therefore useful only as a complement to regulations that combat climate change.
What is needed are efforts to ensure economic stability while decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions. This could be achieved, for example, by introducing climate-change stress tests, which would gauge whether firms are able to withstand “the stress” caused by climate-change events. Based on these tests, firms could then develop a strategy for adapting to climate change. Notably, the Federal Reserve already has the authority to create climate-change stress tests under the Dodd Frank Act. All that remains is the will to do so.
A second possibility would be to work towards reducing financial institutions’ investments in fossil fuels. The four largest American banks have financed the fossil-fuel industry with over $811 billion in the last three years and earned the label of “de facto enablers of global warming”.
Still, efforts to reduce fossil fuel investments must proceed cautiously due to the size of those investments and the possibility that a sudden reduction could provoke a systemic crisis. One prudent approach would be to limit the amount of fossil fuel investments financial institutions can hold, with the aim of gradually decreasing that limit. A more cautious approach could involve limiting only new investments in fossil fuels. A third, even more cautious approach, would be to set targets for limiting fossil fuel investments and then allow firms to voluntarily reduce their investments while reporting their progress in achieving the targets through their management discussion and analysis reporting obligations. Regardless of the specific approach, Morgan Stanley and Barclays, both of which have committed to reaching net-zero financed emissions by 2050, recently underscored the feasibility of limiting fossil fuel investments.
Covid-19 has reminded us that we ignore issues that have solutions at our peril. It also provides a glimpse of the economic devastation that failing to prepare for climate change could cause. Post-pandemic, we can choose one of two paths to recovery: a return to business as normal or an approach that incorporates issues of climate change into economic measures.
This post is based on the author’s recent paper, “Climate Change as Systemic Risk,” that is here.
Ecological security is the state when an ecosystem maintains its stability under external stress. Due to climate change and the increase in human activities since the 20th century, the rapid decline in global ecological security has threatened sustainable human development. The evaluation and projection of global ecological security is important for forming adaptation strategies to maintain sustainable development in sensitive areas. However, the current assessments of ecological security mainly focus on regional scales, and the interactions among different factors have not been considered, resulting in future projections having substantial uncertainty. Here, a new index of ecological security was developed by including biological, oxygen, carbon, thermal and hydrological cycles and the impacts to ecosystem stability from climate change and human activities at a global scale. A global distribution map of ecological security has been established that covers the past 60 years and includes projections for the future 100 years. A severe decline in ecological security has occurred in drylands that has expanded into surrounding regions over the past 60 years. The response of ecological security to global warming and human activities is projected to be stronger. By ~2100, under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, the amount of globally insecure land would cover more than 57% of the land in the world.
Ecological security refers to a state in which natural and semi-natural ecosystems can maintain stability, associated with the ecological environment provides ecological guarantees for the sustainable development of the whole eco-economic system (Costanza and Mageau, 1999; Fu, 2010; Ma et al., 2004; Rapport, 1989; IUCN, 2012; Jenkins et al., 2013; Newbold et al., 2015). However, ecological security has been severely threatened under on-going global warming and enhanced human activities (Walther et al., 2002; Palmer et al., 2004; Piao et al., 2010; Huang et al., 2012, 2015, 2016; Feng et al., 2016; Fu et al., 2017; Zhao et al., 2018). There are some studies indicating that ecological destruction has caused desertification, food shortages (Glover et al., 2010) and water insecurity (Vörösmarty et al., 2010; Humphrey et al., 2017), which will threaten human survival and development in the 21st century. Ecological security is closely associated with biological, oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles under climate change and human activities. This is because, changes in vegetation structure and function linked to oxygen cycle, controls the exchange of carbon, water and energy between the land and the atmosphere (Piao et al., 2020). However, the consequences of these transformations for ecological security are poorly understood. Understanding the change in these indicators is important to determining terrestrial ecological security through the processes of respiration, photosynthesis and burning. Hence, knowledge of how climate change and human activities will affect changes in ecological security in the future is essential for protection and for adaptation strategies.
Though the concept of ecological security has been proposed as early as the 1970s (Sohn, 1973), a unified and generally accepted definition has not been formed because ecological security is a complex issue that involves many aspects (Daly, 2005; Hodson & Marvin, 2009; Wang et al., 2015; Feng et al., 2018). There are two limitations to the current assessment of ecological security. Although some indicators have been used to evaluate regional ecological security, those assessments have only considered individual regional issues, such as water security (Shinoda and Yamaguchi, 2003; Sorooshian et al., 2005; Seneviratne et al., 2010; Wang et al., 2015) and urban ecological security (Hodson & Marvin, 2009). Second, as ecological security has various definitions (Allenby 2000; Liu & Chang, 2015; Hu et al., 2019), there has been no uniform and well-recognized indicator system. Therefore, it is important to understand how the variability on climate change and human activities constrains biological, oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles to determine the ecological security.
In fact, ecological security involves various cycles in an ecosystem. The oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles are interconnected throughout all regions on Earth, and they are also coupled to all biological cycles (Schlesinger et al., 1990; Ciais, 1999; Jacobson et al., 2000; Dickinson, 2005; Fu & Li, 2016; Huang et al., 2017a,b, 2018; Yang et al., 2019). The process of photosynthesis not only produces vital O2 and is important for the food chain but also absorbs solar irradiation and carbon balance. Carbon accumulates in soils in large quantities, major because the high water levels that result in low biological activity and slow soil organic carbon decomposition. Carbon accumulation plays an important driving role in the carbon cycle through atmosphere, green vegetation and surface soils. Thus, these factors are the most important ecological indicator for changes in biological, oxygen, carbon, hydrological and thermal cycles. The ecological security means the survival of humans and other animals should be balanced with plant vegetation within the above five cycles.
The ecological security is identified by the combination of four essential factors, including oxygen consumption (Oc), oxygen production (Op), temperature warming magnification (Tm) and the aridity index (AI).
O2 is consumed by a wide range of processes, some of which are negligible or are difficult to quantify, including the weathering of organic matter and sulfide minerals, volcanic gas oxidation, and so on. Here, five main O2 consumption processes, including (1) fossil fuel combustion, (2) human respiration, (3) livestock respiration, (4) fires and (5) heterotrophic and soil respiration, are considered (Petsch, 2013). The detailed methods and datasets of the processes (1)-(4) could be found in Huang et al. (2018) and Liu et al., (2020). Here, the heterotrophic and soil respiration (Rh + Rd) is the process that consumes oxygen when soil organisms respire, where Rh is the respiration by heterotrophs and Rd is the respiration by decomposers (microbes), which is measured by the difference between net primary productivity (NPP) and net ecosystem productivity (NEP). The simulated Rh + Rd dataset (see Table 1) is obtained from the simulation of the Fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) (Taylor et al., 2012). The observed Rh + Rd data are obtained from the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED, Van et al., 2017).
Oxygen is produced during photosynthesis, during which plants and other organisms absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and release oxygen (O2). Photosynthesis can be expressed by the following chemical equation:
6H2O + 6CO2 ———->C6H12O6 + 6O2 (1)
Gross primary production (GPP) is the total amount of CO2 fixed by a plant during photosynthesis. NPP is the net amount of gross primary productivity remaining after including the cost of plant respiration. According to Eq. (1), we can use the following equation to calculate the net amount of O2 produced during the process of photosynthesis if the known amount of carbon is fixed through photosynthesis (NPP).
O2 = NPP * 2.667
Due to the molar mass of O2 is 32 g per mole and the C is 12 g per mole, thus the ratio is 2.667. The simulated NPP dataset from 1948 to 2100 is obtained from the CMIP5 simulation (Taylor et al., 2012) and the observed NPP data based on MODIS from 2000 to 2015 were acquired from the Global Fire Emissions Database (Van et al., 2017). The simulated NPP and observed NPP data are re-gridded to a 1.0°×1.0° resolution for comparison. The detailed methods and datasets of oxygen production could be found in Huang et al. (2018) and Liu et al. (2020)
Temperature warming magnification
The temperature warming magnification is represented by Tm(i,n), which is defined as the ratio of the grid warming rate to the global warming rate and as follows:
Tm (i, n) = Ttrend (i, n) / TGtrend (n) (3)
where Ttrend (i, n) is defined as the linear trend of the surface temperature from 1901 to year n at grid point i, and TGtrend (n) is defined as the linear trend of the global average surface temperature from 1901 to year n for year n. The CRUTEMP4 dataset, which is developed by the Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (Morice et al., 2012), combines both surface air (over land) and sea surface (over ocean) temperature data. To fill the missing values in the CRUTEMP4, Dai and Zhao (2017) have supplemented the CRUTEMP4 with CRU TS2.3 temperature data. Therefore, we use this modified version of the CRUTEMP4 to calculate observed TGtrend and Ttrend. For simulations, the surface air temperature data used to calculate TGtrend and Ttrend are obtained from 20 CMIP5 climate models (Taylor et al., 2012). We averaged the Tm data of 20 models to calculate the ecological security index (ESI) for each model (see Table 1).
The AI (i,n) represents the aridity index at grid i for year n, which is defined as the ratio of precipitation to potential evapotranspiration (PET) and denoted as
AI (i, n) = P(i, n) / PET (i, n) (4)
For observation, the precipitation data is from the NOAA’s PRECipitation REConstruction over Land (PREC/L) dataset (Chen et al., 2002) developed by the Climatic Prediction Center (CPC), which covers for 1948 to the present on a 0.5° grid. And the PET data is from CRU TS 3.25 dataset (Harris et al., 2014), which covers the period 1901–2016 and all land areas at 0.5° resolution. In order to be consistent with the AI in the models, we keep the climatology of observed precipitation and PET data consistent with the observed precipitation and PET data provided by Feng and Fu (2013). For simulations, the precipitation and PET simulation datasets used here are provided by Feng and Fu (2013). These data are derived from the monthly mean temperature, precipitation, solar radiation, specific humidity and wind speed products obtained from the CMIP5 climate models (Taylor et al., 2012). Feng and Fu (2013) provided AI data from 20 models, which are not consistent with the models that can provide NPP and Rh + Rd. Therefore, we averaged the AI data of 20 models to calculate the ESI for each model (Table 1)
The surface energy flux data for sensible and latent heat, 0–7 cm volumetric soil water, and 0–7 cm soil temperature data were collected from the ERA5 reanalysis from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on a 0.25°×0.25° grid for 2000 to 2015. In addition, for verification, we used the CPC Soil Moisture dataset (Fan and Dool, 2014) on a 0.5°×0.5° grid from a model, which covers the period of 1948-present and was provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA, and we also explored the surface energy flux data for sensible and latent heat, and 0–10 cm soil moisture content from the NASA Global Land Data Assimilation System (GLDAS) land model simulation using the Noah Land Surface Model forced by observational data on a 1°×1° grid (GLDAS_NOAH10_M.2.0) for 1948 to 2010.
Fig. 3 shows the spatial distribution of ESI values determined by observations obtained between 60°S-60°N from 2000 to 2015. The area coverage of the insecure land represents 53.0% of the global land are (60°S-60°N), and the proportions of the different land surface types (60°S-60°N) of the semi-secure, light-dangerous and severe-dangerous regions are 13.3%, 16.4% and 23.3%, respectively (Fig. 3b). Here, desert covers 15.9% of the global land, representing deserts such as Sahara and Taklimakan (Fig. 3a). The severe-dangerous regions are mainly distributed at the edges of deserts and regions highly affected by climate change and some other places with high human activities, including industrial and densely populated regions (Fig. 3a). The lightdangerous regions include some drylands and mountainous plateau regions without vegetation and snow cover (Fig. 3a), which are located in Australia, North America, Europe, southern Africa and Central Asia. The semi-secure regions are transition zones between secure and dangerous land, which are mainly distributed in semi-arid and cattle-producing regions (Fig. 3a), where the amount of oxygen generated via photosynthesis cannot compensate for the oxygen consumption. Only 31.2% of the global land area is covered by land that is defined as secure, which is mainly distributed in South America, Siberia, Central Africa and the Tibetan Plateau; these areas have strong ecological resilience and have not been disturbed by humans. In addition, the cryosphere (polar regions and Greenland), which is not discussed in this study, can also be classified as secure land that stores plenty of freshwater without human disturbances.
Based on the above climatology, it is essential to investigate how ecological security will change in the future. The CMIP5 has generated projections using several emissions scenarios and has provided a crucial reference for the spatial and temporal evolution of ecological security in the future. The model members used are shown in Table 1 and the ensemble mean of these CMIP5 models (CMIP5-EM), which filters the uncertainty from the inter-model variability and better reflects the changes in ESI, is used in this study. To ensure the reliability of future projections, the CMIP5-EM simulations of ESI over 2000–2015 (Fig. 3cd) are compared to observations. The results show that the spatial distribution and the area coverage of insecure land obtained by CMIP5 are consistent with those indicated by observations, indicating that CMIP5 is adequate for projecting future ESI changes. For the CMIP5-EM historical and RCP8.5 simulated ESI values from 2000 to 2015, the area coverage of insecure land represents 51.2% of the global land area, and those of the different land surface types (60°S-60°N) of secure regions, semi-secure regions, light-dangerous regions and severe-dangerous regions are 32.8%, 14.7%, 17.3% and 19.2%, respectively. Desert covers 15.9% of the global land area, which is mainly located Sahara and Taklimakan; this result is similar to that indicated by observations (Fig. 3c-d). The light-dangerous and severe-dangerous regions are mainly distributed in the middle and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, such as in western North America, Southwest Russia and Northeast China. Generally, the CMIP5 models can capture the spatial distribution of the ESI values from 2000 to 2015, indicating that the CMIP5-EM is adequate for projecting future changes in ESI.
Fig. 4a present the time series of the global mean ESI during the future periods. For future projections, the ESI increases to ~ 1.8 by ~ 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario and decreases from ~ 1.5 (~2020) to ~ 1.4 by 2100 under RCP4.5. These opposite trends demonstrate that the emission of greenhouse gases is the main factor controlling the variations in ESI and that the restriction of greenhouse gas emissions under RCP4.5 could mitigate this disease. Fig. 4b-f presents the time series of the changes in area of the four subtypes during the historical and future periods. Clearly, the expansion of severe-dangerous regions in the future is significant under the RCP8.5 scenario. In addition, the area coverage of semi-secure and secure regions will decrease after 2005 under the RCP8.5 scenario. However, by reducing oxygen consumption through limiting carbon dioxide emissions under the RCP4.5 scenario, the global expansion of total insecure land will be inhibited. The area coverage of severe-dangerous regions will fist increase and then decrease; simultaneously, the areas of secure regions will first decrease and then increase. Under the RCP4.5 scenario, the areas of the four land surface types at the end of the century will change little compared with those at the beginning of this century. Among them, the areas of severe-dangerous regions and light-dangerous regions will decrease slightly; conversely, the areas of secure regions will increase slightly.
Fig. 5 shows the spatial distribution of the mean ESI in 2085–2100 and the areal changes of insecure land indicated from RCP8.5 scenari by CMIP5-EM. By the end of this century, the area coverage of insecure land will be 57.1% of the global land area, which will mainly be distributed in Africa, India, Europe, West and East Asia, and the different land surface types (60°S-60°N) of secure regions and semi-secure regions will be 27.1% and 13.1%, respectively. Relative to the beginning of this century (Fig. 3), the area of secure, semi-secure and light-dangerous land will decrease 5.6% of the global land area by ~ 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario. The greatest increase in area will be in severe-dangerous regions, which will increase from 23.3% to 28.9% of the global land area by ~ 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario. By comparing the areal changes of insecure land from 2000 to 2015 to those from 2085 to 2100 under RCP8.5 scenario, the increased areas of the semi-secure, light dangerous and severe-dangerous regions are 4.6%, 5.6% and 7.8%, respectively, and the net areal changes of secure land and severe-dangerous regions represent −4.1% and 5.6% of global land, respectively. The increase in severe-dangerous regions (reaching up to 28.9% of the global land area by 2100) is the most significant, which is mainly attributed to the remarkable decrease in secure land and the slight decrease in semi-secure and light-dangerous regions.
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires maintaining a balance between the environment, society and the economy Environmental sustainability has always been an important part of sustainable development and a necessary condition for achieving strong sustainability (Wu, 2013). In order to achieve environmental sustainability, building a reasonable index can guide policymaker in the right direction. There are many indexes available for assessing environmental sustainability, such as Ecological Footprint (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996), Environmental Sustainability Index, and Environmental Performance Index, which are only published on the national scale. Of course, ecological security is also an important indicator. Ecological security has emerged as a critical policy focus across the world. Governments are increasingly being asked to explain their performance on a range of environment protection and natural resource management challenges with reference to quantitative metrics. Ecological security index can make us easier to spot problems, track trends, identify best practices, and optimize the gains from constructions of ecological civilization.
As the oxygen is the most important survival factor of all animals on the earth, its content directly determines the biomass of the earth. Several historical mass extinctions have been associated with reduced oxygen concentration during historical periods. In the past 100 years, under the frequent intervention of human activities, many resources on the earth have been in an over-used state, including freshwater resources, and we have crossed the threshold of one-third of the 9 planetary boundaries proposed by Rockström et al. (2009). Also, the overexploitation and use of fossil fuels has also led to a record high rate of human oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, and its greenhouse effect has led to the overall warming of the earth. During the Anthropocene, due to the expansion of urban area and the acceleration of desertification, the oxygen produced by the earth’s vegetation also gradually decreased. Increased oxygen consumption and decreased oxygen production have put the planet which we live in on an unsustainable state. In this article, we combined the oxygen consumption, the oxygen production, the global warming and the extent of land aridity to construct an ESI and make future estimates.
Obviously, geoscientists can apply the newly proposed ESI to investigate and reanalyze the vitality of land with different ecological statuses, especially the formation and expansion of insecure land. The systematic classification of land using ESI can not only alert us to climate crises due to natural insecure land but can also warn us about the hidden threat from anthropogenic insecure land, which has mostly been ignored worldwide due to greed-driven human activities. Under global change, extreme weathers and human disturbances, such as rapid population growth and accelerate urbanization, have an increasing impact on the ecosystem stability. The above results highlight that when the external forcing are beyond the environmental capacity, the secure land would become unsustainable and the risk of ecological security would occur. Based on the population projections under SSP5 (RCP8.5), the global population will increase to 12.7 billion by 2100, indicating that more people will be threatened by severe ecological security. Thus, detecting the starting point of insecure land at an earlier stage and preventing its invasion is of particular importance and a high priority because it can further avoid insecure land from connecting altogether and decelerate the expected losses of biological species richness (Pounds et al., 2006). Thus, more urgent actions must be taken to promote oxygen production and preserve water resources, including planting more trees, slowing down the expansion of deserts and drylands to stop dust from spreading (Shugart et al., 2003) and cultivating new green land among large regions of insecure land. In addition, we must avoid extra activities that consume more oxygen and water, especially by limiting fossil fuel combustion, forbidding ocean and lake trash, properly disposing of municipal and industrial waste and evenly distributing industrial zones. If we continue to take land resources for granted, more land will definitely develop into insecure land and even desert; this final step is irreversible and can cause humans to permanently lose their habitat (Prentice et al., 2007). Therefore, it is unwise and lacking in foresight to trade actual land resources for rapid economic development. We must establish new policies to stop the environment from worsening any further using global cooperation without hesitation.
MIT Technology Review‘s CLIMATE CHANGE advises that Soaring AC demand will threaten our power grids and accelerate global warming – unless we begin making major changes soon and that Air conditioning technology is the great missed opportunity in the fight against climate change.
As record-breaking heat waves baked Californians last month, the collective strain of millions of air conditioners forced the state’s grid operators to plunge hundreds of thousands of households into darkness.
The rolling blackouts offered just a small hint of what’s likely to come in California and far beyond. Growing populations, rising incomes, increasing urbanization, and climbing summer temperatures could triple the number of AC units installed worldwide by midcentury, pushing the total toward 6 billion, according to the International Energy Agency’s Future of Cooling report.
Indeed, air conditioning represents one of the most insidious challenges of climate change, and one of the most difficult technological problems to fix. The more the world warms, the more we’ll need cooling—not merely for comfort, but for health and survival in large parts of the world.
But air conditioners themselves produce enough heat to measurably boost urban temperatures, and they leak out highly potent greenhouse gases too. Plus, those billions of energy-hungry new units will create one of the largest sources of rising electricity demand around the world.
Without major improvements, energy demand from cooling will also triple, reaching 6,200 terawatt-hours by 2050—or nearly a quarter of the world’s total electricity consumption today.
Despite the magnitude of the mounting challenges, there has been relatively little funding flowing into the sector, and few notable advances in products in the marketplace. Aside from slow gains in efficiency, the basic technology operates much as it did when it was introduced nearly a century ago.
“The fact that window AC use continues to increase while the product largely looks and works the same as it has for decades speaks for itself,” says Vince Romanin, chief executive of San Francisco–based Treau, a stealth cooling startup developing a novel type of heat pump. “I think a lot of folks are excited for something new here, but there has only been incremental progress.”
There have been far larger improvements in costs and performance across other energy technologies in recent decades—like solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles—driven by public policies, dedicated research efforts and growing demand for cleaner alternatives. Treau is one of a number of startups and research groups now trying various ways to achieve similar advances for cooling.
But even if the global stock of AC units do become much more efficient, the projected leaps in usage are so large that global electricity demand will still soar. That will complicate the already staggering task of cleaning up the world’s power sectors. It means nations don’t just need to overhaul existing electricity infrastructure; they have to build far larger systems than have ever existed—and do it all with carbon-free sources.
Billions of new air conditioners
Perpetually cooling the vast volumes of hot air that fill homes, offices, and factories is, and always will be, a massive guzzler of energy.
The problem isn’t merely that more air conditioners will require ever more electricity to power them. It’s also that they’ll particularly boost the amount that’s needed during peak times, when temperatures are really roasting and everyone’s cranking up their AC at the same time. That means we need to overbuild electricity systems to meet levels of demand that may occur only for a few hours of a few days a year.
In Los Angeles County, rising temperatures combined with population growth could crank up electricity demand during peak summertime hours as much as 51% by 2060 under a high-emissions scenario, according to a 2019 Applied Energy study by researchers at Arizona State and the University of California, Los Angeles.
That adds up to about 6.5 additional gigawatts that grid operators would need to be able to bring online at once, or the instant output of nearly 20 million 300-watt solar panels on a sunny day.
And that’s just for one of California’s 58 counties. The world will see far larger increases in AC demand in nations where the middle class is rapidly expanding and where heatwaves will become more common and severe. Notably, the IEA projects that India will install another 1.1 billion units by 2050, driving up AC’s share of the nation’s peak electricity demand from 10% to 45%.
Cleaning the grid
The most crucial fix needs to occur outside the AC industry. Transitioning the electricity grid as a whole to greater use of clean energy sources, like solar and wind, will steadily reduce the indirect greenhouse-gas emissions from the energy used to power air-conditioning units.
In addition, developing increasingly smart grids could help electricity systems deal with the peak-demand strains of AC. That entails adding sensors, control systems, and software that can automatically reduce usage as outdoor temperatures decline, when people leave spaces for extended periods, or when demand starts to bump up against available generation.
The world can also cut the direct emissions from AC by switching to alternative refrigerants, the critical compounds within cooling devices that absorb heat from the air. Manufacturers have largely relied on hydrofluorocarbons, which are highly potent greenhouse gases that can leak out during manufacturing and repair or at the end of a unit’s life. But under a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol, companies and countries must increasingly shift to options with lower warming impacts, such as a class of promising compounds known as HFOs, certain hydrocarbons like propane, and even carbon dioxide (which at least has less of a warming effect than existing refrigerants).
There are also clear ways to ease the electricity loads required for cooling buildings, including adding insulation, sealing air leaks, installing window coverings or films, and applying reflective colors or materials on rooftops. Creating such “cool roofs” across 80% of the nation’s commercial buildings could cut annual energy use by more than 10 terawatt-hours and save more than $700 million, according to an earlier study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
Avoiding the ‘cold crunch’
But ultimately, the growing number of AC units operating in homes and buildings around the world need to become far more energy efficient to avoid what’s known as the coming “cold crunch.”
One of the most powerful tools for bringing about those improvements is public policy. The IEA notes that the best technology available is more than twice as efficient as the average of what’s actually in use around the world, and three times better than the most inefficient products on the market.
The problem is that most people and businesses aren’t going to pay a lot more for more efficient systems just to help achieve global climate goals, particularly in poor parts of the world. But with mandates, incentives, or subsidies, nations can help ensure that more of the units being produced and sold are higher-efficiency models.
The projected increase in cooling-related energy use shrinks 45% by midcentury under the IEA scenario that includes such policies (and doesn’t assume any technological advances).
Even then, however, AC energy demand would still leap about 70% higher by midcentury. That beats tripling. But achieving significant additional gains could require more radical changes.
A number of startups are trying to push things further.
Transaera, cofounded by MIT energy professor Mircea Dincă, is attempting to significantly improve efficiency by tackling the humidity in air as a separate step.
In addition to cooling ambient air, conventional AC units have to dedicate huge amounts of energy to dealing with this water vapor, which retains considerable heat and makes it feel much more uncomfortable. That requires bringing the temperature down well beyond what the dial reads, in order to convert the vapor into a liquid and remove it from the air.
“It’s just incredibly inefficient,” Dincă says. “It’s a lot of energy, and it’s unnecessary,”
Transaera’s approach relies on a class of highly porous materials known as metal-organic frameworks that can be customized to capture and cling to specific compounds, including water. The company has developed an attachment for air-conditioning systems that uses these materials to reduce the humidity in the air before it goes into a standard unit. He estimates it can improve overall energy efficiency by more than 25%.
The materials are designed to emit radiation in a narrow band of the light spectrum that can slip past water molecules and other atmospheric compounds that otherwise radiate heat back toward the planet.
Placed on rooftops, the materials can replace or augment traditional building cooling systems. The company estimates the technology can reduce the energy used to cool structures by 10 to 70%, depending on the configuration and climate. SkyCool is in the process of installing the materials at its fourth commercial site.
The good news is that some money is starting to flow into heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. The research firm CB Insights tracked just eight financing deals worth nearly $40 million in 2015, but 35 totalling around $350 million last year. (This includes loans, venture capital investments, and acquisitions.) And there have already been 39 deals worth around $200 million this year.
But the bad news is that the increased level of funding is tiny compared with the tens of billions pouring into other energy and technology sectors—and minuscule relative to the scale of the problems to come.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.