The rhinos, consisting of 19 females and 11 males aged between four years and 27 years were translocated from South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve to the new home in Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda as part of a program to replenish the species’ population
The rhinos, consisting of 19 females and 11 males aged between four years and 27 years were translocated from South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve to the new home in Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda as part of a program to replenish the species’ population, decimated by poaching since the 1970s. The translocation was carried out through collaboration between the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), African Parks with funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
Rwanda Development Board, which manages the Akagera National Park along with African parks termed the relocation as a historical milestone.
Happening now: Press conference on the introduction of 30 wild White Rhinos to @AkageraPark The translocation of the Rhinos from &Beyond Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa has been made possible through the collaboration of different partners including the Howard G. Buffett Fndn pic.twitter.com/36LnbgLa2H
White rhinos are classified as endangered with numbers declining across their natural habitats, largely due to poaching driven by demand for their horns. The southern white rhino, one of two subspecies of white rhino, is critically endangered with about 20,000 individuals remaining. The Northern white rhino, the other subspecies, has all but vanished, with only two females left alive.
Introductions to safe, intact wild landscapes are vital for the future of vulnerable species like the white rhino, which are under considerable human-induced pressures.
Jes Gruner, Park Manager of Akagera national park said that the rhinos were slightly sedated to keep them calm and not aggressive during the journey.
The rhinos weren’t sedated on the plane in the sense they were totally lying down, as that’s bad for their sternums. But they were partly drugged, so they could still stand up and keep their bodily functions normal, but enough to keep them calm and stable.
The introduction of white rhinos to Akagera follows the reintroduction of lions in 2015 and 18 eastern black rhinos in 2017.
Hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges converge in search of metal as one activist describes it as a ‘free-for-all’
Environmentalists are demanding urgent action to halt an aquatic gold rush along one of the Amazon River’s largest tributaries, where hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges have converged in search of the precious metal.
The vast flotilla – so large one local website compared it to a floating neighbourhood – reportedly began forming on the Madeira River earlier this month after rumours that a large gold deposit had been found in the vicinity.
“They’re making a gram of gold an hour down there,” one prospector claims in an audio recording obtained by the Estado de São Paulo newspaper.
Danicley Aguiar, an Amazon-based Greenpeace activist who flew over the mining flotilla on Tuesday, said he had been stunned by the magnitude of the illegal operation unfolding just 75 miles east of the city of Manaus.
“We’ve seen this kind of thing before in other places – but not on this scale,” Aguiar said of the hundreds of rafts he saw hoovering up the Madeira’s riverbed near the towns of Autazes and Nova Olinda do Norte.
“It’s like a condominium of mining dredges … occupying pretty much the whole river.”
Aguiar added: “I’ve been working in the Amazon for 25 years. I was born here and I’ve seen many terrible things: so much destruction, so much deforestation, so many illegal mines. But when you see a scene like that it makes you feel as though the Amazon has been thrust into this spiral of free-for-all. There are no rules. It’s as if we’re living in Mad Max.”
There was outrage as footage of the riverine gold rush spread on social media.
“Just look at the audacity of these criminals. The extent of the impunity,” tweeted Sônia Bridi, a celebrated Brazilian journalist known for her coverage of the Amazon.
As many as 20,0000 garimpeiros are believed to be operating within the supposedly protected Yanomami indigenous reserve in Roraima, one of nine states that makes up the Brazilian Amazon.
Deforestation has also soared under Bolsonaro, who has stripped back environmental protections and been accused of encouraging environmental criminals. Amazon destruction rose to its highest levels in 15 years between 2020 and 2021 when an area more than half the size of Wales was lost.
Aguiar, a Greenpeace spokesperson for the Amazon, said Bolsonaro’s pro-development rhetoric was partly to blame for the gold rush playing out on the Madeira River. He also pointed the finger at regional politicians in the Amazon who supported plans to allow miners to exploit gold deposits in riverbeds.
In a recent interview, the former head of Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama, Suely Araújo, said she saw only one way of saving her country’s environment: electing a different president.
“It’s hard to believe that this government is going to look after the environment because they are destroying everything,” said Araújo, a public policy specialist for the Observatório do Clima environmental group.
Companies will soon have to prove that the products they sell to the European Union haven’t been contributing to deforestation, according to draft legislation introduced by the European Commission.
The EU is one of the main importers of global deforestation, only exceeded by China, according to a report on trade by WWF, and this move could send a strong signal worldwide for producers to be more environmentally conscious.
Wanted: only deforestation-free products
The regulation will focus on six commodities: wood, soy, cattle, palm oil, coffee, and cocoa, as well as derived products such as chocolate, leather, and oil cakes. Imports of commodities in the EU have been linked to the loss of 3.5 million hectares of forests between 2005 and 2017 and to the release of 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
When approved, the new law will create due diligence mandatory rules applicable to commodity exporters to the EU market. They will have to implement a strict traceability control, collecting coordinates of the land where the commodities were produced. This will ensure that only deforestation-free products enter the EU market.
The EU Commission will operate a benchmarking system to classify countries with a low, standard, or high risk of producing commodities or products that aren’t deforestation-free. The requirements for companies and government authorities will depend on the level of risk of the country, from simplified to enhanced due diligence.
With the new system, the EU hopes to prevent deforestation and forest degradation. The EU Commission estimates the bloc will reduce at least 31.9 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year due to the EU consumption of the targeted commodities. This would also mean savings of up to $3.6 billion per year, the commission estimates.
Will it pass?
The draft will now have to be approved by the EU Parliament and by each EU member country, something that might take a while. It follows recommendations included in a Parliament report last year but it has a more limited scope, not addressing human rights abuses and not creating civil liability for companies that export goods to the EU.
As it is now, it only targets recent deforestation due to its 2020 cut-off date. But this could change as lawmakers discuss the details at the EU Parliament, with some suggesting an earlier starting at 2014 – which is the earliest satellite images are available. The regulation also gives commodity exporters a 12-month transition.
Strong opposition is expected from forested countries that rely on export to the EU. This is the case of Brazil, for example, which exports beef to several bloc member countries. Deforestation rates have been on the rise in the country amid lax policies by President Bolsonaro. Recent data showed higher deforestation in October this year and many see beef imports from places like Brazil as an important contributor to deforestation.
‘Hell no, Shell must go’ — activists protest against the arrival of the Amazon Warrior in Cape Town on Sunday. This is the ship’s last stop before it carries out a seismic assessment in search of oil and gas off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December.
Waving banners, beating drums and chanting, an array of protesters — including members of Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Oceans Not Oil and the Green Connection — awaited the arrival of the Amazon Warrior, a 130-metre seismic blasting vessel hired by oil giant Shell, at Cape Town Harbour on Sunday morning. From the outset, their message was clear: “Shell can go to hell”.
“Hell no, Shell must go!” the protesters chanted. Placards with defaced Shell logos on them bobbed above the crowd.
Shell has appointed Shearwater GeoServices to conduct the survey, which will last from four to five months, and cover more than 6,000km² of ocean surface. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast, with its closest point in water depths ranging between 700m and 3km, Daily Maverick reported.
During this time, the seismic airgun blasts will increase the cacophony of sounds in the ocean, adding to those made by whales, dolphins and other marine life. Scientists and environmentalists alike have raised serious concerns about the “disastrous effects” of seismic assessments on the marine environment.
Climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town has said that there is increasing evidence that seismic blasting harms marine life. “Environmentalists are extremely concerned that seismic blasting of this scale will hurt our whales during breeding seasons, possibly separating mothers from their calves. But also fishing communities are sounding the alarm since the shockwaves will also scare off and harm their catch for unknown periods,” said XR Cape Town press coordinator, Michael Wolf.
In a statement on Saturday, XR Cape Town demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa urgently intervene and withdraw the exploration licence from Shell and its partners, and send the Amazon Warrior home.
Shell’s announcement has spurred widespread public outrage and ignited a petition campaign to stop the survey.
The Oceans Not Oil coalition started a petition calling on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy to withdraw approval of Shell’s application to probe for oil and gas off the Eastern Cape shoreline. By Sunday morning, the petition had received more than 147,500 signatories.
About 100-150 protesters and activists were at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront when Daily Maverick arrived at around 5.30am on Sunday. From there, the demonstrators marched through the Silo District, eventually arriving at the edge of a pier near Shimmy Beach Club.
For about three hours the protesters waited to “unwelcome” the Amazon Warrior to Cape Town. The ship eventually arrived in the bay at about 8.15am, but remained outside the harbour.
“The reason why we’re here today is because we’re telling Shell to go to hell. We do not approve of their want to do seismic activity across the Wild Coast because it will not only affect marine life but will affect individuals and marginalised communities,” protester and youth coordinator at the African Climate Alliance, Gabriel Klaasen, told Our Burning Planet.
Klaasen said Shell’s plans for the Wild Coast will not only affect marine life, but will have social and economic impacts on communities in the area.
“This needs to come to an end if we want to make sure our marine life is secure for future generations to benefit from. The ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world and if we don’t protect it, we are screwing humans over,” he said.
Addressing protesters on Sunday, strategic lead for the Green Connection organisation Liz McDaid said that while there are currently groups of environmental lawyers trying to find ways to stop the project, public pressure on Shell is the way forward.
“It’s us on the ground who have the best chance of public pressure building to stop them and to shut them down,” said McDaid.
McDaid said Sunday’s action was the first in a series of rolling actions planned before 1 December. There have been protests along the Wild Coast and pickets outside Shell petrol stations across the country, she said.
A silent march from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay harbour to raise public awareness also took place at midday on Sunday.
“What we are also planning to do — if we can raise the money — is hire a research vessel to shadow and monitor” the Amazon Warrior’s activity on the Wild Coast, said McDaid.
“What we also think will put public pressure on Shell is to call on all the holidaymakers who are driving around to boycott Shell,” she said.
“We were at the Paradise Motors Shell garage yesterday and it was very inspiring to see people look at the posters, drive in and then drive out without getting petrol,” she said.
“As long as we can resist and they know we are resisting, it makes their lives harder.”
The British government has introduced legislation that will require all newly built homes and offices to feature electric vehicle chargers in England.
November 22update: “New homes and buildings such as supermarkets and workplaces, as well as those undergoing major renovation, will be required to install electric vehicle charge points from next year, under new legislation announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson today,” according to the UK government website.
Home and EV chargers in England
Specifically, all new homes and offices will have to feature “smart” charging devices that can automatically charge vehicles during off-peak periods. New office blocks will need to install a charge point for every five parking spaces.
The new law will make England the first country in the world to require all new homes to have EV chargers.
It will also boost confidence in helping those who transition from gas cars to overcome range anxiety, as so many homes in England don’t have off-street parking or garages.
The proposal is part of the movement to rapidly boost the number of chargers across England ahead of the UK’s 2030 ban of new fossil-fuel vehicles. The government originally announced a proposal to mandate that all new homes have a charge point with a parking space in 2019, as Electrek then reported.
Nigel Pocklington, CEO of clean energy company Good Energy, said [via Business Green]:
The home and office EV charger mandate is expected to start in 2022.
As many as 3,600 giant sequoias perished in the flames of the twin wildfires that ignited during a lightning storm in early September and rampaged through 27 groves of the behemoths in the southern Sierra Nevada, National Park Service officials said Friday.
More than two dozen groves of the towering trees were scorched as the KNP Complex and Windy fires exploded through parched vegetation, exacerbated at times by fierce winds and thunderstorms.
It’s a stunning loss that equates to 3% to 5% of the world’s giant sequoia population — arriving on the heels of even greater devastation. Last year’s Castle fire killed up to 14% of the global population of giant sequoias. Among the three fires, officials estimate nearly 20% of all sequoias may have perished in the last 14 months.
The somber news was delivered at a briefing in the Grant Grove of Kings Canyon National Park, in the shadow of the General Grant Tree — considered the second largest tree on Earth. Last month, the massive tree, which rises more than 260 feet, was surrounded by sprinklers to protect it from the still-active KNP Complex fire that has torched more than 88,300 acres in rugged country in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“It does not ever get easy looking at a monarch giant sequoia that has died,” said Teresa Benson, supervisor for the Sequoia National Forest, at the briefing. “That is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to look at in my entire 30-year career with the forest service. It is not a good thing for our environment.”
Though it’s no longer a threat, the KNP — still just 75% contained — continues to chew through pockets of heavy fuel.
Meanwhile, crews have fully contained the Windy fire to the south, which burned upward of 97,500 acres in the Tule River Indian Reservation and Sequoia National Forest.
The KNP Complex scorched 16 sequoia groves, and the Windy burned 11 groves of the giant trees, natural wonders that can live more than 3,000 years and rise over 250 feet.
Among the worst was Redwood Mountain Grove, where scores of giant sequoias were torched by the KNP Complex fire.
Interspersed with healthy-looking trees, blackened sequoia carcasses rose Friday in eerie, almost sculptural forms, like an army of the dead.
Some were still smoking from the blaze that erupted more than two months ago.
Officials had steeled themselves for the devastation, though the massive trees have survived — and thrived — amid wildfires for thousands of yeas.
With their towering canopies and thick bark, giant sequoias are adapted to withstand low-intensity fire, and even need it to reproduce. But ferocious climate-change-fueled fires of recent years have proved fatal to the trees that experts once thought were impervious to flames.
Officials on Friday said that between 2,261 and 3,637 sequoias with a base of 4 feet or more in diameter were either killed or so severely damaged that they would die in the next three to five years.
The figures come from a report based on analysis by scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. While preliminary, Christy Brigham, chief of resources management and science for the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks and co-author of the report, thinks they’re accurate — or worse, an underestimate.
Discussing the number of sequoias that perished, Brigham teared up at the briefing.
“While these losses are not as stark and large as the Castle fire, they are still significant, unsustainable and are outside the range of historic fire effects on large sequoias — and are not what we are trying to achieve as we manage these magnificent forests for fire and climate change resilience,” she said.
Since 2015, high-severity fires have killed large giant sequoias “in much greater numbers than has ever been recorded,” officials with the National Park Service said. Drought has also contributed to their decline, weakening their defenses and making them susceptible to incursions from bark beetles, another scourge to which they’ve historically been immune.
The KNP Complex and Windy fires ignited Sept. 9 amid thunderstorms that roiled the region and quickly exploded amid the parched landscape. As crews struggled to battle flames raging in steep, difficult-to-access areas, a devastating revelation emerged: The flames had pushed in the direction of the famed Giant Forest, home to some 2,000 giant sequoias, including the largest tree in the world.
As the grim reality set in, crews in mid-September wrapped the hulking base of the General Sherman tree — and some other well-known giants — in aluminum material typically used to protect buildings. General Sherman, considered the largest tree by volume, and many other nearby trees survived, in part, because of decades of prescribed burns to clear out vegetation in the tourist mecca.
But prospects were dimmer for more remote, less-manicured groves.
Garrett Dickman, a botanist assigned to the Windy fire, expressed fears weeks ago that tree mortality rates could rival those of the 2020 Castle fire, which burned at least 7,500 trees.
Aided by a sequoia task force, Dickman trekked through the backcountry to prepare trees for fire when possible and treat them after flames had passed through. He saw heavily scorched trees and entire groves he estimated had been decimated.
As the crews made their way through the burn zone, Dickman kept a tally of dead trees. He counted 74 by early October, but officials now say that number is far greater.
Brigham initially thought the trees had fared better amid more favorable conditions, including a frequent inversion layer that tamped down flames. But that optimism soured last month when an enormous pyrocumulus formed near the Redwood Mountain Grove, indicating the likelihood of extreme fire behavior. Castle Creek Grove also appeared subjected to high-severity fire.
Park officials wrote on Facebook that they suspected some groves were hit by flames severe enough “to result in sequoia mortality, possibly for significant numbers of trees (hundreds).” The recent assessment suggests the damage was even more severe.
In an effort to protect the beloved trees, crews resorted to unusual firefighting tactics. Besides wrapping the massive trees in fire-resistant aluminum material akin to tinfoil, sprinkler systems were also rigged in rugged terrain, personnel set preemptive fires to burn away potential fuels and climbers were even sent up a 200-foot tree to douse it with water.
“We’re taking such drastic measures to save these trees — and they deserve those drastic measures to be saved,” Dickman said at the time.
Much of Kings Canyon reopened last month, but some areas have since shuttered for the winter season, park officials said. Only a portion of Sequoia recently became accessible to the public.
Park officials last week reopened part of the foothills area, stretching from the Ash Mountain entrance to Hospital Rock, about six miles up the Generals Highway. Beyond that, damage to the road and hazardous trees made the area unsafe, Mark Ruggiero, a fire information officer, said. Some of the park’s biggest draws are still off-limits, including the Giant Forest.
While visitors would see charred trees and smoke billowing from hot spots, they’d also see areas resembling “a green carpet,” Ruggiero said. Grass was growing in burn areas recently doused by recent rains.
Portugal shut down its last remaining coal plant over the weekend, ending the use of the polluting material for electricity generation and becoming the fourth country in the European Union to do so.
Environmental group Zero said in a statement the Pego plant in central Portugal had been the country’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, adding that “freeing ourselves from the biggest source of greenhouse gases was a momentous day for Portugal”.
The move comes nine years before Portugal’s targeted end of the use of the fossil fuel by 2030.
Belgium, Austria and Sweden are the other three European countries to have already stopped using coal for power generation.
Although a hefty 60%-70% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, Portugal still relies heavily on imported fossil fuels to meet overall energy needs.
There are concerns the Pego plant, run by the privately held group Tejo Energia, might now be converted to burn wood pellets.
“The challenge now is to ensure utilities do not make the mistake of replacing coal with fossil gas, or unsustainable biomass,” said Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director at Europe Beyond Coal.
“Ditching coal only to switch to the next worst fuel is clearly not an answer,” said Zero’s president Francisco Ferreira. “Instead, the focus should be on rapidly upscaling our renewable energy capacity in wind and solar.”
A draft document seen by Reuters in June showed the EU was considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy could be classified as renewable. read more
Traffic on Lambeth and Vauxhall bridges stopped in rally against jailing of Insulate Britain members
Police have arrested 30 climate activists after a major bridge in central London was blocked by a sit-down protest.
The arrests on Lambeth Bridge came after Public Order Act conditions were imposed on the protest, which had been held in support of nine Insulate Britain campaigners who were jailed this week.
The bridge had been shut to traffic for a number of hours on Saturday by the sit-in, which initially involved up to 250 people who had marched from the Royal Courts of Justice.
Referring to Public Order Act conditions imposed on the protest, the Metropolitan police said: “Lambeth Bridge has now been reopened, 30 arrests were made for breach of S14 conditions.”
The force also said that Vauxhall Cross, where some of the demonstrators had moved, had reopened.
Earlier, climate protesters blocked the two London bridges as part of a demonstration against the jailing of nine Insulate Britain activists.
Members of the group were sentenced this week after breaching a court injunction in place to stop further road blockades that have caused serious disruption for motorists since September.
Campaigners stopped traffic on Lambeth Bridge, which crosses the Thames between Westminster and Lambeth, just after 2.10pm on Saturday. A sit-down protest forced police to divert traffic to other routes.
Earlier on Saturday evening, the Met imposed public order conditions on the protest and urged the remaining protesters to leave. Four of the protesters had glued themselves together.
The public order notice said the group have “no identified organiser” and “warm clothing, food, seats” and if they fail to leave, could face arrest.
An offshoot protest also blocked Vauxhall Bridge, the next bridge upriver.
Gabriella Ditton, 27, who was taking part in the demonstration at Lambeth Bridge said she believed she would end up in jail for taking part in the protests. She has been arrested six times with the campaign group, once for breaking the injunction.
“I have known for a couple of years that the only thing that is going to serve us is civil resistance. I have faith in people coming together.
“Solutions to this crisis exist, we just need the political will to do it.”
Zoe Cohen, 51, who had travelled from Warrington in north-west England to take part, said: “I am angry, distraught and grieving for the huge amount of nature that we have already lost.”
She added that “ordinary people should not have to do this and risk prison”.
Insulate Britain said it was not involved with setting up the event, which began after more than 200 supporters of the imprisoned activists gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon.
One campaigner, Gully, told the crowd: “Make no mistake, these are political prisoners and they will not be the last.”
The group then walked from the courts to Westminster, chanting “power to the people”.
Insulate Britain began a wave of protests in September and blocked the M25, other roads in London, Birmingham and Manchester, and near the port of Dover in Kent.
The money will be used to “create and expand protected areas” with the goal of protecting 30 percent of the planet’s surface by 2030.
The 83-year-old Swiss-born steel magnate Hansjörg Wyss — who’s now an avid outdoorsman living in Wyoming — has already donated $450 million to protect 40 million acres of land and water across the globe since the establishment of the Wyss Foundation in 1998.
Wyss has also supported anti-poaching efforts, river restoration projects, African national park improvements, rails-to-trails initiatives and land conversation in his beloved adopted home, the American West.
He’s also pulled a handful of high-profile maneuvers to stop fossil fuel industries from degrading protected lands.
“Already, the campaign has identified nine locally led conservation projects spread across 13 countries — 10 million acres of land and 17,000 square kilometers of ocean in total — that will receive $48 million in assistance,” Mother Nature Network reports.
The first nine conservation projects to receive grants are:
1. Aconquija National Park and the National Reserve Project in Argentina
2. The Ansenuza National Park Project, also in Argentina
3. Costa Rica’s proposed Corcovado Marine Reserve
4. The multi-country Caribbean Marine Protected Areas initiative
5. The Andes Amazon Fund, which impacts Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Guyana
6. Romania’s Fundatia Conservation Carpathia, which spearheads conservation efforts in the Carpathian Mountains
7. The Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area in Canada’s Northwest Territories
8. Australia’s Nimmie-Caira Project
9. The Gonarezhou National Park Project in Zimbabwe
Funds will be granted to additional projects over the next 10 years.
“I believe this ambitious goal is achievable because I’ve seen what can be accomplished,” Wyss writes in an editorial for the New York Times.
“We need to embrace the radical, time-tested and profoundly democratic idea of public-land protection that was invented in the United States, tested in Yellowstone and Yosemite, and now proven the world over.”
“These are large emissions, and we see quite a lot of them on the global scale, much more than we had expected.”
Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal.
Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories.
“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told Space.com. “These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”
Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.
Sentinel 5P launched in October 2017, and Tropomi started providing data a few months later. In the years since, scientists have slowly learned how to reliably interpret its measurements.
“We measure methane concentrations in the total column from the top of the atmosphere down to the surface,” Aben said. “What we are looking for is the little bit of extra signal that suggests something is being released on the ground.”
Tropomi pinpoints emission sources with a rather crude resolution of 3.4 by 4.3 miles (5.5 by 7 kilometers), an area about the size of a smaller city. But the Tropomi team collaborates with Canadian company GHGSat, which currently flies three methane-detecting satellites, the first of which launched in 2016. GHGSat provides a much more detailed resolution of 66 feet (20 meters), which enables the company to do finer detective work.
“With Tropomi, we look for these hotspots on a global scale,” said Aben. “We measure methane across the globe every day, and then we provide these locations to GHGSat and they can zoom in and pinpoint the exact facility that is leaking those emissions.”
The oil industry’s dirty secrets
The collaboration has proved fruitful. In data gathered over the first two years of Tropomi’s operations, scientists discovered major leaks of methane in the oil and gas fields of Turkmenistan, most of which were completely preventable.
Oil and gas fields must build flare installations that prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere, and Aben said that these leaks suggest those installations are not being used properly.
“These emissions actually relate to flare installations that are not being flared in the oil and gas industry,” said Aben. “Flaring is meant to get rid of the methane gases by burning them. It would obviously be better to capture the gas, but they are not even burning it. It’s just methane pouring out, and that is not normal operations.”
The Tropomi measurements revealed thousands of kilograms (in some cases even tens of thousands of kilograms) of methane leaking from 29 plants every hour.
And the problem is not limited to Turkmenistan. A separate analysis of Sentinel 5P data released by French analytics company Kayrros in March this year found frequent methane leaks on three major pipelines supplying natural gas from Russia to Europe. Most of these events happened during maintenance work. Surprisingly, Kayrros detected 40% more leaks in the pandemic year 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the overall reduction in gas imports from Russia to Europe, which was reported by the International Energy Agency.
Yasjka Meijer, the mission scientist of Europe’s planned greenhouse gas monitoring mission CO2M, told Space.com that combined, all these leaks might account for much more than the emissions that natural gas companies report. These hidden emissions could, in fact, undermine the effectiveness of the shift away from the burning of coal toward the burning of gas for electricity generation, Meijer said. Many countries rely on gas as a temporary measure to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while developing fully renewable energy resources.
“A lot of oil and gas producers say that their average leakage is about 3 to 4%,” said Meijer. “It turns out to be much more. But burning gas in a power plant outperforms coal in terms of the carbon footprint only if the leakage is not more than about 8%. With the numbers now, we actually have doubts, because it might be perhaps 10 or 15% and then the global climate impact would be much larger.”
“Before we saw the first one, I had never thought we would be able to see landfill emissions from space,” said Aben. “That certainly gave us a ‘wow’ moment when we saw it for the first time. And now there’s a whole bunch of them that we have detected.”
Thorsten Fehr, head of the atmospheric section at the European Space Agency (ESA), which is developing the CO2M mission and operating Sentinel 5P for Copernicus, cautions that monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from space is still in its early stages. But the space industry is ready to take the technology another step further and effectively start policing emitters from space. Such a capability will be crucial to keep the world on track to meeting its emission reductions targets in order to keep global warming close to the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) limit set out in the Paris Agreement negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.
Currently, nations self-report their emissions based on the amount of fossil fuels the various sectors of their economy burn. However, countries often release these numbers on a five-year delay, and experts question their accuracy.
“The Paris Agreement asks for a transparency framework,” Fehr told Space.com. “To basically show what people are doing, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do now.”
There are currently a plethora of space missions being readied to tackle methane emissions. In addition to GHGSat, Sentinel 5P and CO2M, a U.S. company called MethaneSAT, a spin-off from the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense Fund, plans to launch a new methane-monitoring spacecraft in October 2022. Earth-observation company Planet, together with a range of research institutions including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, are developing an entirely new constellation of methane-monitoring satellites as part of a public-private partnership.
This sneaky greenhouse gas is a focus of an international pledge that was introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on Nov. 3. Over 100 nations have signed the document, promising to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. According to a European Commission’s statement, this reduction alone could reduce the atmospheric warming projected by 2050 by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.28 degrees Celsius).
Scientists call methane emissions a “low-hanging fruit” and hope that the reductions should be relatively easy to achieve.
“It’s in nobody’s interest to release this methane,” said Meijer. “It should be easier to regulate than carbon dioxide, because for carbon dioxide, you would have to tell people to stop burning the fossil fuels.”
The carbon dioxide challenge
To similarly monitor carbon dioxide emissions is much more complicated. But Fehr says ESA is ready for the challenge, and with the CO2M mission plans to provide the first of its kind tool capable of distinguishing individual anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide from space.
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, launched in 2014, currently provides data on the regional distribution of carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks, reflecting global trends and seasonal changes. Its sister instrument, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, is attached to the International Space Station, taking measurements since 2019. But the resolution of these two instruments is nowhere near detailed enough to spot individual emitters.
“There’s a big difference between monitoring carbon dioxide and methane,” said Meijer. “The [natural] amount of methane in the air is much lower than the amount of carbon dioxide. Plus what is being emitted from sources is much higher than the background so it’s much easier to distinguish it from space. For carbon dioxide it’s the opposite. There’s already a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere naturally and the addition of individual sources is relatively small, you’re talking about a quarter of a percent.”
There are currently nearly 420 parts of carbon dioxide in a million parts of air, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1700s, before humankind started burning fossil fuels, the value was about 280, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The CO2M mission, expected to launch by 2026, hopes to measure the concentrations with an accuracy of 0.25%, which, according to Meijer, is still a technical challenge.
Making the world to cooperate
Aben hopes satellite observations will help keep the world on track to tackle climate change. The scale of the methane leaks surprised scientists, she said, but now that the previously hidden gas pipeline leaks and polluting landfills can finally be seen, fixing the problem is, at least, possible.
“I think that these satellite observations will certainly stir up and change the way we will be reporting emissions,” she said. “We are seeing things that I think are not visible at the moment in some of the reporting. Not all of the reporting is wrong, but this certainly adds a category of emissions that we might have missed.”
Meijer, however, cautions that it might still take a considerable effort to get the whole world on board. “This is the first time that you can actually put a finger on it,” he said. “But the problem is, how are you going to communicate with a country somewhere in Africa that there is too much methane leaking out of their facilities.”
At the recently concluded COP26 conference, nations strengthened their commitments to the goals of the Paris Agreement, agreeing to speed up the elimination of coal from the energy mix and increase their emission reduction efforts across the board.
With the new pledges, the world might be on track to keeping the global temperature rise within 3.2 degrees F (1.8 degrees C). That value is still above the preferred limit of 27 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), but considerably better than the 4.8 degrees F (2.7 degrees C) trajectory predicted under previous plans. The battle is by far not yet won.