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Issue No. 75 - March 1, 2016

1. 188 candidates sign pledge to ban fracking

General election candidates pledge to support fracking ban

As of the evening of Thursday, February 25, 188 general election candidates in all constituencies and all the major parties had signed the pledge to support legislation to ban fracking if elected.

Based on the “Who signed” lists of candidates posted on the site for each constituency, the results were as follows for the various parties:
 Party Number of candidates  Signed pledge     % signed
 Fine Gael  88  3  3%
 Fianna Fáil  71  20  28%
 Sinn Féin  50  29  58%
 Labour  36  6  17%
 Green Party  40  39  98%
 AAA/PBP  31  25  81%
 Direct Democracy Ireland  19  7  37%
 Renua Ireland  26  6  23%
 Social Democrats  14  6  43%
 People's Convention  5  1  20%
 Workers' Party  5  2  40%
 WUAG  1  1  100%
 Irish Democratic Party  1  1  100%
 Fís Nua  2  2  100%
 Independents  162  40  25%
 Total  551  188  34%

Among the newly-elected TDs from a range of parties and constituencies who signed the pledge to "actively support legislation to ban unconventional exploration or extraction of oil or gas and/or the use of high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Ireland" are the following: Gerry Adams (SF), Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP), Clare Daly (IND), Seamus Healy (WUAG), Tony McLoughlin (FG), Michael Moynihan (FF), Catherine Murphy (SD), Paul Murphy (AAA), and Eamon Ryan (GP).

2. Carbon budget only half the size previously estimated

Fossil Fuels? Finished!

The carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere before the global temperature reaches catastrophic levels. Previous estimates of the carbon budget have led scientists to conclude that most known fossil fuel reserves will need to be left in the ground in order to avoid an increase in temperature of 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. The recent accord concluded at the COP21 in Paris aims to keep the increase in temperature "well below 2°C", in view of recent studies suggesting that 2°C is too much.

A new study by an international team of scientists, published in Nature Climate Change has found that the previous estimates of the carbon budget have been far too generous, and that the actual carbon budget is only about half the size previously estimated.

As Climate News Network reports, this means that the world will need to cut fossil fuel use at an even faster rate than envisaged by the Paris agreement. Instead of a maximum amount of permissible carbon emissions that some previous estimates placed at 2,390 billion tons from 2015, the new study concludes that the very most humans will be able to emit is 1,240 billion tons.

While there is general agreement among scientists that a limit of 590 billion tons would avoid catastrophic climate change, there have been varying estimates of the allowable upper limit for carbon emissions. One factor explaining the differences in estimates has been uncertainty about future human behaviour, and another is the effect of other greenhouse gases such as methane and the oxides of nitrogen. These gases are released in smaller quantities than CO2 and are more transient, but some, such as methane, are known to be much more potent than CO2 in the short term.

The researchers therefore reexamined the existing calculations and the underlying assumptions and methodologies and worked out a global figure that they suggest could be relevant to "real-world policy". The carbon budget they propose offers a 66% chance of staying within the internationally-agreed limit of temperature increase.

According to study leader Dr. Joeri Rogelji, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria:

"We now better understand the carbon budget for keeping global warming below 2°C. This carbon budget is very important to know because it defines how much carbon dioxide we are allowed to release into the atmosphere, ever. We have figured out that this budget is at the low end of what studies indicated before, and if we don’t start reducing our emissions immediately, we will blow it in a few decades."

3. Global spike in methane emissions over last decade likely due to US shale

A new study from Harvard University has found that since 2002 there has been a huge increase in global emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. As the Guardian reports, emissions from the US alone could be responsible for between 30% and 60% of the total global growth in emissions of human-caused atmospheric methane over this period.

Since 2002, a period corresponding to the shale oil and gas boom, there has been an increase in methane emissions across the US of 30%.

While the study’s authors say they did not have enough data to be able to identify specific sources of the increased emissions, oil and gas wells and pipelines nationwide are known to emit large amounts of methane.

As the Guardian notes, attention has been drawn to methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure by the Aliso Canyon gas leak in California, which spewed methane into the atmosphere for four months before being capped recently. That gas leak, from an underground gas storage facility, is thought to have emitted the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions from 600,000 cars in one year. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is 86 times as potent as CO2 over a twenty-year period.

There are now concerns that the Aliso Canyon leak is only the tip of the iceberg of methane leaks in the US. Earthworks has published online 180 infrared videos of emissions from oil and gas installations across the US, linked to an interactive map. In Texas, concerns have been raised about a similar disaster in methane emissions from oil and gas facilities, which have attracted less attention because the sources are dispersed across the state. The combined leaks in the Barnett Shale are more than the Aliso Canyon leak, reports the Texas Observer. Researchers have estimated that the more than 25,000 natural gas wells in the Barnett Shale emit up to 60,000 kg of methane per hour, more than the 58,000 kg per hour that was being emitted at Aliso Canyon in November 2015.

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