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The Environment and Climate Research Hub Observer

ECH Newsletter - December  2023 Edition


Hot Topic - COP28

A note from the Editorial Team:

The December edition of the ECHO newsletter reminds us of how fast we approach the 1.5°C global warming limit. Seven years have passed since the COP21 meeting in Paris 2016, where Parties negotiated the Paris Agreement: countries agreed to act on the scientific evidence that global average temperature should not exceed this limit in order to prevent worsening and potentially irreversible effects of climate change.

This month countries gathered once again for the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai (COP28). Set out as a the "world's first global stocktake" on emission reduction actions, the conference closed  with an agreement that signals the "beginning of the end" of the fossil fuel era by laying the ground for a swift, just and equitable transition. The stocktake calls on Parties to take action towards achieving a global tripling of renewable energy capacity and doubling of energy efficiency by 2030, seven years from now.


We have plenty of scientific news related to COP in this month's HOT TOPIC section in ECHO, which we invite you to browse below. For instance, ECH members Alina Brad and Etienne Schneider recently published a paper on carbon dioxide removal technologies and mitigation deterrence in the EU. The ECHO Editorial team was able to catch-up with Max Nutz, a University of Vienna Alumnus  who spent one week at the COP28 in Dubai as an observer. In the section "Environment @ UNIVIE", we present an exciting study showing how neuroscience can contribute to the fight against climate change. This Nature Climate Change publication is led by ECH Member Kim Doell published with other ECH members (Sabine Pahl, Claus Lamm, Mat White). Look out for more interesting scientific news in the Media Corner of ECHO and get involved in activities on environment, climate and sustainability at the University and beyond, listed in the  "Activities @ UNIVIE" section.

Enjoy reading our Newsletter!

-The ECHO Editorial Team


Did you know:
in 2022, a record 32.6 million people were displaced by disasters, with 98 per cent of these disasters caused by climate-related hazards such as floods, storms, wildfires and droughts.


The role of CDR and mitigation deterrence in EU climate policy

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies are currently being discussed in the context of  EU emissions reduction strategies. Introducing offsetting technologies, however, poses the risks of mitigation deterrence, i.e.,  lowering of actual emission reduction efforts. ECH members Alina Brad and Etienne Schneider developed a conceptual approach to systematically trace mitigation deterrence in climate policy-making. Separating targets and specifying the use of carbon removal credits could contribute to prevent mitigation deterrence. 

Outlook on scaling of carbon removal technologies

New research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison finds that novel CDR methods need to scale at a much faster rate if the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal of limiting warming to 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius wa to be met. That goal would require removing hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the course of the century, making the scaling of novel CDR technologies a particularly important focus of emission reduction policies worldwide.
Pictured:  Overview of CDR methods and their main characteristics.

Millions of lives could be saved by phasing out fossil fuels

A new study by an international team of scientists, led by Jos Lelieveld from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, gives new hope that a rapid fossil fuel phase has signifcant co-benefits. They show that phasing out fossil fuels is a remarkably effective health-improving and life-saving intervention. About 5 million excess deaths per year globally could potentially be avoided.
Pictured: Air pollution attributable mortality per 100,000 population from <10 (light) to >200 (dark) per year.

The importance of the global stocktake of climate action

Hermwill et al. (2023) argue in this Nature Climate Change comment that enhancing the alignment of climate initiatives with sustainable development objectives can augment the scope and implementation of forthcoming nationally determined contributions, thereby helping in facilitating achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Pictured: The ambition cycle of the Paris Agreement.

Insights from the COP28

Max Nutz, a recent University of Vienna graduate in Physics- now working at Geosphere Austria - had the chance to attend the first week of COP28 in Dubai as an observer. We were able to sit down with him after his return to give us his unique insights of the conference.

After winning a participation badge via the CCCA he attended  week one of COP28. Max described his experience as overall very positive. In his words, beyond the focus on political discussions  COP covers a wide spectrum of themes and events for different expert groups, thereby acting like a Bazaar. However, one of the surprising things that Max observed was that despite being in the same space, different groups and actors were assigned to different events and sites, making interaction across fields almost impossible. For instance, interest groups were often in different rooms for discussions and thus political negotiations excluded many of the other voices. As a result, there seems to be very little direct scientific input into the negotiation process during the two weeks of the conference. From his perspective as an informed observer, who only had access to some negotiation events, it was difficult to follow and comprehend the process that led to specific outcomes.

Yet, Max is certain that "science remains at the heart of the COP, although it often seems to lack a voice". Max thinks, it is a remarkable achievement that international leaders were able to negotiate something as substantial as the Paris Agreement, while also noting that there is an obvious disconnect between science and politics during the COP events. Ultimately, he was positively surprised by the outcome in Dubai: an agreement that mentions a "transition away from fossil fuels" for the first time. In his view this is a solid step in the right direction despite the lack of a clear plan for a fossil-fuel "phase-out" and comittment to a timeline; a stance many, including himself, had hoped for to be the minimum output of this years COP negotiations.


Environment @ UNIVIE

Here you  find the latest developments in environmental and climate research
at the ECH and the University of Vienna. This month we present a recent Nature Climate Change publication from a team of ECH members in the field of environmental psychology. We also link an article based on the current University of Vienna  "semester question", which shows us how materials for the future can be found in nature.


Neuroscience has the ability to help fight against Climate Change

An international research team, led by scientists from the ECH, introduces a unique approach in fighting the climate crisis. Kimberly Doell and colleagues provide a framework for using neuroscience as an ally in the fight against climate change.

Where nature shows science new ways

With the awareness that our planetary resources are limited, materials scientists are constantly trying to push the boundaries of what materials can do, in our bid to make them do more with less. In her guest article, materials chemist Jia Min Chin reveals the tricks that flora and fauna have in store for the materials of the future. 


Media Corner

Our media corner is a place where we provide you with the latest global news on the environment. Browse through our collection of media and newspaper articles from a diverse range of topics that you might otherwise not come across.

Mine waste poses risk to sensitive ecosystems

Researchers at the University of Queensland have found that about 33% of the end waste of world’s largest mines are deposited within or near protected conservation areas. This poses a great risk to the surrounding landscapes flora and fauna.

 Food security in East Africa can be enhanced by satellite technology

New techniques in satellite analysis will be used by scientists at the University of Leeds to help farmers in Kenya respond to global warming and environmental degradation.

A new catalyst makes for easy and clean degradation of durable plastic pollution

Northwestern University chemists have developed a catalyst capable of rapidly breaking down polyamide, commonly known as Nylon, a durable plastic found in fishing nets, carpet, and clothing, which poses environmental threats due to its persistence. The catalyst, utilizing yttrium and lanthanide ions, operates without toxic solvents at temperatures below 220 C°, the mildest conditions reported so far. The new catalyst efficiently recovers monomers from polyamide, potentially enabling upcycling into higher-value products, offering a promising solution toward better recycling.


Dripstones help in understanding past climate

Recent research elucidates the pivotal role of dripstones in reconstructing paleoclimates. This innovative methodology offers an intricate portrayal of the climatic conditions prevalent during the initial human settlements in South Africa.


Ice sheets of the Antarctia tell us about Earths future dynamic changes.

Variations in Antarctica's ice sheets have historically expanded and contracted in cycles spanning millions of years, corresponding to the natural orbital oscillations of Earth. However, scholars from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, along with their global collaborators, have recently discovered that during the Miocene epoch, the frequency of these ice sheet fluctuations was greater than previously understood.

Activities @ UNIVIE

Look out for upcoming events and projects related to environment and climate taking place at the University and beyond:

Lecture: "Why emissions of some ozone-depleting substances are still increasing" 

 The synthesis of persistent ozone-depleting substances is in the process of being curtailed under  the Montreal Protocol. Notwithstanding these regulatory efforts, emissions of certain ozone-depleting compounds continue to ascend.
In this talk, Dr Luke Western from the University of Bristol will discuss the reasons for these seemingly contradictory trends and their implications for stratospheric ozone recovery and climate. The talk will take place on Tuesday 09 January 2024 from 16:30 to 18:00 online via Zoom.

Panel discussion: "What is our future made of?" (in German)

Researchers at the University of Vienna are working on the materials of the future - what can they do and how will they change our lives?
On Monday, 15 January 2024, 18:00, the panel discussion on the current semester question will take place. Mark Miodownik, materials scientist at University College London, will give the keynote speech. Miodownik is a presenter of science programmes on radio and television in the UK, writes very successful science books and is also a regular contributor to the Guardian and the Times.

COP28 online "fireside chat"

(in German)


On 18 January 2024 at 19:00 there will be an online fireside chat by the CCCA Young Scientists Working Group as a follow-up to COP28. Max Nutz (Geosphere Austria, AG Nawu) and Dr Sarah Louise Nash (UWK, BOKU) will talk about their experiences at the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai. 
The Zoom link will be sent out shortly before the event!

Until next time!

Be sure to visit our website https://ech.univie.ac.at/ for more information on the ECH and other environment and climate news from the University of Vienna. While you are there, feel free to share the registration link for our newsletter with colleagues and friends that are interested in environment and climate research.