Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Antarctica is melting three times as fast as a decade ago
- BP flashes red light as growing coal use hits green power
- EU strikes deal on 32% renewable energy target and palm oil ban after all-night session
- Climate change and horticulture bring new moths to the UK
- World Bank reconsidering support for its last coal plant
- The government is about to cancel a billion-pound energy project in Wales – if this happened in London, there would be uproar
- Trump Wants to Bail Out Coal and Nuclear Power. Here’s Why That Will Be Hard.
- Let’s have a worthy debate about sea level rise
- Methane emissions partially offset ‘blue carbon’ burial in mangroves
There is extensive international media coverage of a new Nature study showing that a dramatic increase in the rate of Antarctic ice melt over the past decade has led to a corresponding sharp uptick in sea level rise. The New York Times seeks to put the finding in context: “Between 1992 and 2017, Antarctica shed three trillion tons of ice. This has led to an increase in sea levels of roughly three-tenths of an inch, which doesn’t seem like much. But 40% of that increase came from the last five years of the study period, from 2012 to 2017.” Reuters says the 84 scientists involved in the study claim it to be the most complete overview of Antarctic ice to date. “The sharp increase…is a big surprise,” Prof Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds and a leader of the report, tells Reuters. BBC News says “governments will need to take account of the information and its accelerating trend as they plan future defences to protect low-lying coastal communities”. BBC News has also produced a video explainer of the paper’s findings. The Press Association reports that the scientists say that “time is rapidly running out to save Antarctica and the rest of the world from the catastrophic runaway effects of climate change…Vital decisions made in the next decade will determine the fate of the continent and whether or not a surge in sea levels swamps coastal cities.” The Washington Post runs with the arresting headline: “Antarctic ice loss has tripled in a decade. If that continues, we are in serious trouble.” Two of the Australia-based authors, Dr Steve Rintoul and Prof Steven Chown, have written a post on the Conversation explaining their findings: “Our research contrasts two potential narratives for Antarctica over the coming half-century – a story that will play out within the lifetimes of today’s children and young adults. While the two scenarios are necessarily speculative, two things are certain. The first is that once significant changes occur in Antarctica, we are committed to centuries of further, irreversible change on global scales. The second is that we don’t have much time – the narrative that eventually plays out will depend on choices made in the coming decade.” The Guardian, Atlantic, MailOnline, Independent, Times and InsideClimate News are among the many other publications covering the study. Carbon Brief has also covered the study in depth, including video interviews with two scientists.
BP’s latest annual statistical review of world energy, published yesterday, attracts coverage across a number of newspapers. The Times focuses on the downbeat words of Spencer Dale, the oil major’s chief economist, who says the latest analysis is “really worrying” and a “wake-up call” for action on generating green electricity. He adds: “How much progress have we made in 20 years? None.” The Times explains: “Dale said that global carbon emissions from energy had risen by 1.6% last year, after three years of ‘little or no growth’. This had been driven by the first increase in coal consumption for four years, mainly because of to growth in India, in ‘disappointing’ news for the energy transition. The gloomy findings contrast with evidence of sharp increases in wind and solar power generation in recent years, including what BP said was a record 17% rise in renewable power generation last year.” The Daily Telegraph runs with the hyperbolic headline: “Fossil fuel resurgence has already dashed Paris climate goals, says BP”, but clarifies within the article that, rather than actually “dashing” the goals, BP has delivered “a blow” to them. The paper also quotes Dale: “If carbon emissions are on a trajectory for growth – even if they are growing far less quick than they did in the past – that suggests that we are not on the path to meeting the Paris climate goals.” Reuters says: “The opening of new coal-fired power plants in India and China drove coal consumption higher by 1%, highlighting the difficulties developing economies face in meeting demand for electricity while fighting pollution.” The Guardian headlines with the BP’s statement that the global growth in carbon emissions is a “big step backwards”, but then highlights that “renewable power generation grew by 17% last year, led by wind and followed by what BP called ‘stunning’ growth in solar”. Meanwhile, the Financial Times finds its own angle to the story: “The natural gas industry grew last year at the fastest rate since the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, led by a surge in Chinese demand, which also helped to propel growth in energy consumption globally, according to energy major BP…The [BP] data show how entrenched fossil fuels are in the energy system, even as governments make drastic policy shifts towards greener energies, raising questions about how the world meets emissions targets under the Paris climate accord.”
Euractive has the news that “talks on renewable energy policy in Europe reached un unexpected breakthrough early this morning after negotiators from the European Parliament and EU member states were able to reach a compromise on a 32% headline objective and a complete phase out of palm oil use in transport by 2030”. It adds: “Talks carried on until early into the morning hours, despite the fact that negotiators were left with no interpreters after midnight…Details were still sketchy on Thursday morning, but the outline agreement is now clear.” The deal includes a headline target of 32% for renewable energy by 2030, with “an upward review clause by 2023 at the latest,” according to Claude Turmes, a Luxembourg MEP who was represented the Greens political group in the Parliament’s team. However, this has disappointed environmental campaigners, such as Greenpeace, who say 32% is “far too low”. Platts says that “this effectively ends 20 months of debate on this part of the EU’s draft clean energy package legislation”. The European Commission had proposed “at least 27%” for renewable energy’s share of EU final energy demand in its November 2016 proposal to update the EU’s renewables directive. Platts adds: “A higher renewables target will likely constrain natural gas demand and lower greenhouse gas emissions, which could dampen EU carbon prices in the EU Emissions Trading System.”
New moths are arriving and settling in the UK as a result of climate change and the horticultural trade, according to Butterfly Conservation and the wildlife publisher Atropos. Almost 30 new species of pyralid moths have been recorded in the UK over the past 30 years. The report says: “Climate change is altering conditions to enable moths to take advantage of habitats in new areas, the experts said. Many recent pyralid settlers have arrived naturally, probably helped by climate change, including Evergestis limbata, which has settled along the south coast since it was first recorded in 1994.” The Guardian also carries the story.
The World Bank is “reassessing” its support for the only coal power plant project left on its books, reports Climate Home News: “The bank was considering guaranteeing loans to the Kosovo C lignite-fired power station, proposed to be built just outside the Kosovan capital Pristina. It was the last exception to a policy against backing coal projects.” A study by the bank in 2011 concluded that a new coal power station was the preferred option to supply Kosovo’s electricity. “The spokesperson hinted the bank may be reassessing that finding,” says Climate Home News.
Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow business secretary, asks: “What is it about creating jobs outside of London while protecting our communities from climate change that the Tories don’t like?” She is upset that the government is “poised to reject plans” for a tidal lagoon project in Swansea: “If that is what happens, a devastating blow will have been struck, both to the future of low carbon and renewable electricity generation in this country, and to the prospect of making our economy fundamentally less London-centric.”
The New York Times has published an interactive feature explaining why “coal [in the US] keeps getting edged out by cheaper and cleaner alternatives”. The paper also shows why, despite the Trump administration’s desire to keep the sector alive, nuclear power is (like coal) “also waning”. However, it says there is little support for Trump’s leaked plans to invoke national security as a reason to subsidise failing plants: “Grid operators themselves have disputed this rationale, arguing that there is no pressing emergency. An attempt to prop up unprofitable plants could also mean higher prices for consumers.” Last year, Carbon Brief published an interactive map showing how the US generates electricity.
Climate scientists Mann and Dutton have written a response in the Hill to an article the website published last week by US climate sceptic Fred Singer, in which he tried to argue that there is “no need to panic” about rising sea level. Mann and Dutton say that Singer “presents a virtual laundry list of discredited climate change denier talking points…Singer indeed knows that he doesn’t have the facts on his side, so he engages in distortion and diversion.”
Estimates of the CO2 absorbed and stored by mangrove forests should be offset by the methane they release, a new study says. Mangroves are a principal store of “blue carbon”, a term given to carbon accumulated in coastal or marine ecosystems. But as carbon is buried in mangrove sediments, microorganisms produce methane, which is returned to the atmosphere. Measurements taken from three mangrove creeks in Queensland, Australia, suggest that these methane emissions could offset blue carbon burial by around 20%.
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