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Daily Briefing

15.01.2019
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Antarctica’s annual ice loss six times greater than 40 years ago, NASA research shows
Antarctica’s annual ice loss six times greater than 40 years ago, NASA research shows

News.

Antarctica's annual ice loss six times greater than 40 years ago, NASA research shows

There is widespread coverage of a study which finds that the Antarctic ice sheet is losing six times as much ice each year as it was 40 years ago. The Independent reports that the NASA-led research used aerial photos, satellite data and climate models from across 18 regions “to get the most complete picture to date on the impacts of the changing climate”. The rate of ice melt is likely to accelerate further, MailOnline reports, which could lead to “multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries”. Reuters adds the research finds that the East Antarctic ice sheet is “thawing at the fringes and adding to rising seas”. In contrast, “many past reports…have concluded that the eastern sheet has so far resisted a melt seen on the western side”, it says. “The places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places,” Eric Rignot, an Earth-systems scientist for the University of California at Irvine and NASA, tells the Washington Post, adding: “They seem to be more extensive than what we thought. That, to me, seems to be reason for concern.” The Hill and USA Today also have the story.

The Independent Read Article
US wildfires push energy firm PG&E to bankruptcy protection

The Californian energy firm Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation (PG&E) has announced plans to file for bankruptcy protection as it faces “huge costs” from last year’s wildfires, report BBC News and others. The firm said the Californian wildfires of 2017 and 2018 had triggered “significant potential liabilities”, BBC News says, with some reports estimating that the firm could face costs of up to $30bn (£23bn). The Guardian reports that PG&E is currently under investigation for its potential role in November’s Camp fire, which killed 86 people. The fire “may have been triggered by a spark from PG&E’s power lines”, Axios reports. “California is one of the few states that hold utilities liable for damages tied to their equipment, even if the companies were in compliance with the state’s safety rules. Lawmakers have to decide whether or not the state’s utilities will be able to pass current – and what’s sure to be future – liability costs onto customers,” it says. The news should serve as “a warning to big business” on the “cost of climate change”, Axios adds. “Climate change is lengthening the wildfire season in California, and leading to larger, more severe fires. This means that PG&E’s current woes may only intensify in coming years.” Vox adds: “The fall of a major utility is also a chilling example of how the impacts of climate change can pummel US companies and taxpayers right now. And the risks are only growing.”

BBC News Read Article
Scottish Parliament urged to do more on climate change

Scotland must take urgent action to tackle climate change, according to a group of multinational companies, including Coca-Cola, Tesco and Sky, reports the Press Association. The companies have signed a statement calling for the Scottish Parliament to “renew their position as a climate leader in the Climate Change Bill” and to set a target of achieving net zero emissions by “2050 at the latest”, PA adds. The Scottish edition of the Times also has the story.

Press Association via the Belfast Telegraph Read Article
Confidential archive documents reveal UK government's efforts to cement image as ‘climate leader’ 25 years ago

DeSmog UK reports on recently released official documents that show the Conservative government of John Major worked to “cement the image of the UK as a global climate leader”. The documents focus on the UK’s environmental policy in the years following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “They reveal the Major government’s desire to be the first to announce climate action and secure the UK’s position as a leader on the issue despite internal concerns that its climate plan was ‘to[o] bland’ and lacked ambition,” DeSmog UK reports.

DeSmog UK Read Article

Comment.

The oceans are warming fast, and our lives are about to change

Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell draws on recent research on how the world’s oceans are warming to warn that it will have “have huge implications for everything from the rate of sea level rise to hurricane intensity for generations to come”. Goodell cites a new paper in Science – co-authored by Carbon Brief’s US analyst Zeke Hausfather – which shows “that the Earth’s oceans are warming at a rate that’s about 40% faster than indicated in the 2013 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report”. (The authors of the study wrote a Carbon Brief guest post about their research last week.) “The implications are huge,” says Goodell, highlighting the risks to coral reefs and other marine life, as well as more intense hurricanes and faster sea level rise. There may be an upside to the paper, though, he adds: “It’s further proof that climate science — and knowledge about the risks we face in the future — are getting better, more accurate and more sophisticated. We may or we may not be doomed, but we can’t say we weren’t warned.”

Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone Read Article
Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’

From the tropical forests of Puerto Rico to the nature reserves of Germany, insect numbers are “plummeting”, writes the Guardian’s environment editor Damian Carrington. “Scientists had predicted that tropical insects, having evolved in a very stable climate, would be much more sensitive to climate warming,” he writes. “As the data came in, the predictions were confirmed in startling fashion.” Elsewhere in the Guardian, Patrick Barkham reports on how “the climate crisis is changing British gardens”. “Across Britain, gardeners are facing the challenges of an unstable climate: extreme weather, unpredictability and prospering pests,” he says.

Damian Carrington, The Guardian Read Article

Science.

Four decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance from 1979–2017

The Antarctic ice sheet is melting six times faster than it was in the 1980s, a new study suggests. Using the latest data on ice thickness and velocity for 176 basins on Antarctica, the researchers find that total ice loss from the continent has increased from 40bn tonnes a year between 1979 and 1990 to 252bn tonnes annually over 2009 to 2017. Cumulatively since 1979, ice loss from Antarctica has added 14mm to global sea levels, the study finds, including 6.9mm from West Antarctica, 4.4mm from East Antarctica and 2.5mm from the Peninsula. This suggests that “East Antarctica is a major participant in the mass loss”, the authors note.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Read Article
A reconciled estimate of the influence of Arctic sea-ice loss on recent Eurasian cooling

Human-caused Arctic sea ice loss has “significantly amplified the probability” of severe winters in Europe and Asia, new research says. The potential link between warming in the Arctic and extreme weather in the mid-latitudes has been under considerable scrutiny in recent years, but “the importance of this connection remains controversial because of discrepancies among modelling and between modelling and observational studies”, the authors note. Using observed data and seven climate models, this study identifies the cause of these discrepancies – an underestimation of the temperature response to sea ice loss in the Barents and Kara seas. The authors conclude: “Correcting this underestimation reconciles the discrepancy between models and observations, leading to the conclusion that ~44% of the central Eurasian cooling trend for 1995–2014 is attributable to sea ice loss in the Barents–Kara Seas.”

Nature Climate Change Read Article
Constraining glacier elevation and mass changes in South America

Melting glaciers in South America are currently contributing around 0.05mm per year to global sea levels, a new study says. Using satellite data over 2000-15, the researchers estimate continent-wide, glacier-specific elevation and mass changes for 85% of South America’s glaciers. The largest contributions come from the Patagonian icefields, the study finds, where 83% ice loss occurs. The authors also note: “In comparison with previous studies, tropical and out-tropical glaciers — as well as those in Tierra del Fuego — show considerably less ice loss.”

Nature Climate Change Read Article

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