Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Arctic warming: scientists alarmed by 'crazy' temperature rises
- Lack of models, not charging points, 'holding back electric car market'
- China’s annual coal consumption rises for first time in 3 years
- Electricity demand is flat. Utilities are freaking out.
- After the 'sunrush': what comes next for solar power?
- Six research priorities for cities and climate change
- Why Build Kenya’s First Coal Plant? Hint: Think China
- Factoring in the forgotten role of renewables in CO2 emission trends using decomposition analysis
- Abundant pre-industrial carbon detected in Canadian Arctic headwaters: implications for the permafrost carbon feedback
- Framing climate goals in terms of cumulative CO2-forcing-equivalent emissions
The Guardian’s frontpage today leads with a story by the paper’s global environment editor which examines why “an alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic is causing blizzards in Europe and forcing scientists to reconsider even their most pessimistic forecasts of climate change”. The article says the scientists’ “primary concern is that global warming is eroding the polar vortex, the powerful winds that once insulated the frozen north”. Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, tells the paper: “This is an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying – it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate.” The article also includes a quote from Carbon Brief’s Zeke Hausfather: “The current excursions of 20C or more above average experienced in the Arctic are almost certainly mostly due to natural variability…While they have been boosted by the underlying warming trend, we don’t have any strong evidence that the factors driving short-term Arctic variability will increase in a warming world. If anything, climate models suggest the opposite is true, that high-latitude winters will be slightly less variable as the world warms.” MailOnline carries the headline: “Freak WARMING in the Arctic is to blame for the big chill over Europe: Experts warn it’s ‘never been this extreme’ and predict it may happen more often due to climate change.” Vox notes that the “North Pole just had an extreme heat wave for the 3rd winter in a row”. In Germany, Deutsche Welle says that the Arctic’s warmth “is a worrying sign of climate change”. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that the UK’s demand for gas is set to surge to its highest in over six years this week, adding: “The looming gas crunch has already driven the market price of gas up by over a third to the highest level since March 2013 in the second major price shock of the winter.”
The rise of electric cars in Europe is being hampered by a lack of models for consumers to choose from rather than a lack of public recharging points, according to analysis by the Platform for Electromobility – whose 31 members include Tesla, Renault-Nissan, Brussels-based campaign group T&E and industrial groups Siemens and Alstom. Meanwhile, the Express runs the headline: “Britain climate change targets ‘will be MISSED after backlash over diesel cars’.” The AA has joined car manufacturers is claiming that the government’s “demonisation” of diesel as “an own goal” because it caused transport emissions rose last year. Separately, the Guardian is among the many publications reporting that a German court ruled yesterday that cities can ban diesel cars to tackle pollution.
China’s appetite for coal increased last year, reports the FT. New government figures show that it was “due to a stimulus-driven economic uptick before its party congress…demonstrating how the country’s ambitious war on pollution is still second to political necessities.” China’s coal consumption rose 0.4% in 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. It is the first jump in coal energy consumption since 2013, when China declared a “war on pollution”. Separately, the FT carries an opinion piece by Charles Parton, a trustee of China Dialogue, on why “China’s acute water shortage imperils economic future”.
Roberts says there is so much “bedlam” in the US power sector at the moment that “it’s easy to lose sight of an equally important (if less sexy) trend: Demand for electricity is stagnant.” He continues: “Thanks to a combination of greater energy efficiency, outsourcing of heavy industry, and customers generating their own power on site, demand for utility power has been flat for 10 years, and most forecasts expect it to stay that way.” Roberts says the utility business model is, as a result, heading for a “reckoning”: “The problem is, with demand stagnant, there’s not much need for new hardware. And a drop in investment means a drop in profit.”
The Guardian’s energy correspondent has written a feature on how “the fall in costs that has driven solar’s rapid growth is slowing – but scientists are exploring the next generation of materials that can harness more energy from the sun”. Vaughan’s article is part of a series on “possible solutions to some of the world’s most stubborn problems”. The feature focuses on the potential of perovskite which “captures energy from a different part of sunlight’s wavelength than silicon”.
Ahead of a meeting next week in Canada focused on cities and climate change, a group of leading scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have written a comment piece in Nature calling for “long-term, cross-disciplinary studies to reduce carbon emissions and urban risks from global warming”. They stress that “more than half of the world’s population is urban, and cities emit 75% of all carbon dioxide from energy use…Yet the scope and applicability of urban research is stymied.” Nature Climate Change carries a couple of related comments, one on “Locking in positive climate responses in cities“; the other on “Sustainable Development Goals and climate change adaptation in cities“.
A feature in the New York Times explains why “Kenya could soon get its first coal-fired power plant, courtesy of China”. It says: “The plan embodies a contradiction of Chinese global climate leadership: The country’s huge coal sector is turning outward in search of new markets as coal projects contract at home. A Chinese multinational is tapped to build the $2 billion, 975-acre project, and a Chinese bank is helping to finance it. The project is among hundreds of coal-fired power plants that Chinese companies are helping to build or finance around the world. It represents a test for Kenya as well. While its leaders describe the Lamu plant as a source of cheap, reliable electricity, the country is also seeking to become a renewable energy hub, with huge solar and wind projects in the works and a promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Coal could upend those goals.”
An increase in renewables played an equally important role in the decline in US CO2 emissions between 2007 and 2013 as the shift to shale gas, a new study says. US CO2 emissions decreased by around 10% over 2007-13 – a decline not seen since the oil crisis of 1979. Prior analyses have identified the shale gas boom and the economic recession as the main factors. However, by separating out the contribution of different energy types, the study shows renewables decreased total emissions by 2.3–3.3%, roughly matching the 2.5–3.6% contribution from the shift to natural gas, compared with 0.6–1.5% for nuclear energy.
Scientists have detected “old” carbon (taken up from the atmosphere into plants and soil prior to 1950) in inland waters of western Canadian Arctic permafrost regions. Their measurements suggest that the age of carbon being carried in the region’s waterways increased significantly during the “snow-free season” of 2014. “The emission of greenhouse gases derived from old carbon by aquatic systems may indicate that carbon sequestered prior to 1950 is being destabilised, thus contributing to the ‘permafrost carbon feedback’ (PCF),” the researchers say.
A new study describes a way of incorporating non-CO2 gases into carbon budgets. The authors suggest framing budgets in terms of “CO2-forcing-equivalent (CO2-fe)” emissions, which are directly related to warming by the Transient Climate Response measure of climate sensitivity and would need to fall to zero to stabilise warming. Using up the remaining budget for 1.5C under this method would take 19 years of CO2-fe emissions at the current rate, the researchers estimate.