Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Bonn climate talks end with Saudis and Brazil defiant
- 'The worst is still to come': sizzling Europe battles wildfires, health risks
- May alerted to climate change impact by melting of glacier on walking holiday
- New nuclear power stations ‘needed to hit zero emissions’
- Kenyan court blocks China-backed power plant on environment grounds
- UK committed nearly £2bn to fossil fuel projects abroad last year
- G20 cannot run away from climate change
- Global and regional impacts of climate change at different levels of global temperature increase
- What Controls the Duration of El Niño and La Niña Events?
The UN climate talks in Bonn wrapped up yesterday, with diplomats defiantly standing up for the scientific community against Saudi Arabia, reports Climate Home News – “but the petrostate won the day”. In its summary of the talks, Climate Home News says that “Brazil continued to stall efforts to regulate carbon credits” and “countries also sparred over how to avoid double-counting emission reductions – in other words, how not to credit one national climate target with an emission reduction that is then also sold to another”. But the biggest story of the week was Saudi Arabia blocking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 1.5C special report from formal UN climate negotiations. Climate Home News says: “Discussions came to a deadlock at the talks in Bonn after a small group of countries refused to engage in substantive discussions over how the report’s findings could be used to inform policies on increasing the pace and scale of decarbonisation.” This “proved inflammatory” for a negotiating group of around 40 small island states, says BBC News: “However rather than have a full scale war on the floor of the conference centre, a compromise text was agreed. The report was considered, the parties’ exchange of views was noted and the IPCC were thanked for providing the ‘best available science’.” For many attending, “this fell well short of what was needed”, BBC News adds. Writing in the Financial Times, Lois Young – Belize’s permanent representative to the UN – says that “the IPCC work had global input: the US, Saudi Arabia, India and China all contributed to the report…Yet, this week, I witnessed envoys from countries with major oil, gas and coal interests — many who have shown no interest in planning for a low carbon future — saying that they reject that science”. And finally, AFP reports that “hours of discussions over whether the United Nations climate process needs protecting from big energy interests were ‘scrubbed’ from official conclusions” at the Bonn talks.
Much of western Europe remains in the grip of an intense heatwave, reports Reuters, as temperatures climb towards 44C in parts of northern Spain and southern France. Wildfires have taken hold across nearly 10,000 acres in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, says another Reuters piece, with fire fighters warning the area affected could increase significantly. The wildfires are among the worst Catalonia has seen in 20 years, the regional government says, with around 30 people evacuated from farmhouses in the affected area. The sweltering conditions led officials to raise the French extreme heat alert to red, reports the Guardian: “The alert, signifying a ‘dangerous weather phenomenon’, was the first since the system was introduced in 2004 following a 2003 heatwave that led to 15,000 premature deaths.” Paris has banned more than half of the cars registered in the region from its roads as the heatwave worsens air pollution, says Reuters. These are the most drastic restrictions ever imposed there, officials said. And Vox looks at “why Europe is so vulnerable to extreme heat”.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has told reporters accompanying her trip to the G20 summit in Japan that a retreating glacier in the Swiss Alps “brought home to [her] the issue of climate change”, reports the Press Association. She said: “Just as a small example of why this is important, as you know, Philip and I go walking, not just in Wales but also in Switzerland, and there’s a particular place we go to where over the last decade you see the glacier retreating quickly.“ May first mentioned the impact of the glacier in a podcast with former chief UN climate negotiator Christiana Figueres last week. May said she would urge other leaders to follow the UK’s example, reports the Guardian. She said: “The G20 represents 80% of emissions, so actually it’s not just about what the UK does, it’s about what we can do together. So I’m going to be taking a message to the other leaders about the importance of them following the UK’s lead and acting on this issue.” The Independent says May’s comments have “drawn angry criticism” from some for saying “it took the sight of melting glaciers to realise the importance of tackling emissions”. Prof Mark Maslin from University College London told the Independent that “May has access to the best climate scientists in the world…But given all this she has only just realised that climate change is a threat – basically too little too late”.
Meanwhile, there is continued coverage of the UK’s new net-zero target formally becoming law in the Press Association, Reuters and Vox. UK clean energy minister Chris Skidmore writes for the Red Box section of the Times on how the UK has “driven clean growth and put it at the heart of our modern industrial strategy”. “The [net-zero] laws which came into force yesterday will kick this new green industrial revolution into another gear,” he says.
The UK’s biggest business group is calling for more nuclear power plants and onshore wind farms in order to meet the UK’s new net-zero target, the Times reports. In a letter to Greg Clark, the business secretary, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said that urgent action is also needed to encourage the switch to electric vehicles, new carbon capture and storage technology and better energy efficiency in homes. The letter argues that UK’s nuclear programme has “an important role” in a low carbon economy “at the right price”, reports the Guardian, and says a funding model for large-scale nuclear and small modular reactors would help provide economic benefits by encouraging foreign investment into the UK. Fairbairn urges the government to include such policies in an energy white paper expected later this year, says Reuters.
In related news, the Press Association reports that the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station under construction in Somerset has reached its biggest milestone with completion of the base for the first reactor.
A Kenyan court has halted construction of the country’s first coal-fired power station on environmental grounds, reports that Financial Times, which describes the move as “a blow for the $2bn project’s Chinese backers and the green credentials of China’s Belt and Road Initiative”. The FT adds: “Owned by the Kenya-based Amu Power and funded with export credit from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the contentious project has sparked a heated debate in Kenya about the potential impact of coal-based power on the country’s ecosystem.” The proposed plant is on the Indian Ocean, 14 miles north of the Unesco World Heritage site of Lamu Old Town. The decision by the National Environment Tribunal to revoke the project’s environmental licence means Amu Power must complete a new environmental and social impact assessment before regulators will consider authorising construction.
The UK increased support for fossil fuel projects overseas to almost £2bn last year, says the Guardian, reporting on analysis by DeSmog UK. “This marks an elevenfold increase over the previous 12 months,” the Guardian says: “Backing for oil and gas operations in Oman, Kuwait, Brazil and other countries, amounted to more than a quarter of the total commitment by UK Export Finance (UKEF), the government agency responsible for promoting British exports with credit, guarantees, loans and insurance.” UKEF said its support for oil and gas helped ensure the competitiveness of an industry in Britain employing 300,000 people. A spokesperson said the agency “fully recognises the importance of tackling climate change and the need for a mix of energy sources and technologies as the world transitions to a low carbon economy”.
While “Europe is in meltdown…Temperatures are likewise running high in the climate change debate ahead of the G20 meeting in Osaka”, says a Financial Times editorial. “Japan is set to omit references to ‘global warming’ and ‘decarbonisation’ from a G20 communiqué in a bid to please the US,” the FT says. This follows the EU being unable to agree a net-zero goal and Saudi Arabia helping to prevent acceptance of the 1.5C report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “International progress on fighting climate change is in danger of stalling,” the FT warns. “Yet bold and decisive leadership is needed if temperatures are to be prevented from rising to catastrophic levels.” The article concludes: “Frustrating international agreements can do nothing but delay the inevitable. The reality of climate change will catch up with politicians. That may be in the form of angry voters on the streets, or of extreme weather that makes cities uninhabitable and crops fail…and G20 leaders in Osaka will eventually find, running away is not an option.” A Guardian editorial says “if there is one issue on which this year’s summit clearly ought to be showing global leadership, it is the climate crisis”. However, “there is no prospect of serious or effective action”, the Guardian warns: “That is no surprise from a group of nations which almost tripled the subsidies they gave to coal-fired power plants between 2013 and 2017, with China, India and Japan itself leading the way. But it is Mr Trump’s decision to walk away from climate accords and to back fossil fuels that creates the wider permission for these other terrible derelictions.” And writing in the Times, Natascha Engel – who was the UK’s first commissioner for shale gas – strikes a somewhat different tone: “As Theresa May takes to the G20 stage in Japan to urge her fellow leaders to follow the UK’s moral leadership on climate change, she should hope that their parting gift is, politely, to ignore her”. “As impressive as the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 sounds, other countries will recognise the capacity it has to destroy UK plc for generations to come,” Engel argues. “The lack of scrutiny of what would be the most expensive and socially disruptive public policy since the Second World War is truly remarkable.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times has published a special report on “G20: Japan and the World”, which includes a piece on how the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 has affected Japan’s climate ambitions. And BusinessGreen editor James Murray summarises the “predictions of a sizeable diplomatic row over international efforts to tackle climate change” as the G20 gets underway.
Assessing the impacts of climate change at different levels of global warming helps inform the debate around mitigation targets. This paper provides estimates of global and regional impacts and risks at increases in global mean temperature up to between 1.5C and 5C above pre-industrial levels for over 30 indicators: temperature extremes and heatwaves, hydrological change, floods and droughts and proxies for impacts on crop yields. At the global scale, all the impacts that could plausibly be either adverse or beneficial are adverse, and impacts and risks increase with temperature change. For example, the global average chance of a major heatwave increases from 5% in 1981–2010 to 28% at 1.5C and 92% at 4C. The change of an agricultural drought increases from 9 to 24% at 1.5C and 61% at 4C. The chance of a damaging hot spell for corn increases from 5 to 50% at 4C, whilst the chance for rice rises from 27 to 46%. Some impacts—for example heatwaves—increase rapidly as temperature increases, whilst others show more linear responses.
The length of El Niño and La Niña varies greatly from event to event. To understand the processes controlling the duration of these events, this study used a combination of observational data and climate model simulations. Both observational and models show that El Niño events that develop early tend to terminate quickly because of a negative oceanic feedback and fast adjustments of the tropical Atlantic and Indian Oceans to tropical Pacific warming. The duration of La Niña events is, on the other hand, strongly influenced by the amplitude of preceding warm events. For both El Niño and La Niña, the sea surface temperature gradient toward the tropical Pacific is reduced, and surface winds over the western equatorial Pacific are weakened, hastening the event termination. Other factors such as variability in the tropical Atlantic and Indian Oceans and atmospheric variability over the North Pacific also contribute to the variability of event duration.
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