Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Britain set to miss 2020 environmental goals
- Australia braces for ‘catastrophic’ wildfire conditions
- Climate change: Bigger hurricanes are now more damaging
- EPA to limit science used to write public health rules
- The Times view on the wildfires raging around the globe: World on fire
- Election 2019: Parties go green as voters say climate change matters
- Normalised US hurricane damage estimates using area of total destruction, 1900−2018
- Intact and managed peatland soils as a source and sink of GHGs from 1850 to 2100
- Unraveling driving forces explaining significant reduction in satellite-inferred Arctic surface albedo since the 1980s
The UK is on course to miss many of its environmental targets despite repeated government promises to do more to tackle climate change, according to a new investigation by the FT and Unearthed, the investigative journalism unit at Greenpeace. The FT reports that, according to a new analysis of government data, the UK is on track to miss its 2020 goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37% and reducing the level of nitrogen oxides in the air by 55% compared to 2005 levels, as well as being behind on a host of other environmental targets involving pollution, recycling and biodiversity. “Campaigners say progress has been hamstrung by the continuing impact of budget cuts following the 2008 financial crisis on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency (Defra), the regulator,” it reports. Unearthed’s coverage adds that the new data analysis shows that the UK is set to miss two upcoming carbon budgets. Unearthed says: “These budgets, part of a system established in 2008, are legally binding limits on the net amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted in the UK over a series of four-year periods. According to the government’s own analysis from earlier this year, the UK will meet its budget for 2018-22, but will miss targets for the following two periods.”
There is continued extensive coverage of the extreme wildfires in New South Wales and Queensland. The FT reports that millions of people in Australia were today told to brace for “catastrophic” conditions “as the country battles intense wild fires that have intensified political debate about climate change”. It continues: “Summer is typically when eastern and southern Australia face the biggest threat from bush fires. But the Bureau of Meteorology has said that climate change is ‘influencing the frequency and severity’ of wild fires in the country.” Bloomberg reports that the fires have now spread to Sydney, Australia’s largest city, “fanned by strong winds and soaring temperatures”. “Authorities battled about 10 blazes in mostly northern suburbs of the city, which is dotted with national parks and bushland, often close to homes,” the article reads. Bloomberg reports on the links between the fires and climate change: “Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent and is considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries to global warming.” It adds: “The fires come amid increasing divisions about climate change policy in Australia, with the conservative government resisting scientists’ calls to take greater action to reduce carbon emissions.” The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the comments of California’s former fire chief, who called Australia’s fires the “new normal”. “These are the future fires,” Ken Pimlott, former chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Herald. “People need to recognise that this is not a short-term crisis. All the trends are going the same way.” BBC News and others also report on the fires, while the Guardian carries a live blog with regular updates from the scene in Australia.
Several publications report on new research finding that the largest and most severe hurricanes are now three times more frequent than they were 100 years ago. BBC News reports that the scientists behind the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, described the increase in the frequency of severe hurricanes as “unequivocal”. To study the damage caused by hurricanes, the researchers studied the amount of land in the US that had been “totally destroyed” by hurricanes between 1900 and 2018, based on insurance industry databases, BBC News reports. This stands in contrast to previous estimations of hurricane damage, which are often based on economic losses, reports BBC News. The study is also carried by Associated Press and the Hill.
The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is preparing to “significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking”. The draft proposal from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), titled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science”, states that scientists would need to disclose all of their raw data – including confidential medical records – before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions. The EPA says the new rule would be “a step toward transparency” and that the disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently, according to the New York Times. But “the measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements”, the New York Times says. “And, unlike a version of the proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place,” it adds. The Hill also has the story.
An editorial in the Times describes the wildfires seen in Australia as part of “a depressing global theme”. This year, wildfires “have burnt across California, Alaska, Africa, southeast Asia and Brazil”, it notes. The editorial reads: “Experts agree that this year’s high temperatures are the cause of the catastrophes, a consequence of a warming planet…The responsible response must be to redouble global efforts to tackle climate change. There is no smoke without fire.” Elsewhere, an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald runs with the headline: “Talking about climate change is not an insult to bushfire victims.” The editorial opens with: “In a week when all Australians are concerned for the lives and property of residents and firefighters in NSW and Queensland who continue to face the threat of catastrophic bushfires, climate change must be part of the discussion.” It continues: “Scientists agree that climate change has caused a long-term increase in extreme bushfire weather and made the fire season longer in many parts of Australia. So it is something we should talk about…It is not a sign of indifference to the victims of bushfires or political point-scoring to raise the issue of climate change. It is common sense. Without a rational assessment of the causes and trends of bushfires, we will only increase the likelihood of more tragedies in the future.”
Elsewhere, the Guardian carries several opinion articles related to Australia’s wildfires. These include an op-ed by two regional mayors in New South Wales, who describe the fires as “our new normal”; a response to political inaction on climate change from writer Gabrielle Chan; and a factcheck on an apparent “green conspiracy to stop bushfire hazard reduction” by Graham Readfearn. BBC News carries a piece examining the links between the fires and climate change.
In the Times, environment editor Ben Webster and Whitehall editor Chris Smyth explore how this year’s UK general election has seen climate change “shoot up the main parties’ agenda”. “Just over half of people said that climate change would influence the way they vote in the election, a survey last month found,” they say. Elsewhere, DeSmog UK takes an in-depth look at the Brexit Party’s links to climate scepticism.
The frequency of the very most damaging hurricanes in the US “has increased at a rate of 330% per century,” a new study suggests. The researchers develop a record of normalised US hurricane damage since 1900 based on an equivalent area of total destruction. The authors argue that their record “is a more reliable measure for climate-related changes in extreme weather, and can be used for better risk assessments on hurricane disasters”. The data reveals “an emergent positive trend in damage”, the authors say, which they “attribute to a detectable change in extreme storms due to global warming”.
Between 1850 and 2015, temperate and boreal regions lost 26.7m hectares (ha), and tropical regions 24.7m ha, of natural peatland, a new study says. The researchers estimate the past and future role of global peatlands as either a source or sink of greenhouse gases based on scenario timelines of land conversion. Cumulative emissions from drained peatlands reached 80bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015, the study finds, and will adds up to 249bn tonnes by 2100. Restoration “of most of the drained area would render peatlands GHG neutral”, the study says, “whereas emissions from peatland may comprise 12-41% of the GHG emission budget for keeping global warming below 1.5-2 C without rehabilitation”.
Satellite observations suggest the Arctic has seen an absolute reduction in average spring and summer surface albedo of 1.25-1.51% per decade over 1982-2014, new research says. Using global model and reanalysis data, the researchers find that “reductions of terrestrial snow cover, snow cover fraction over sea ice, and sea ice extent appear to contribute equally” to this decline. They also show “that the decrease in snow cover fraction is primarily driven by the increase in surface air temperature, followed by declining snowfall”. The authors add: “Although the total precipitation has increased as the Arctic warms, Arctic snowfall is reduced substantially in all analysed data sets.”
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