Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Most of Britain’s electricity in 2017 is low carbon for first time
- 2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño, thanks to global warming
- Study: Quarter of world's population could face permanent drought if Paris deal goals aren’t met
- Cut-price nuclear power plant possible, says EDF
- China, Moving to Cut Emissions, Halts Production of 500 Car Models
- Trump tax cuts will help profits, says BP
- Reports: Greg Clark under threat in rumoured reshuffle plans
- Electric cars put battery metal prices in fast lane
- How to spend a dwindling greenhouse gas budget
- Science Says: Why there's a big chill in a warmer world
- Five big gaps in national climate plans - and how to close them
- From Pinot to Xinomavro in the world's future wine-growing regions
The UK generated more electricity from renewable and nuclear energy in 2017 than from gas and coal, reports the Financial Times, in a story based on analysis by Carbon Brief. Renewable energy accounted for just over 29% of electricity generation last year, up from a quarter in 2016, with a further 21% coming from nuclear power. Coal’s share of the electricity mix fell to less than 7%, with gas also down at just under 40%. Britain has driven coal out of its energy system faster than most other developed economies, the Financial Times writes, in pursuit of a government target for all coal-fired power generation to end by 2025. “Eighty per cent of UK emissions reduction in the past five years has coming from burning less coal…That puts into perspective how little progress has been made in other parts of the economy”, said Dr Simon Evans, Carbon Brief’s policy editor.
2017 was the second-hottest year on record according to Nasa data, and was the hottest year without the warming influence of El Niño, the Guardian reports. It was a “whopping” 0.17°C hotter than 2014, which previously held the record for the warmest year without an El Niño. “It was only a matter of time until short-term effects stopped holding back the rise of Earth’s surface temperatures. That’s now happened, and as a result we’re seeing unleashed global warming causing record temperatures year after year”, Nuccitelli writes.
More than one-quarter of the world’s population could live in a state of drought if the Earth’s temperature goes up by 2C by 2050, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. “Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20-30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2ºC,” said Manoj Joshi of the University of East Anglia, who led the study. The Paris climate agreement has a goal of making sure global average temperatures don’t rise 2 degrees Celsius, the Hill reports. But “reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere in order to keep global warming under 1.5ºC or 2ºC could reduce the likelihood of significant aridification emerging in many parts of the world”, said Su-Jong Jeong, from China’s Southern University of Science and Technology, who participated in the research. The Guardian also covered the study.
French energy giant EDF believes it can build a follow-up to Hinkley Point C, a nuclear power plant currently under construction in Somerset, for £5 billion less. Hinkley Point C will cost at least £19.6bn, and has been criticised over concerns about high costs and construction delays. But the company is drawing up plans to build a sister plant at Sizewell C in Suffolk and believes that it can cut the construction cost by up to 25% thanks to efficiencies from “copying and pasting” large elements of Hinkley Point, the Times reports. It is understood to expect to be able to eliminate the majority of the £2 billion costs it spent on pre-construction work on Hinkley Point.
China has suspended the production of over 500 car models that do not meet its fuel economy standards, the New York Times reports, in “the latest move by Beijing to reduce emissions in the world’s largest auto market and take the lead in battling climate change”. The decision is expected to affect a small share of car manufacturing in China, where 28 million vehicles were produced in 2016. Chinese leaders are under pressure to combat dangerous air pollution in Chinese cities, where thick smog has at times forced schools and businesses to temporarily shut down.
BP expects to reap higher profits from its American business thanks to President Trump’s corporate tax cut. However, it said that it would be hit by a one-off $1.5 billion charge in the short term after re-evaluating its deferred tax position in light of the reforms. Reuters and the Financial Times also have the story.
The UK prime minister is rumoured to be considering replacing Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with Boris Johnson, the current foreign secretary, in a bid to give the Foreign Secretary more power over the Brexit process. Meanwhile BEIS Climate Change Minister Claire Perry is tipped for promotion, amid suggestions the PM is looking to rebalance the gender split in her cabinet, BusinessGreen writes. Reports from a number of publications including the Guardian and the Times suggest that Theresa May is considering a cabinet reshuffle next week.
Demand for lithium, cobalt and nickel for batteries surged in 2017, as the result of rising expectations about the move towards electric vehicles and the expansion of large-scale energy storage, the Times reports. But one analyst believe that prices may reach higher peaks yet. “There is a big trend in the energy storage market and we’re now starting to see the beginnings of these big megafactories we’ve talked about”, said Andrew Miller, an analyst at Benchmark Minerals. The prices of lithium and cobalt have more than doubled in the past year.
The Paris Agreement is based on emission scenarios that depend on the late adoption of large scale negative emissions technologies. But following this mitigation scenario “might not only turn out to be a risky strategy, but may lead to significant environmental damages and may also be economically inefficient”, a number of scientists argue in the journal Nature Climate Change. Instead they propose that: “alternative pathways of early deployment of negative emission technologies need to be considered to ensure that climate targets are reached safely and sustainably”.
Seth Borenstein, science writer for the Associated Press, explores why the weather in the US is “upside down”, with Anchorage, Alaska warmer than Jacksonville, Florida. “Super cold air is normally locked up in the Arctic in the polar vortex , which is a gigantic circular weather pattern around the North Pole”, Borenstein explains. But “when it weakens, it causes like a dam to burst,” and the cold air heads south, says Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research. But what makes the vortex move? “This is an area of hot debate and research among scientists and probably is a mix of human-caused climate change and natural variability”, Borenstein says. “Don’t confuse weather – which is a few days or weeks in one region – with climate, which is over years and decades and global”, he concludes.
A feature in Climate Home takes a critical look at the 165 national climate action plans submitted by countries to the UN climate negotiations, that underpin the Paris Agreement. “Five major gaps need to be addressed if NDCs are to become the long-term instrument for international cooperation, negotiation, and ratcheting up of ambition to address climate change”, they argue. For example, “comparatively few countries include agriculture and transport as focus areas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even though these two sectors have high emissions and high potential to reduce them.” They also note that, “many developing countries prioritise adaptation to the impacts of climate change, but only a few developed countries mention adaptation”. Additionally: “Most developing countries make their contributions to emission reduction conditional on receiving international financial support…Yet developed countries – expected to provide the support – hardly mention finance in their plans”. The analysts’ views are expanded further in an article that they’ve written for the journal Climatic Change (pdf).
Vineyards might be able to counteract some of the effects of climate change by planting lesser-known grape varieties, a new study suggests, but scientists and winemakers need to widen their understanding of how different grapes cope with rising temperatures. Wine grapes possess tremendous diversity in how they respond to climate, the study notes, yet “many countries plant 70–90% of total hectares with the same 12 varieties — representing 1% of total diversity”. The researchers outline these challenges and highlight how altered planting practices and new initiatives could help the industry better adapt to climate change.
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