Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Britain's first coal-free day since Industrial Revolution
- Tens of Thousands March for Science and Against Threats to Climate Research
- Tories accused of stealing Labour's energy price cap promise
- Trump to set new executive orders on environment, energy this week
- Officials rebuked over Hinkley power plant delaying tactics
- UK renewable energy firms grab contracts worth billions
- The Planet Can’t Stand This Presidency
- Can slag heaps help save the planet?
- Brexit and climate leadership
- Attribution of the 2015 record high sea surface temperatures over the central equatorial Pacific and tropical Indian Ocean
- Beliefs and values explain international differences in perception of solar radiation management: insights from a cross-country survey
Britain’s electricity was coal-free for 24 hours on Friday, for the first time since the world’s first coal-fired power station opened in London in 1882. The story appeared on TV news bulletins from Sky, ITV and the BBC. It was the lead story on the BBC website on Saturday morning. Higher generation from gas, along with the rise of renewables, were behind the milestone, reported the Guardian. The Press Association, Sun, Sun, Telegraph, and Financial Times were among those reporting the news. A Telegraph editorial said “We’ll miss [coal] when at last it’s gone”. The story received international coverage from National Public Radio and ABC in the US and Russia Today. Italian news site Solo News, along with Quartz, the Independent, the Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Business Green and Climate Home were among those citing Carbon Brief analysis in their coverage, showing UK coal use fell 52% last year and generated less electricity than wind.
Marches in support of science took place across the world on Saturday to protest against a growing political culture, particularly in the US under President Trump, that dismisses or even attacks evidence-based policy-making and instead promotes “alternative facts”. There was widespread international media coverage of the marches, particularly the marches in the US. Inside Climate News writes: “The March for Science, which attracted support from many of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, occurred on Earth Day and kicks off a week of teach-ins, demonstrations and other grassroots activism culminating in the People’s Climate March on April 29, which is expected to draw even bigger crowds. Local marches were held around the nation and around the world.” Climate Central notes that “climate change was the epicenter of March for Science”. Most publications focuses on the marchers’ inventive and colourful signs and chants. The Guardian said: “Chants asked what people wanted? ‘Science’, the marches bellowed. When? ‘Following peer review.'” Also, in the Guardian, John Holdren, Obama’s former science advisor, wrote that scientists should not be wary of going on such marches: “Science is already politicized, (even if many scientists themselves resist admitting it)”. The Independent, Telegraph, Hill, Reuters and BBC News were among the many other titles covering the marches.
Theresa May should give Labour a round of applause for highlighting the scandal of rip-off gas and electricity bills, the former shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint has said after senior Conservatives confirmed their manifesto will include an energy price cap. Capping utility bills was a key policy in Labour’s 2015 general election manifesto, but was rubbished by David Cameron as evidence that Ed Miliband wanted to live in a “Marxist universe”. The Sunday Times broke the story, with the headline: “May parks tanks on Labour’s lawn”. It added: “Theresa May will attempt to capture the political centre ground by slashing £100 from the energy bills of 17m families and granting new rights for workers. The prime minister will use the Conservative manifesto, to be published on May 8, to cap the gas and electricity bills for the seven out of 10 households that pay standard variable tariffs — dubbed a rip-off by watchdogs. The policy is a centrepiece of a manifesto that will set out a bold social vision for Britain that parks Tory tanks on terrain usually occupied by Labour.” However, the news quickly received pushback. The Times reports today that the energy industry has accused the Conservatives of “giving up on competition” by proposing to cap fuel bills. The Daily Telegraph quotes Julian Jessop, the chief economist at right-leaning thinktank Institute of Economic Affairs who said it was “clumsy and counter-productive”. The Guardian highlights the “hypocrisy” of some right-wing newspapers who welcomes the move but who attacked former Labour leader Ed Miliband for suggesting a very similar policy back in 2013. Meanwhile, the Financial Times is reporting that shares in UK utilities have dropped at the start of trading today. “Centrica, the owner of British Gas, was the worst performer on the FTSE 100, falling as much as 3% on a strong day for the wider market.” Bu contrast, on Saturday, the Times reported that a green energy supplier has “bucked the trend of imposing price rises” by announcing that it is reducing its electricity and gas tariff in response to falling wholesale costs: “Bulb, which raised its standard dual fuel prices by 7% in November, said that it was cutting them by about 2.5% from Monday.”
Donald Trump will sign new executive orders this week before he completes his first 100 days in office, including two on energy and the environment, which would make it easier for the United States to develop energy on and offshore, a White House official said on Sunday. On Wednesday, Trump is expected to sign an executive order related to the 1906 Antiquities Act, which enables the president to designate federal areas of land and water as national monuments to protect them from drilling, mining and development, a source has told Reuters. On Friday, Trump is expected to sign an order to review areas available for offshore oil and gas exploration, as well as rules governing offshore drilling. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that “Republican cracks” are emerging in Trump’s “coal-heavy energy plan”. It quotes Debbie Dooley, a Tea Party organiser and solar energy activist: “The genie is already out of the bottle…Renewables are popular among conservatives.” Separately, the Guardian reports that Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire investor and former mayor of New York, has urged world leaders to ignore Trump on climate change. The Independent notes that Trump failed to mention climate change in his Earth Day statement.
Whitehall officials were guilty of “egregious” and unjustifiable delays before revealing details of government contracts for the Hinkley Point nuclear power project awarded to a company facing a potential conflict of interest, the Information Commissioner’s Office has said. The Times, which is a pursuing a long-running FOI request, adds that Leigh Fisher, a management consultancy, was awarded a £1.2m contract by DECC for its advice on Hinkley Point, despite the British division of Jacobs Engineering, an American group that also owns Leigh Fisher, working for EDF on the project. Separately, Adam Vaughan, the Guardian’s energy correspondent, has visited the nuclear site in Somerset as the new Hinkley plant “takes shape”: “Today it looks more like Mordor, from Lord of the Rings, a scarred landscape and hive of activity driven with a single purpose: ensuring these reactors do not repeat the delays and overspends on the other two European projects using EDF’s Hinkley reactor design.” Meanwhile, in the Express, Geoff Ho says that “only the hopelessly naive will believe EDF’s claims that it will start generating electricity by 2025”.
The UK’s renewable energy industry clinched international contracts totalling billions of pounds last year, according to the industry group Renewable UK. Using a sample of 36 UK-based companies in the wind and marine energy sector from its membership base of around 400 firms, Renewable UK estimates the total value of exports last year could be close to £2bn, but could be much higher as some larger firms declined to reveal the value of their contracts. It also found that renewable energy products and services were exported to 43 countries in 2016.
The veteran environmental campaigner uses Earth Day to pen an op-ed about Trump: “Even when we vote him out of office, Trumpism will persist, a dark stratum in the planet’s geological history.” Citing Carbon Brief analysis, he says: “In Paris in 2015, the world’s nations pledged to do all they could to hold the rise of the planet’s temperature to 1.5C. It was a good idea since, though we’re still half a degree short of that number, we’re already seeing disastrous ice melt at the poles, the loss of coral reefs and the inexorable rise of the oceans. But at current rates of burning coal, gas and oil, we could put enough carbon in the atmosphere in the next four years to eventually push us past that temperature limit.”
The Observer’s science editor has written a news feature looking at the one of the “negative emissions” projects awarded public research funding late last week. “A British scientist is planning to use slag heaps to deal with the climate change. Based at Cardiff University’s school of earth and ocean sciences, Phil Renforth is preparing to test the feasibility of using iron and steel slag deposits to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. His three-year project, which has just been awarded a £300,000 grant by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), is set to begin in Consett, County Durham, and Port Talbot, south Wales.” Carbon Brief has also covered the story in detail.
Good Energy’s chief executive is concerned about the delays to the long-awaited UK carbon plan: “The longer we leave it, the harder it will be to reach our emissions targets…Further delays continue to raise concerns, primarily surrounding the lack of clarity over the reasons. Is it because government leadership on climate is weakening? Is it because climate will be a bargaining chip as part of a Brexit negotiation? Are these areas just proving too difficult to solve behind closed doors? Or is it combination of all three? Although the election will result in yet more delays, a credible plan is essential, and details should be shared as soon as possible.”
The record-breaking high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) observed in the central equatorial Pacific and tropical Indian Ocean in 2015 are “robustly attributable to human activities due to greenhouse gas increase,” a new study finds. Using CMIP5 model simulations with and without anthropogenic forcing, the researchers show that the excessive warming in both regions is well beyond the range of natural variability. The study also identifies an “atmospheric bridge effect” where extreme SSTs in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean in turn induced the extreme SST event over the tropical Indian Ocean.
A new study describes the findings of an international survey on the general public’s perception and acceptance of solar radiation management (SRM). The research finds that Chinese participants had a greater acceptance for SRM than their North American (US and Canada) and European (Germany, Switzerland, and the UK) counterparts. Lower acceptability ratings for SRM in Canada and Europe were mostly related to stronger beliefs that SRM tampers with nature, the researchers say, while Chinese respondents were more accepting of SRM when they held stronger beliefs that it may reduce the need for climate change mitigation efforts.
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