Today's climate and energy headlines:
- British power grid notches up first week of coal-free operation
- Climate crisis: flooding threat ‘may force UK towns to be abandoned’
- Energy company SSE to cut 444 jobs as customers snub smart meters
- Half world's biggest airlines don't offer carbon offsetting
- ExxonMobil pledges $100m for emissions-reduction research
- New Zealand introduces 'zero carbon' bill with concession to farmers
- The Times view on clean air: Suffocating Cities
- Cleaner Britain
- The UN report on extinction vs. Mike Pompeo at the Arctic Council
- Sea-ice algal phenology in a warmer Arctic
- Socio-economic conditions and small business vulnerability to climate change impacts in Hong Kong
Britain’s electricity grid has gone a full week without coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the Press Association reports. According to the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), which runs the network in England, Scotland and Wales, the new record was set at 1.24pm yesterday – a week after the last coal generator came off the system. The milestone marks the first coal-free week since 1882, when a coal plant opened at Holborn in London, notes the Guardian. And it comes only two years after Britain’s first coal-free day. “While this is the first time this has happened, I predict it will become the new normal,” says Fintan Slye, director of ESO, quoted in the Financial Times. He adds: “As more and more renewables come on to our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence. We believe that by 2025 we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero carbon.” The Independent quotes Greg Clark, the business and energy secretary, saying: “Going a week without coal for the first time since the industrial revolution is a huge leap forward in our world-leading efforts to reduce emissions, but we’re not stopping there…To combat climate change and seize on the opportunities of clean growth, we’re phasing out coal entirely by 2025 and building a cleaner, greener energy system.” The Hill, Reuters, Vox and BusinessGreen also cover the story, while Carbon Brief produced an animation of how coal-fired power has declined this year.
In its main frontpage story, the Guardian reports on warnings from the Environment Agency that entire communities might need to be moved away from coasts and rivers as the UK prepares for as much as 4C of global warming. Discussing the agency’s long-term strategy for tackling flooding and coastal change, chair Emma Howard Boyd is quoted in the paper saying that difficult decisions would have to be taken in the coming years to make sure the UK was resilient to flooding: “We can’t win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences. We need to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience in England that help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond”. The agency’s strategy notes that at least £1bn a year will still need to be spent on traditional flood and coastal defences in the face of climate change, says the Press Association. Environment minister Therese Coffey said the government was already providing £2.6bn over six years, “delivering more than 1,500 projects to better protect 300,000 homes”, reports BBC News, but “the threat of climate change will mean an increasing risk and preparing the country is a priority for the government, and the nation as a whole”. The agency’s strategy also recommends that properties in high-risk areas should raise electrics to a higher level and install hard flooring to make it easier to recover after flooding, notes the Daily Telegraph.
The UK’s largest trade union Unite said energy company SSE is cutting 444 jobs in its retail sector covering smart meter installation because of a lack of interest from customers, reports Reuters. The UK has a goal to roll out around 50m smart meters to almost 30m homes by the end of 2020. However, energy suppliers have struggled to get customers to take up the meters, Reuters says, with many put off by early teething problems with the technology. SSE insisted that blaming job losses on a lack of smart meter take-up was “not entirely accurate”, reports the Financial Times. It quotes SSE saying the reasons for the cuts were “broader” than this, with job losses spread across smart metering and customer service.
Less than half of the world’s major airlines are giving passengers the opportunity to offset the CO2 produced from their flights, research by BBC News has found. Carbon offsetting enables passengers to balance out their carbon footprint by paying towards environmental projects. However, out of the 28 airlines approached, less than half offered a carbon offset scheme and the majority declined to provide the BBC with data on the number of passengers offsetting their flights – often saying their figures were too low to report. In a separate piece, BBC environment reporter Laura Foster “explains some of the things you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of your flight”.
ExxonMobil is promising up to $100m over the next 10 years to US government laboratories to research technologies that could cut greenhouse gas emissions, reports the Financial Times. The company will be giving the money to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and National Energy Technology Laboratory to work on technologies including advanced biofuels and ways to capture and store carbon emissions, the paper says. Exxon chief executive Darren Woods is quoted saying: “Unfortunately, the technology does not exist today to meet the growth in demand for energy while reducing emissions in line with the goals of the Paris agreement.” The FT notes that the commitment to the US national laboratories – if paid at the rate of $10m a year – “would represent a little under 1% of Exxon’s research and development budget of $1.12bn last year”.
New Zealand will aim to cut net emissions to zero for all greenhouse gases except methane by 2050, under a draft law sent to parliament yesterday, reports Climate Home News. Based on the UK’s Climate Change Act, the bill would set up an independent climate change commission to review and set “emissions budgets” on a five-yearly basis. For methane, the government proposed a 24-47% cut from 2017 levels, in what Climate Home News says was a compromise with farmers. Almost half the country’s emissions come from agriculture, it notes, driven by large sheep and cattle herds. Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that warming ocean temperatures have been blamed for luring tropical fish thousands of kilometres into New Zealand waters, threatening vulnerable native species as they compete for resources.
Launching its “manifesto for change” on air pollution, a Times editorial calls for diesel and petrol cars to be banned “from 2030 instead of the government’s goal of 2040”. The Times says that “grants for green cars should be reversed”, noting: “The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that all new cars should be electric by 2035 at the latest. Specialists say that Britain could achieve this earlier but to usher in the rapid end of new combustion engine cars the government has to be ready to make up for some of the initial expense.” The editorial also suggests that “in most towns and cities it should be possible to ban all but electric buses and cars from approach roads to schools during the morning drop-off and the afternoon pick-up”. In an accompanying investigation, the Times reports that “about 6,500 schools educating 2.6 million children are in areas where fine particles in the air exceed the World Health Organisation recommended limit”.
“On the environment, Britain is doing its best…and better than most”, says an editorial in the Sun, which cites the news that the UK “has been powered for a week without burning ANY coal”. Despite this positive change, the Sun says “leftie teachers tell kids Tory-run Britain is a filthy polluter, frying the planet”, making it “no wonder children flock to hysterical eco marches”. It continues: “And our cowed government makes matters worse, telling clueless ‘Extinction Rebellion’ mobs they have a point.” Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Nick Timothy is equally unhappy, taking aim at the Committee on Climate Change’s “net zero” report published last week. The former joint chief of staff to prime minister Theresa May argues that: “[T]he Climate Change Committee is back, and more crazily unilateralist than ever before. Their latest brainwave: to make Britain the first country to cut its carbon emissions to zero.” Timothy says “the truth is, alone, Britain cannot do much to slow or stop climate change”, but that policies such as the Climate Change Act are “wrecking its economic competitiveness” and “pushing up domestic bills”. [Bills have fallen since 2008, when the act became law.] While the UK emitted 352.9m tonnes of CO2 last year, “in the past eight years, developing countries increased their emissions by 4,362m tonnes”, he says.
“It’s rare that you get to see, in sharp focus, opposite world views fighting for the planet’s future at the same time, but it happened on Monday,” writes veteran journalist and climate campaigner Bill McKibben in the New Yorker. These opposing views were the United Nations report on biodiversity, which warned that a million species already face extinction, and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s view of the melting Arctic as an opportunity to access the area’s resources, he explains. “I have never met an Earth scientist who isn’t profoundly frightened by what is happening in the Arctic,” says McKibben, “but not to Pompeo, who looks to the Arctic and sees oil, gas, gold, and diamonds. It’s as if Gollum were secretary of state”. He concludes: The truth is, far more human beings worry about Arctic melt than celebrate it; far more human beings tremble at the news of mass extinction than shrug. Those people don’t, for the most part, hold political power. But perhaps it is still possible to rally them in numbers large enough to shake our leaders…It is, almost certainly, the only hope for averting at least some of the apocalypse that science now solemnly informs us is our destiny.”
A new study looks to the future to see how melting Arctic sea ice could impact the growth patterns of algae, which can worsen melting by causing the ice to appear darker in colour. The modelling results show warming could drive various effects at different latitudes. The authors say: “While snow cover thinning explains the advancement of algal blooms below 66°N, narrowing of the biological time windows yields small changes in the 66°N to 74°N band, and shifting of the ice seasons toward more favourable photoperiods drives the increase in algal production above 74°N.”
Small businesses faced with pre-existing socio-economic disadvantages, such as low rates of higher education attainment and old age, could be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, finds a study conducted in Hong Kong. It draws on the results of a survey involving 116 owner-managers of small and micro businesses in three remote coastal communities in Hong Kong exposed to high floods. “Small and micro businesses bear the brunt of climate change impacts in the climate-challenged economy,” the authors say.
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