Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Carbon emissions fall in UK for sixth consecutive year
- Climate change: Angela Merkel welcomes school strikes
- Jay Inslee: Washington governor to run on climate change
- Rolls-Royce to offload civil nuclear unit
- UK weather: February temperature jump was incredible, says climate expert
- Most US coal plants are contaminating groundwater with toxins, analysis finds
- Parliament must declare a climate emergency – not ignore it
- Wallace Broecker, climate scientist, 1931-2019
- Hot and bothered? Associations between temperature and crime in Australia
- Localised changes in heatwave properties across the USA
Carbon dioxide emissions in the UK fell for the sixth consecutive year in 2018, says the Financial Times, reporting on new estimates published by Carbon Brief. Last year, emissions were the lowest on record since 1888, apart from during years affected by major industrial action by workers, including 1893 and the 1926 general strike. “This is the longest stretch of consecutive years with falling emissions,” says Dr Simon Evans, policy editor of Carbon Brief. However, as the Guardian points out, there are signs the UK’s recent period of rapid progress is drawing to a close. “The estimated 1.5% decline last year was considerably smaller than the 3.2% fall in 2017 and the 8.7% drop in 2014: the biggest in recent years,” it says. Evans tells the Guardian that “the lion’s share of recent CO2 reductions in the UK have been due to falling coal use”, but with coal power now accounting for just 5% of electricity generation, the scope for additional emissions cuts was “increasingly limited”.
In related news, BusinessGreen reports that wind, solar and bioenergy helped push up UK production of renewable energy almost 9% last year, as both nuclear and gas output fell and coal generation again fell to record lows. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph says the “offshore wind industry is poised to clinch a long-awaited government deal that could double the number of turbines in UK waters”. And BBC News reports that Scottish Members of Parliament have urged the government to set a “net zero” target for greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland’s Climate Change Bill.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she supports students protests about climate change, reports BBC News, as thousands of high school students in Hamburg marched out of lessons on Friday. In a video released on her official website, Merkel said that she “very much welcome[d] that young people, school students, demonstrate and tell us to do something fast about climate change”. “I think it is a very good initiative,” she added, without making reference to the fact that they were protesting during school hours. In contrast, the city’s education official, Ties Rabe, wrote on Twitter that “no-one makes the world better by skipping school”. A few weeks ago, Merkel came under fire for remarks suggesting the demonstrations could be influenced by outside interests, notes Politico. Bloomberg also has the story. The protesting students were led by teenage Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, reports Reuters. In an open letter, published in the Guardian, the Youth Strikes for Climate movement has called for strikes “on every continent” on 15 March as part of an international day of action by students. The letter warns: “We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not. United we will rise until we see climate justice. We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis.” The Guardian also has a video of the four school strikes at which Thunberg has spoken over the past week.
In the US, CBS News looks at the “Juliana v United States” lawsuit that was filed in 2015 on behalf of a group of children trying to get the courts to block the US government from continuing the use of fossil fuels. A separate article delves into the evidence filed for the court case, which sheds light on what the past 10 presidents have known about climate change. Finally, the Guardian speaks to five of the young activists behind the “Sunrise Movement”, which is closely allied with new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “has helped set out a sweepingly ambitious plan to address climate change in the form of the green new deal”.
Washington State’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee has announced his 2020 bid for the US presidential nomination, BBC News reports. Inslee will make climate change his number one issue, calling it “the most urgent challenge of our time” in his first campaign video. He is the first governor to join a crowded field vying for the Democratic nomination, notes the Hill. In his video, Inslee says he is “running for president because I’m the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority”, reports BuzzFeed News. His “longshot” candidacy will test a big question, says Axios, of whether there’s a political opening for someone who puts climate change at the heart of their campaign. Speaking to Reuters on Friday, Inslee said he would support policies similar to those he pushed in Washington state – aiming toward an energy grid free of fossil fuels, construction of energy-efficient buildings, and incentives for individuals as well as large organisations to buy electric vehicles. However, Inslee has had mixed success in getting some of his ideas put into practice in Washington state, notes the New York Times: “He failed twice with voters, and once in the Legislature, to enact the nation’s first carbon tax, aimed at reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions”. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal says the Inslee “will run in 2020 on ideas his own state rejected”. Inslee will spend the first days campaigning throughout Iowa and Nevada on his “Climate Mission Tour”, notes the Hill. Vox’s David Roberts has an interview with Inslee, who says climate change “will only be defeated if the United States shows leadership. And that will only happen if the US president makes it a clear priority — the number one, foremost, paramount goal of the next administration.” Vox also has a separate profile of Inslee.
Rolls-Royce is selling the vast bulk of its civil nuclear business, reports the Sunday Times, “dealing a new blow to efforts to rebuild Britain’s atomic power industry”. The company has hired consultants from KPMG to find a buyer for the nuclear division, which could fetch up to £200m. “The move marks the end of an era for the country’s premier engineering company, which has more than 50 years’ expertise in nuclear power but is being slimmed down by chief executive Warren East to focus on jet engines, power generators and defence,” the Sunday Times notes. The proposed sale does not include the company’s work on Somerset’s Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, the Daily Mail says, or the consortium it is leading to build small nuclear reactors or its submarine reactor business.
The past week’s record winter heat in the UK was so far above normal trends that scientists have been forced to reconsider their statistical models, reports the Guardian, with one expert calling the temperature jump “incredible”. Scotland, Wales and the UK as a whole set new records for winter temperature. Undertaking a preliminary study of the trend data from Reading and central England, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate researcher at Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, says the probability of this week’s temperatures was close to zero. “This is an incredible jump in record temperatures. If you asked me a few months ago, I would have said it is ridiculous,” he says. “It’s at least a one-in 200-year event, but it could be more because my statistical tools break down because this was so far outside what we are used to in February.” Writing in the Conversation, the Met Office’s head of climate impacts research, Prof Richard Betts, asks what role climate change played in the recent winter wildfires in the UK. He concludes: “On the question of whether these specific fires are linked to human-caused climate change, I’d say ‘maybe – we need to look into it more’. But on a more general question of whether we should expect more fires in the British Isles as the world continues to heat up, the answer is clear: yes.” The Sun says the record-breaking temperatures in February “have prompted millions of Brits to think more about their carbon footprint”, according to new research. Last week, Carbon Brief summarised all the media coverage of the UK”s unseasonably warm February weather.
Almost every coal-fired power plant in the US is contaminating groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollution, says the Guardian, reporting on the first comprehensive analysis of the consequences of coal ash waste disposal. Of the 265 US power plants that monitor groundwater, 242 have reported unsafe levels of at least one pollutant derived from coal ash, which is the remnants of coal after it is burned for energy. More than half such facilities report unsafe levels of arsenic, a carcinogen linked to multiple types of cancer, with 60% finding elevated lithium, which is associated with neurological damage. Overall, 91% of coal plants with reportable data have “unsafe levels of toxic contaminants”, says InsideClimate News. The worst affected was the San Miguel Power Plant in the south of San Antonio, Texas, with 12 pollutants above safe levels in groundwater. Reuters also has the story.
Writing in the Guardian, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas comments on the first debate on climate change in the Houses of Commons for two years: “It was our first opportunity since September 2016 to talk about the biggest and most urgent crisis humanity has ever faced. Just 40 MPs showed up.” “Since 2010, this government has built a bonfire out of the measures designed to cut emissions,” says Lucas: “Zero carbon homes targets have been scrapped. Onshore wind has been effectively banned. Solar power has been shafted. The Green Investment Bank has been flogged off. Fracking has been forced on communities who have rejected it.” Lucas advocates a UK version of the “green new deal” currently being debated in the US: “Parliament must now declare a climate emergency. It must debate climate change regularly. It must develop the laws necessary to implement a green new deal and climate-proof every piece of legislation. And the government must ensure climate change is a priority in all departmental and cabinet decision-making.” Also in the Guardian, columnist Ian Jack asks whether readers “remember the days when we weren’t freaked out by freak weather?”
The Financial Times carries an obituary for the climate scientist Wallace Broecker, who is credited with popularising the term “global warming”. “His pioneering work over 67 years as a student and researcher at Columbia led many climate scientists to regard him as the grandfather or dean of their field,” says the FT. Broecker “put his greatest research effort into understanding how global circulation in the oceans affects climate as the waters absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and transfer heat around the world”, the piece notes. “In the 1980s he pulled the evidence together into a synthesis that he called ‘the great ocean conveyor’.” Elsewhere, Broecker is mentioned in a CNN article on the origins of the terms “global warming” and “climate change”, and how a “secret memo” shaped the terminology used in the US.
A study looks at the links between heat and crimes such as assault, theft and fraud in New South Wales, Australia. The findings suggest that counts of assault and theft were significantly higher in summer than winter (17.8 and 3.7%, respectively), while fraud counts were not significantly different. Using modelling, the researchers then found that theft counts significantly increased with rising temperature then declined as temperatures exceeded 30C.
Miami has seen the greatest increase in heatwave season length, frequency and timing out of any US region from 1950-2016, a study finds. The research uses modelling to evaluate how heatwaves have changed in every US region over the past 60 years. Other regions that have seen large changes in the severity, timing and frequency of heatwaves include Dallas, New York, Phoenix and Portland.
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