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Daily Briefing

12.02.2019
Today's climate and energy headlines
Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

12.02.2019 | 9:12am
DAILY BRIEFING Climate and economic risks ‘threaten 2008-style systemic collapse’
Climate and economic risks ‘threaten 2008-style systemic collapse’

News.

Climate and economic risks 'threaten 2008-style systemic collapse'

A new study from the Institute for Public Policy Research warns, reports the Guardian, that a “gathering storm of human-caused threats to climate, nature and economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis”. The newspaper adds: “The study says the combination of global warming, soil infertility, pollinator loss, chemical leaching and ocean acidification is creating a ‘new domain of risk’, which is hugely underestimated by policymakers even though it may pose the greatest threat in human history…The new paper – This is a Crisis: Facing up to the Age of Environmental Breakdown – is a meta-study of dozens of academic papers, government documents and NGO reports compiled by IPPR, a leftwing thinktank that is considered an influence on Labour policy.” Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s environment analyst, also covers the report, saying that it claims “politicians and policymakers have failed to grasp the gravity of the environmental crisis facing the Earth”. He adds: “The IPPR warns that the window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic outcomes is rapidly closing. The authors urge three shifts in political understanding: on the scale and pace of environmental breakdown; the implications for societies; and the subsequent need for transformative change. They say since 2005, the number of floods across the world has increased by 15 times, extreme temperature events by 20 times, and wildfires seven-fold. At least climate change features in policy discussions, they say – but other vitally important impacts barely figure.”

The Guardian Read Article
Shift to cleaner energy would nudge up EU output, report shows

The FT reports on new analysis run jointly by Cambridge Econometrics and EU agency Eurofound’s European jobs monitor which has calculated that the EU28’s GDP would be 1.1% higher by 2030 if the Paris Agreement was implemented compared to the baseline scenario. This would be “thanks to a spur in investment in clean energy”. The FT adds: “The positive impact is largely due to additional investment in energy efficiency and generation of renewable energy, together with the impact of lower spending on fossil fuel. The report forecasts a boost in investment of 1.7% and in consumption by 0.7% by 2030. This is in line with Brussels’ projections of investment growth in renewable energy worth in the range of €175bn to €290bn annually by 2050 for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.”

Meanwhile, EurActiv reports that Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s commissioner for climate action and energy, has said that natural gas will remain “an important component” of the EU’s energy mix for decades to come. “We will not be able to get to 100% renewables overnight,” he told a conference last week, it reports. “Natural gas offers the flexibility that can complement variable electricity generation coming from renewables. As such, it will act as a bridge to decarbonise the economy.”

Financial Times Read Article
Biggest offshore windfarm to start UK supply this week

“An offshore windfarm on the Yorkshire coast that will dwarf the world’s largest when completed is to supply its first power to the UK electricity grid this week,” reports the Guardian, adding: “The Danish developer Ørsted, which will be installing the first of 174 turbines at Hornsea One, said it was ready to step up its plans and fill the gap left by failed nuclear power schemes. The size of the project takes the burgeoning offshore wind power sector to a new scale, on a par with conventional fossil fuel-fired power stations. Hornsea One will cover 407 sq km, five times the size of the nearby city of Hull. At 1.2GW of capacity it will power 1m homes, making it about twice as powerful as today’s biggest offshore windfarm once it is completed in the second half of this year.”

The Guardian Read Article
South Africa imposes blackouts to save national grid

The FT says that “South Africa’s struggling state power monopoly imposed its severest level of rolling blackouts on Monday to prevent the collapse of the national grid”. The ongoing crisis at Eskom, which generates nearly all of the country’s electricity, means that it has “said that it had cut 4,000 megawatts from the power supply after it ‘unexpectedly lost six additional generating units’ to breakdowns.” The FT adds: “The decision came just days after President Cyril Ramaphosa outlined a contentious plan to break up the utility. Mr Ramaphosa launched an overhaul of Eskom soon after replacing Jacob Zuma, under whose presidency the utility was a byword for corruption and waste…Eskom is already running far short of its official capacity of 45,000MW of electricity, with the latest blackouts implying that it is straining to meet even low summer demand. Eskom has been dogged in particular by overruns at expensive new coal plants.” Reuters reports that four of Eskom’s generating units are now back in service. Last year, Carbon Brief published a detailed profile of South Africa.

Financial Times Read Article
Climate change protests: UK primary school children due to miss lessons for environmental 'strike'

There is continuing coverage of this Friday’s planned climate protests by school children across the UK. The Independent says: “Children as young as five are due to be among the thousands of pupils walking out of their lessons as part of a climate change protest. Primary school children, as well as teenagers and university students, are being encouraged to take part in a mass ‘strike’ on Friday over the ‘lack of government action’ on the environment. More than 40 protest events are said to have been planned in towns and cities as part of the UK’s first Youth Strike 4 Climate. It comes as similar protests have happened around the world.” It quotes Anna Taylor, 17, who is one of the organisers of the protest, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: “It is important to remember that simply learning about it in school has not done enough. We have tried to learn about it in school and yet we are still heading towards an immense climate catastrophe which will end the life of loads of species on earth.” Meanwhile, Richard Littlejohn in his weekly Daily Mail column says: “It’s anarchy in the UK classrooms as middle-class ‘green’ militants encourage children as young as nine to play truant.”

The Independent Read Article
Trump calls to save coal plant supplied by major supporter

Politico is among a number of US outlets reporting that Donald Trump publicly pushed the Tennessee Valley Authority to save an aging coal plant in Kentucky that buys its fuel from one of the president’s top supporters. “Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and @TVAnews should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!” Trump tweeted. The 1.1GW plant gets the bulk of its coal from a subsidiary of Murray Energy. “Robert Murray, the CEO of the mining company, is a major Trump supporter who has personally lobbied the president to take other actions to help the ailing coal industry,” says Politico. Reuters adds: “More US coal-fired power plants were shut in Trump’s first two years than were retired in the whole of former Democratic President Barack Obama’s first term, despite the Republican’s efforts to prop up the industry to keep a campaign promise to coal-mining states.” The two coal plants announced for potential retirement by TVA are operating “with little to no financial margin”, according to an analysis from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Meanwhile, Bloomberg has an article about the first coal plant to open in the US since 2015 – “a 17MW generator, built for $245m…at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, just 100 miles from the state’s only coal mine.”

Politico Read Article
Critics attack secrecy at UN body seeking to cut global airline emissions

The Guardian reports that “a UN body tasked with cutting global aircraft emissions is covertly meeting this week for discussions dominated by airline industry observers”. It is referring to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which is meeting in Montreal this week to discuss measures to reduce emissions from international aircraft. The Guardian adds: “Domestic and international flights emitted 895m tonnes of CO2 last year – 2.4% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, according to Carbon Brief [in a piece published last week]. In terms of emissions, if aviation were a country it would be the sixth largest in the world…But the body in charge of reducing the carbon footprint of international aviation has little or no public scrutiny. Its agenda and discussion documents are not released to the public or the international press, and the meetings are not open to the media.” The Guardian quotes critics of ICOA’s lack of transparency, adding: “The only non-governmental body not linked to the airline industry allowed into the meeting is the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, made up of a small group of international environmental NGOs.” Separately, EurActiv carries a comment piece by campaigners from the NGO Transport & Environment arguing that aviation “risks undermining the EU’s new renewables rules”.

The Guardian Read Article

Comment.

Morrison must break with climate denialists

The Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial reacts to a speech by Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison in which the climate sceptic seems to have reversed his position: “It was welcome that Mr Morrison on Monday turned around and emphatically accepted the science. ‘I acknowledge [climate change] is a factor. Of course it is. Australians do – the vast majority of Australians,’ he said. It has taken a long time for these words to come out of Mr Morrison’s mouth but the real issue is what he plans to do about them. Mr Morrison promised to do more on climate change before the next election but he still suffers from a credibility gap on the issue.” The Herald hints that the upcoming federal elections might have something to do with his shift: “Morrison took a big step forward…by saying what most Australians have long been thinking about the link between climate change and the bushfires, droughts and catastrophic floods that have ravaged the country in recent years. Hopefully he will now do something about cutting Australia’s carbon emissions, too.”

Editorial, Sydney Morning Herald Read Article
What we should ask Democrats about the green new deal

There is continuing reaction to last week’s publication of the “green new deal” resolution by a group of influential Democrats. Much of the reaction now, however, is focused on how Republicans have tried to seize on the proposal to paint the Democrats as “extremists”. For example, the conservative Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt says: “It will take courage on the part of debate moderators and panelists to press the would-be [presidential] nominees assembled on the cow-unfriendly, airplane-ending, 100% rebuild-of-every-building exercise in ‘massive’ government coercion (‘massive’ or ‘massively’ being the single most used word in the Green New Deal manifesto), but that’s what the media exists to do, right? Not throw underhand softballs at the folks who endorsed this thousand-flowers-of-inanity-blooming spectacle of incoherence.” Coral Davenport in the New York Times has a news feature on how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s team “flubbed” by deleting a summary of the deal from her website, adding that the text of the summary has been “pounced” on by Republicans. In the Guardian, though, Ann Pettifor is supportive of the deal saying it is “incredibly ambitious, both on climate change and with its reimagining of society”. Carbon Brief has recently updated its explainer on the green new deal.

Hugh Hewitt, The Washington Post Read Article

Science.

China and India lead in greening of the world through land-use management

China and India are “leading the world” in creating green areas, a study finds, with the two countries accounting for one-third of the forests, croplands and other vegetation planted globally since 2000. The study uses high-resolution satellite data to explore where in the world is “greening” – where the area covered by leaves is increasing – and where in the world is “browning” – where the leaf area is decreasing. It finds rates of greening are highest in China – which accounts for a quarter of all new leaf-covered area introduced since 2000.

Nature Sustainability Read Article
Southern Hemisphere subtropical drying as a transient response to warming

The reduction in rainfall seen in the tropical southern hemisphere is “not a feature of warm climates per se”, a new study suggests, “but is primarily a response to rapidly rising forcing and global temperatures”. Using multi-century future climate simulations, the researchers show that “that in the Southern Hemisphere, subtropical drying ceases soon after global temperature stabilises”, the authors say. “Subtropical drying may therefore be a temporary response to rapid warming: as greenhouse gas concentrations and global temperatures stabilise, Southern Hemisphere subtropical regions may experience positive precipitation trends,” the authors conclude.

Nature Climate Change Read Article
A consensus estimate for the ice thickness distribution of all glaciers on Earth

A study measures ice thickness for over 20,000 individual glaciers worldwide. The results show the High Mountains of Asia host about 27% less glacier ice than previously suggested and “imply that the timing by which the region is expected to lose half of its present-day glacier area has to be moved forward by about one decade”, the authors say.

Nature Geoscience Read Article

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