Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Electricity from renewables topped coal in Germany for first time in 2018
- Future of UK fracking in doubt as councils ban shale and price of gas falls
- China to crack down on diesel trucks, raise fuel standards
- Pelosi says House to revisit climate plan based on 2009 bill
- Poland's coal plans are 'absurd', environmentalists say
- Farming chief calls for 'net zero' agriculture emissions in UK by 2040
- Building windfarms in England is pointless because it isn't windy enough
- Katharine Hayhoe: 'A thermometer is not liberal or conservative'
- Will Jair Bolsonaro rip up environmental protections and endanger the Amazon?
- Greed not fear will save our polluted planet
- Don’t fall for politicians who promise action on climate change at no cost
- Estimating transient climate response in a large‐ensemble global climate model simulation
- The role and value of negative emissions technologies in decarbonising the UK energy system
- The Little Ice Age and 20th-century deep Pacific cooling
Coverage has continued over the weekend of the news that for the first time in 2018, renewables generated the largest share of electricity in Germany. Quartz reports that the 40% from renewables was, for the first time, a larger share than from coal. It adds that half the renewable output was from wind, with another quarter from solar. Coal still accounted for 38% of the countries electricity generation, reports the Independent.
Some 10 local authorities around Greater Manchester will write a “presumption” against drilling for shale gas into their planning policies, reports iNews. It says this “effective ban on fracking” adds to moratoria in Scotland and Northern Ireland and a ban in Wales, calling the development a “major setback for the controversial industry”. It adds that London is finalising a similar planning presumption against shale developments. The Independent also has the story.
China is to raise fuel standards and truck efficiency requirements in its continuing efforts to fight air pollution, reports Reuters. It also aims to raise rail freight volumes, the wire says. A second Reuters article says China is restricting industrial output, traffic and coal consumption in northern regions for a second year as it bids to limit pollution this winter. Pollution has improved in many cities, it adds, but has worsened in Henan province. A third Reuters piece says Beijing’s Hebei province saw air pollutant emissions fall 12% in 2018.
The US House of Representatives will take up climate legislation based on a bill the body approved last time Democrats were in the majority, says speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to Bloomberg. It adds that Pelosi could be referring to the cap-and-trade bill passed by the house in 2009. Meanwhile, coverage continues of the plan put forward by some Democrats to develop a “Green New Deal” to tackle climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has floated the idea of a top rate of tax at 70% to fund the plan, report Politico and Axios. Another Axios article says Beto O’Rourke, seen as a contender for Democrat presidential candidate in 2020, is “supportive” of a Green New Deal. Another potential Democratic candidate, Jay Inslee, tells MSNBC that climate change will be a cornerstone of his messaging. Carbon Brief published an explainer on the Green New Deal late last year.
The Polish government is preparing to adopt an energy strategy for the next two decades to 2040, described by environmentalists as “absurd”, reports the Financial Times. Green groups want the country to cut its reliance on coal more quickly than planned, the paper adds. The strategy would see onshore wind phased out by 2036, the FT says, with nuclear energy being developed for the first time in the country.
The head of the UK National Farmers’ Union (NFU) says agriculture should reach “net zero” emissions “by 2040 or before”, reports the Independent. It adds that NFU president Minette Batters told the Oxford Farming Conference that this ambition was needed to compete with other nations’ climate ambitions.
Utility firm Scottish Power will only build new windfarms in Scotland and Wales, its chief executive Keith Anderson tells the Mail on Sunday. Scotland has “the best wind in Northern Europe”, Anderson tells the paper. “It’s not just the controls in the planning system [in England], but economically, it’s unlikely to look attractive because the wind speeds and the price don’t make economic sense.” The paper’s article cites Carbon Brief’s analysis showing wind power accounted for 17% of generation in the UK last year. In 2016, the chief executive of industry group RenewableUK made similar comments about the relative windiness of Scotland and England, covered at the time by Carbon Brief.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports analysis by anti-wind lobbyists the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) showing windfarms received “constraint payments” worth £125m in 2018 to stop generating power when bottlenecks on the grid prevented exports. The article quotes REF’s John Constable, without noting he is also “energy editor” of the climate sceptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
“Ten years ago, few people felt personally affected by climate change. It seemed very distant. Today, most people can point to a specific way climate affects their daily lives,” says Prof Katharine Hayhoe in an interview with Jonathan Watts for the Observer. Of media coverage of major recent climate reports, she says: “Climate change shouldn’t be fodder for commentators who represent the interests of the fossil fuel industry by muddying the science. As a human and a scientist, this focus on controversy is frustrating. A thermometer is not liberal or conservative.” On hopes for avoiding dangerous warming, Hayhoe says: “I hope with all my heart that we stay under 1.5C, but my cynical brain says 3C. Perhaps the reality will be somewhere between my head and my heart at 2C.”
The world “had better hope” new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is less effective at ripping up environmental protections than President Trump, says an editorial in the Washington Post. Bolsonaro has proposed running a highway through the Amazon and merging the environment ministry with the “pro-farming” agriculture ministry, the Post notes. But it adds: “Bolsonaro does not have a free hand. He cannot amend the forest code, eliminate indigenous protections or pull out of the Paris Agreement without the cooperation of the legislature, in which his party does not have a majority…Western consumers, companies and governments should eschew products coming from deforested tracts, and they should press Brazilian business partners to do the same.” A feature for CNN explains why Bolsonaro “has environmentalists worried” while Foreign Policy carries an article under the headline: “Brazil was a global leader on climate change. Now it’s a threat.”
“The dirtiest business in the world [coal power] is on the way out because of the collapsing price of solar electricity, ” writes Edward Lucas in a comment for the Times. He points to a new solar plant opening in China that will sell its electricity for less than the price of existing coal-fired power stations. But he adds: “Our incentives, though, are still skewed towards stupid investments and careless behaviour. People who burn dirty fuels or make products that pollute the environment walk away from costs such as dirty air, or oceans fouled with plastic.” Lucas goes on to argue that governments should have supported the development of advanced solar technologies rather than subsidising the deployment of existing renewables, which as he noted are now undercutting coal.
“Some stubborn facts can’t be avoided: climate change must be tackled, and one way or another that will come with costs we all must pay,” argues an editorial in the Toronto Star. It says the idea of carbon pricing is “under assault across the country”, pointing to opposition leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign against the government’s carbon tax and rebate scheme. If Scheer’s alternative heading into this autumn’s federal election in Canada is “worth anything”, the Star says, “it will have to require industry and consumers to change their behaviour, and that will come along with its own costs”. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times says prime minister Leo Varadkar may have to “sugar coat” plans to raise carbon prices via a “carbon cheque” rebate. The front page of today’s Irish Daily Mail [not yet online] reports polling that finds 60% of voters “oppose [a] plan to increase carbon taxes”. The first of a series of increases in fossil fuel prices is to be announced in Ireland’s budget next autumn, the paper says.
A new study investigates why estimates of transient climate response (TCR) inferred from observed warming over the 20th century tend to be lower than TCR in climate models. Using a large number of model runs to simulate the period 1850–2005, the researchers find that TCR estimates from 20th century simulations “may indeed be much lower than the model’s true TCR”. “This arises from biases in the methodology of estimating TCR from 20th century warming, as well as biases in the construction of the observational temperature data sets,” the authors say, concluding: “We therefore find no evidence that models are overestimating TCR.”
The negative emissions technologies of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and direct air capture and storage (DACS) could be used to decarbonise the UK’s power sector, a new study says. “By offsetting CO2 emissions from cheaper thermal plants, thereby allowing for their continued utilisation in a carbon-constrained electricity system, BECCS and DACS can reduce the cost of decarbonisation by 37–48%,” the researchers find. This would be cheaper than a system that relies heavily on renewables and energy storage, the study notes.
The deep Pacific Ocean is still adjusting to cooling at the Earth’s surface during the Little Ice Age, which began nearly 1,000 years ago, a new study suggests. Using an ocean circulation model and observations from both the end of the 19th century and the end of the 20th century, researchers attempt to detect and quantify this cooling trend. While temperature trends in the surface ocean and deep Atlantic reflect modern warming, the findings lead to “a prediction that the deep Pacific is still adjusting to the cooling going into the Little Ice Age”, the paper says. “The implied heat loss in the deep ocean since 1750 offsets one-fourth of the global heat gain in the upper ocean,” the researchers conclude.
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