Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Extreme sea level events ‘will hit once a year by 2050’
- Australian defence chief warns climate change could 'stretch army capability' in private speech
- Mont Blanc: Glacier in danger of collapse, experts warn
- EDF increases Hinkley Point C nuclear plant costs
- Climate change: MSPs approve beefed up emissions target
- The CMIP6 landscape
- Trump’s climate stance could come back to bite him
- Potential adaptive strategies for 29 sub-Saharan crops under future climate change
- Mitigation efforts will not fully alleviate the increase in water scarcity occurrence probability in wheat-producing areas
There is a deluge of coverage of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report, published yesterday, on oceans and the cryosphere. The Guardian leads its coverage with the report’s projections that: “Extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050, no matter whether climate heating emissions are curbed or not.” Like many other outlets, it says the IPCC’s updated projections of sea level rise by 2100 are “higher than those it made in 2014, due to unexpectedly fast melting in Antarctica”. This is not quite correct, as the IPCC has only raised its projections for sea level rise if emissions are very high. The Guardian also incorrectly states that the IPCC does not consider “the worst-case scenario” for sea levels. [See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A for the details.] The Financial Times says “sea levels are rising faster than scientists had predicted” and, like the Guardian, features the threat of extreme sea level events becoming more frequent. Climate Home News says sea levels could rise by more than 5m by 2300 “unless governments act quickly to cut greenhouse gas emissions”. [This 2300 projection is for a scenario where emissions are very high.] BBC News says “climate change is devastating our seas and frozen regions as never before”, according to the report. It adds that “around 70% of the near surface permafrost [is] set to thaw if emissions continue to rise”, potentially releasing “10s to 100s of billions of tonnes” of carbon. Press Association and Axios quote the report saying global warming is driving “unprecedented” changes for oceans and ice. PA adds that “urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions will limit damage to oceans and frozen areas and the people and wildlife that rely on them”, according to the report. The Washington Post also leads with the fact that “monumental change” is already affecting the oceans and cryosphere. It says: “The warming climate is killing coral reefs, supercharging monster storms, and fuelling deadly marine heat waves and record losses of sea ice.” The New York Times says “climate change is heating the oceans and altering their chemistry so dramatically that it is threatening seafood supplies, fuelling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to the hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts”, according to the IPCC report. Reuters says the report “found that radical action may yet avert some of the worst possible outcomes of global warming”. Politico notes that sea level rise is accelerating, according to the report, and is now “more than twice as fast” than in the 20th century. Science magazine leads on the IPCC projection that sea levels will continue to rise this century, regardless of the future path of greenhouse gas emissions, calling the report’s findings “dire”. The Independent and New Scientist both headline their reporting with the report’s finding that sea levels could rise by a metre by 2100, if emissions are very high. EurActiv says of the report: “IPCC drastically increases its forecast” for sea level rise [see note above]. BuzzFeed News picks out the IPCC’s finding that some island nations could become “uninhabitable” as a result of rising seas. Nature’s headline says the “world’s oceans are losing [their] power to stall climate change”, continuing that the seas have “long helped to stave off climate change by absorbing heat and CO2 from the atmosphere. But that is changing”. Quartz, NPR, BusinessGreen, InsideClimate News, Time, the Atlantic and CBS News are among the many others covering the report.
Writing for the Conversation, the Open University’s Prof Mark Brandon [who is also one of Carbon Brief’s contributing editors] says the report is “relatively conservative with its conclusions”. He continues: “Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere.” A Science “policy forum” on the IPCC report says the ocean “is key to achieving climate and societal goals”, offering five ocean-based ways to cut emissions. In the Guardian, a letter from comedian Stephen Fry, actor Gillian Anderson, the University of York’s Prof Callum Roberts and others responds to the IPCC’s report, saying “we must act now to protect our threatened oceans”. The Daily Express says sea-level rise “will impact as many as one billion people by 2050” and, in a second article says “more than a billion people are at risk”, mangling the IPCC’s note that this many people will live in low-lying coastal areas by 2050. In the Australian, environment editor Graham Lloyd’s coverage sits under the headline: “Climate scientists lost on extent of rising seas.” His article begins: “Major uncertainties still remain” and adds that the “worst-case scenario for sea-level increases by 2100 has been lifted to between 60cm and 110cm if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly”. [This is not the worst-case scenario in the report, which says there is a 17% chance that sea level rise could exceed 1.1m, if emissions are very high, and that an increase of more than 2m “cannot be ruled out”.]
Separately, BBC News reports that the UK’s new “Sir David Attenborough” polar research ship is to be officially named by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today. Finally, Reuters carries the news that China’s Ministry of Natural Resources has warned that sea levels around the country’s coasts were 48mm higher last year than the average for 1993-2011, having risen by an average of 3.3mm a year since 1980.
Australia’s military capability could be “seriously tested” by climate change, the Daily Telegraph reports, citing a speech prepared for Australian Defence Force chief Angus Campbell for an event in June, which it says was obtained under freedom of information rules. The paper says details of the speech “emerged as prime minister Scott Morrison skipped the UN climate summit, and Sir David Attenborough sharply criticised Australia’s climate and energy policies”. Meanwhile, the Australian reports Morrison’s comments, speaking at the UN general assembly in New York, where it says he told delegates Australia had “nothing to apologise for” over climate change. The Guardian reports Morrison’s comments that the media was “misrepresenting” Australia’s record on climate change. The report continues: “He said emissions per person and the economy’s emissions intensity were at their lowest levels in 29 years. He did not tell the general assembly that emissions across the economy are rising.” The Guardian adds that Morrison was asked about Australia’s 2030 climate pledge under the Paris Agreement, and that he replied it was fixed. Separately, the Guardian reports on a “declaration” by 75 current and former Australian business figures that describes CO2 as “plant food”.
Italian authorities have closed roads and evacuated mountain huts after warnings that part of a glacier on Mont Blanc could collapse, BBC News says. It reports the mayor of the local town saying that global warming was changing the mountain and adds that rising temperatures are causing glaciers to shrink and ice sheets to melt. The Guardian quotes the mayor saying the rate of melt of the glacier had “significantly increased” recently. The Independent says the lower parts of the glacier were moving down the mountain at a speed of 50-60cm per day in late August and early September. The New York Times, MailOnline and the Hill also cover the news. Reuters covers the news with a headline that includes the words: “PM calls for climate action”. This is based on the comments of Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte at the UN general assembly in New York, where it quotes him saying: “news that a glacier on the Mont Blanc risks collapsing is a warning that can’t leave us indifferent, it must shake us up and we have to mobilise”. Separately, Xinhua carries a report form the UN assembly headlined: “World leaders call for international cooperation to tackle global warming”. It quotes leaders from Zambia, Estonia and others.
There is continued coverage of the news, announced yesterday by French firm EDF, that the Hinkley C new nuclear plant in Somerset will cost an extra £2.9bn and could be 15 months late. The Financial Times quotes analysts at Barclays saying the cost increase was “significantly larger than expected” and adds that EDF shares have fallen almost 28% this year. The Times says: “The disclosure is damaging to EDF’s attempts to secure government agreement for a proposed second plant [Sizewell C] in Suffolk using a new funding model that would put consumers on the hook for cost overruns.” It adds: “The case for new nuclear plants has also been weakened by falling costs in technologies such as offshore wind.” Press Association, Reuters and the Guardian also report the news. In the Independent, James Moore says the “white elephant” is “Cameron and May’s other toxic legacy”. For Bloomberg Opinion, Chris Bryant writes: “[T]here’s a place in budgetary hell reserved for new nuclear power plants, for whom financial commitments and completion dates seem to be entirely malleable concepts (at least outside China).” In the Daily Mail, city editor Alex Brummer says that abandoning the scheme in the face of cost overruns “would be damaging to Britain’s energy future”.
The Scottish government has raised its legally binding goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045, in line with advice from the Committee on Climate Change, BBC News reports. MSPs approved the change by 113 votes to 0 in a vote at the Scottish parliament, it says. They also agreed on an interim target of 75% reductions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, BBC News explains, but rejected a bid by the Greens to increase this to 80%.
Following the ocean and cryosphere report, a Nature Climate Change editorial looks ahead to the next publication on the horizon for the IPCC – the sixth assessment report (AR6) due in 2021-22. AR6 will “will feature model projections organised by the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, now in its sixth phase (CMIP6)“, the piece notes. “One major discussion point” around early CMIP6 results centres on estimates of “equilibrium climate sensitivity” (ECS) – a measure of warming in response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. “As of March 2019, more than half of CMIP6 models exhibited an ECS of 5C or higher,” the editorial says, adding that that is “notably larger than the upper value of the CMIP5 range of 4.5C”. It goes on: “By late August, with additional models available, a similar proportion still registered at 4.7C or higher…If the higher CMIP6 ECS estimates hold true…this will represent a departure from over four decades of research…Higher-sensitivity climates experience a greater probability of long-term temperature pauses and short-term trends, which can translate to more warming hiatuses or periods of fast temperature increase.” Earlier this year, Carbon Brief published a guest post about early CMIP6 results and their ECS estimates.
“On trade issues there are signs that [President] Trump’s climate scepticism could backfire on him in at least two ways,” writes James Politi in the Financial Times. The first is over the pact signed with Canada and Mexico last year to replace Nafta, which is “stuck awaiting congressional approval”. Politi notes that 110 Democratic lawmakers have said they could not support the deal unless it includes “binding climate standards” and decision for the US to remain part of the Paris Agreement. The second area identified by Politi is with the EU: “Trade relations between Washington and Brussels are at such a low point that the notion of any broad agreement seems like a fantasy – and should the atmosphere improve, climate issues seem destined to impede any major progress.”
Increasing agricultural plant diversity in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) could provide “resilient solutions in the short and medium term” to a warming climate, a new study says. Using more than 200,000 worldwide occurrence records for 29 major crops in SSA and 778 of their wild relative species, the researchers assess whether populations of the same crop from other continents, wild relatives around the world or other crops from SSA are better adapted to future climate. The findings indicate that “climate conditions not currently experienced by the 29 crops in SSA are predicted to become widespread, increasing production insecurity, especially for yams”. However, “crops such as potato, squash and finger millet may be maintained by using wild relatives or non-African crop populations with climatic niches more suited to future conditions”, the study finds.
A new study assesses the risk of severe water scarcity (SWS) events over the world’s entire wheat-growing area, and calculates the probabilities of multiple or sequential events. The findings suggest, under a very high emissions scenario, “up to 60% of the current wheat-growing area will face simultaneous SWS events by the end of this century, compared to 15% today”. Cutting global emissions in line with the Paris Agreement “would substantially reduce the negative effects”, the researchers say, “but they would still double between 2041 and 2070 compared to current conditions”.