Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Extreme weather: October downpour sees UK's wettest day on record
- Britain can meet energy demand this winter, says National Grid
- EU leaders kick 2030 emissions decision to December
- Nearly half of the US is in drought. It may get worse
- Ships to get free pass on emissions until 2030, under compromise proposal
- By calling climate change ‘controversial', Barrett created controversy
- We asked Joe Biden’s campaign six key questions about his climate change plans
- Minimal climate impacts from short‐lived climate forcers following emission reductions related to the Covid‐19 pandemic
- Convective aggregation and the amplification of tropical precipitation extremes
The Met Office has confirmed that Saturday 3 October was the wettest day for UK-wide rainfall since records began in 1891, BBC News reports. It continues: “The downpour followed in the wake of Storm Alex and saw an average of 31.7mm (1.24ins) of rain across the entire UK. The deluge was enough to exceed the capacity of Loch Ness – the largest lake in the UK by volume – the researchers added. The previous record wettest day was 29 August 1986.” The Times reports that more than 20 counties in the UK have already received as much or more rain than they would expect in the whole of October. This includes “Oxfordshire with 148% of its average rainfall for the month, Buckinghamshire with 139%, Berkshire with 138% and Hertfordshire with 132%”, the paper says. Sky News quotes Dr Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, saying that “it is exceptional to have 30mm to 50mm or more of rain falling so extensively across the UK – from the south coast of England to the north coast of Scotland – in a single day.” He adds: “In climate statistics, 2019 will be remembered for possessing the UK’s hottest day, whereas 2020 will be associated with rainfall records.” The Press Association notes that “climate change is increasing the risk of more extreme weather, such as more intense heavy downpours”. It quotes Met Office climate spokesman Grahame Madge, who says: “There is a simple relationship between a warmer atmosphere and an increased amount of moisture in the atmosphere – this again suggests that the UK is likely to witness increased rainfall and more record-breaking events.” The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail also have the story. The Met Office has published a blog post with more details and maps.
The National Grid says that the UK will have enough electricity and gas supply to meet power demand this winter, even after the Brexit transition period ends, reports Reuters. The UK’s power network operator says it expects there to be sufficient generation and capacity through Britain’s power links with Europe – called interconnectors – to meet demand throughout winter 2020-21. In addition, demand is likely to be well below normal levels as people stay away from offices, pubs and restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic, reports the Guardian. It adds: “The overall demand for electricity could fall by 2.4GW on last winter as people work from home and commercial sites close under the government’s plan to limit the second wave of coronavirus infections…The lower demand will give National Grid a 4.8GW ‘cushion’ of extra electricity, 8.3% of the total supply, to safeguard the system against blackouts.” Last winter, this cushion was 12.9%, the Times notes. The story follows reports yesterday that UK electricity supplied will be tight over the next few days due to unplanned power plant outages and low wind speeds.
In other UK electricity news, BusinessGreen reports that the Crown Estate has announced it is pushing back the timetable for awarding the next round of leases for offshore wind developers. The agency, which is tasked with managing the UK seabed, says it has shifted the timeline for the leases – which are expected to deliver around 7GW of new offshore wind capacity – from 2021 to spring 2022.
EU leaders have pushed a decision on how deeply to cut emissions by 2030 to their next summit in December, reports Politico. According to Council conclusions released yesterday, leaders “discussed” the European Commission’s proposal to boost the current target of a 40% emissions cut compares to 1990 levels to 55%, but there was no final agreement, the outlet explains. It adds that “momentum is building among EU members – a dozen have said they back the higher target – but there is still some resistance from coal-dependent countries such as Poland, which fear the costs of rapidly decarbonising their economies”. The conclusions note that “all member states will participate in this effort, taking into account national circumstances and considerations of fairness and solidarity”. A second Politico article says that “all countries have backed the bloc’s goal to reach climate neutrality by 2050, but the consensus is fragile”. European Council president Charles Michel told reporters this morning that the EU needed “more political will in order to be ambitious” and that the bloc needed to make a “clear decision” by the end of the year, reports Reuters. EurActiv reports that the Czech Republic says it is ready to back the EU’s 55% target, provided that the objective is a collective one and that EU state aid rules do not hamper its nuclear ambitions. Reuters also reports that Latvia’s prime minister Krisjanis Karins says he also supports the target to give industry the certainty needed to invest in clean technologies. And a third Reuters piece reports that Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo says that Europe should not only lead the world in its drive to climate neutrality, but also play a central role in technologies to reach that goal. De Croo told reporters: “It is important that our country does not miss the technology train. Our country will not itself save the world, but technology that comes from our country, from Europe, can play an important role.”
Government forecasters warned yesterday that nearly half of the continental US is gripped by drought, reports the New York Times, and conditions are expected to worsen this winter across much of the southwest and south. The paper quotes Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who says a lack of late-summer rain in the southwest had expanded “extreme and exceptional” dry conditions from west Texas into Colorado and Utah, “with significant drought also prevailing westward through Nevada, northern California and the Pacific northwest.” Much of the western half of the country is now experiencing drought conditions and parts of the Ohio Valley and the northeast are as well, the paper says. Covering more than 45% of the continental US, this is now the most widespread drought in the continental US since 2013, it adds.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “a wildfire burning for two months in northern Colorado exploded in size this week to surpass 167,000 acres, making it the largest blaze in state history”. It adds that the “Cameron Peak Fire” erupted in mi-August “and has raged through large stands of desiccated lodgepole pine trees killed by beetle infestation in mountainous terrain and through tinder-dry grasslands at lower elevations”.
Experts have warned that a proposal by leading maritime nations to curb the industry’s carbon footprint falls far short of both the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Paris Agreement climate goals, Climate Home News reports. The proposed package of energy efficiency measures “suggest imposing a combination of mandatory short-term technical and operational measures on the world’s 60,000 vessels, from reducing engine power to introducing ship-level carbon intensity targets”, the outlet explains. These measures would not be enforced until 2030. Bryan Comer, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, tells CHN that “what’s on the table now may not even be enough to achieve the IMO’s minimum 2030 target. It’s certainly not Paris-aligned”. The IMO has set the target of cutting CO2 emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels, with carbon intensity reduced 40% by 2030, CHN notes. Comer warns that “every year that we allow shipping emissions to go up, it is eating up more of the carbon budget. More drastic actions will need to be taken later.” BusinessGreen says that IMO member states will be meeting virtually for three days from Monday. It notes: “While the [CO2] target was set two years ago, the latest talks are where the member states are expected to agree on how to enforce it, before the proposals are moved forward to committee stage in November.”
New York Times reporters John Schwartz and Hiroko Tabuchi dissect the comments on climate change from Judge Amy Coney Barrett during two days of questioning over her Supreme Court confirmation hearing. While Barrett “did her best to avoid controversy”, they write, “her efforts to play it safe on the subject of climate change have created perhaps the most tangible backlash of her hearings”. Barrett “declined to state her thoughts on climate change in exchange after exchange this week”, Schwartz and Tabuchi say, but responding to Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic candidate for vice president, Barrett “described the settled science of climate change as still in dispute, compared to Ms Harris’s other examples, including whether smoking causes cancer and the coronavirus is infectious”. In addition, “Judge Barrett fell back on the excuse that ‘I’m certainly not a scientist’, when asked her views on a warming planet”, note Schwartz and Tabuchi: “That might sound bland, but it closely tracks the language used by Republican lawmakers who oppose action on climate change or deny the science outright. And stating ‘I would not say I have firm views on it’ in the face of so much evidence of climate change in daily life, as Judge Barrett did, is controversial.” Also in New York Times, opinion columnist Paul Krugman writes that saying “I’m certainly not a scientist” is “not an expression of humility; it’s a signal that the speaker intends to ignore the science and to oppose any attempt to avert the biggest threat facing humanity”.
Elsewhere, the Hill reports that “environmentalists are sounding the alarm over judge Amy Coney Barrett’s comments this week casting doubt on the science of climate change”, and in a separate article, the Hill reports that climate campaigner Greta Thunberg “called out” Barrett. Thunberg tweeted: “To be fair, I don’t have any ‘views on climate change’ either. Just like I don’t have any ‘views’ on gravity, the fact that the Earth is round, photosynthesis nor evolution…But understanding and knowing their existence really makes life in the 21st century so much easier.” The Washington Post notes that Senate Republicans “moved swiftly” yesterday towards confirming Barrett’s nomination after she emerged “largely unscathed” from the hearings.
Ahead of the US presidential election next month, Vox staff writer Umair Irfan asks the campaign team behind Democratic candidate Joe Biden about his plans on climate change. The questions include asking where climate change sits on Biden’s priority list (“Biden recognises that we are in a climate emergency and he will meet the crisis with the urgency that the science demands”), what executive actions Biden would be prepared to take (“On day one, President Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change”), and whether Biden supports efforts to hold polluters accountable for their contributions to climate change (“The Biden Administration will take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks.”). [See Carbon Brief’s tracker of the candidates’ pledges and statements regarding climate change.]
Elsewhere, New York Times reporters factcheck the separate televised “town hall” debates each candidate held last night. The topic of climate change only arose in Biden’s event, where the candidate said his own climate change plans were superior to the previously proposed Green New Deal. Biden said: ““The difference between me and the New Green Deal, they say automatically, by 2030, we’re going to be carbon free, not possible. My deal is a crucial framework, but not the New Green Deal. The New Green Deal calls for elimination of all nonrenewable energy by 2030.” This characterisation of the deal was “mostly false”, says climate reporter Lisa Friedman. She notes that the plan “does not call for the automatic elimination of fossil fuels by 2030. Rather it calls for a “10-year mobilisation” to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030”. In the Washington Post, energy and environmental policy reporter Dino Grandoni looks at how President Trump “is attempting one of the biggest branding overhauls of his career in the waning weeks of the 2020 campaign – trying to run as an environmentalist after spending four years aggressively pushing for expanding the use of oil, gas and coal”.
Also in US-related comment, Financial Times columnist John Dizard says that a successful election for the Democratic party could benefit the US fracking industry. He writes: “Democratic regulations and laws will favour those producers who have assets already in place, ideally not on federal lands. Coincidentally, that includes struggling dry gasfields in Joe Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania (part of the Marcellus play), though the most immediate beneficiaries will probably be in the Haynesville play in Louisiana and Texas.” And the Financial Times “Energy Source” column reports on how “Harold Hamm, one of the shale industry’s most famous figures, was not pleased after Wil VanLoh, one of the sector’s biggest investors, said in a recent Financial Times interview that a shale binge has spoiled US reserves”.
A new study uses climate models to investigate how reductions in economic activity during the Covid-19 pandemic – and the resulting reductions in transport, industrial and aircraft emissions – are likely to impact the chemical make‐up of the atmosphere and the likely short‐term impacts on climate. Despite large decreases in nitrogen dioxide and atmospheric particles, the study finds these changes result in a very small impact on the energy balance of the atmosphere, but one that would act to cool the planet. However, these effects are all likely to be short‐lived if emissions return to pre‐lockdown levels.
As climate warms, one of the most prominent changes in the global water cycle is more common extreme rainfall events in the tropics. A mechanism that enhances the convection process and its related precipitation could increase the rate of occurrence and strength of these events rising with the temperature. This study investigates how a phenomenon known as convective aggregation contributes to more common tropical extreme rainfall events on a year‐to‐year basis. Both observations and models show that more extreme rainfall events and the aggregation of moisture occur during warm, El Niño events relative to colder, La Niña events. The enhanced aggregation process creates extra moisture in the already‐moist regions leading to more common heavier precipitation events and less common lighter precipitation ones. As a result, the increase in convective aggregation amplifies the increase in extreme rainfall events related to year‐to‐year surface warming by roughly one third. These findings provide new insight on projections of future rainfall extremes, the study concludes, which have strong implications for disaster risk management.
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