Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Germany set to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2038
- UN debates impact of climate change, urges action
- US coal output forecast to fall despite Trump revival efforts
- As youth anger over climate change mounts, protests spread around the globe
- Tackling obesity ‘needs treaty like climate change’
- Wind farms could be built along HS2 route under confidential Government plans
- Case for abandoning nuclear energy has never been more powerful
- Climate change: The more we know, the worse it seems
- Forest drought resistance at large geographic scales
- Spatial patterns of crop yield change by emitted pollutant
Germany should phase out coal power by 2038 according to a government-appointed commission, report the Financial Times and many others. The proposal was announced on Saturday and, if adopted by the government, would see Germany joining a growing number of countries that have decided to drop coal, the paper adds. Interim goals to cut coal capacity from 42 gigawatts (GW) in 2017 to 30GW in 2022 and 17GW by the end of 2030 would be compatible with Germany meeting its climate goals, one of the commission chairs told a news briefing in Berlin, the FT says. The 2038 deadline would be subject to review in 2032, which could bring the end date forward to 2035. Reuters describes the proposed coal phaseout a “move away from fossil fuels” and says it “embodies Germany’s strategy to shift to renewables”. It notes that renewables supplied more of Germany’s electricity than coal for the first time last year. The commission has spent more than six months deliberating and included delegates from industry, environmental NGOs, civil society and mining regions, explains Clean Energy Wire. It says that 27 of 28 members backed the final proposal, with only Greenpeace dissenting. Clean Energy Wire says forecast power price rises are expected to be exacerbated by the coal phaseout and that the commission has recommended measures to limit this effect. However, the idea it would raise prices was disputed by German environment minister Svenja Shulze, reports Reuters. Coal still provides some 40% of German electricity, the Guardian notes, while the country is already planning to phase out nuclear power over the next three years, adds Deutsche Welle. Regions affected by the phaseout would receive €40bn to ease the transition, reports Bloomberg. The proposal was welcomed by chancellor Angela Merkel, reports Reuters. In a another article, Reuters reports that the ruling German coalition is unified on the need to implement the commission’s recommendations, citing comments from economy minister Peter Altmaier. He says the government will move quickly to implement the recommendations, according to a further Reuters piece. Utility firm RWE would be among those compensated for the shift, according to another Bloomberg article that says the company argues 2038 is “too soon”. Many other outlets cover the news, including the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Hill, Evening Standard, Axios and the LA Times. [Germany currently has the world’s fourth largest coal fleet.]
The United Nations security council held an open debate on climate change on Friday and called for action to diminish the effects of warming, reports Xinhua. Permanent security council members the UK and France argued for a UN system to alert the world to the risks of climate-related conflict, reports Climate Home News. They were joined by Germany, Peru, Poland and Belgium in calling for a “clearing house” for climate data and information to help countries respond to climate security threats, it adds. The UN’s chief scientist on weather and climate warned the meeting that climate change has a “multitude of security impacts”, reports the Hill. The US ambassador to the UN did not mention the words “climate change” or “security” in his speech to the council, reports the Associated Press, adding that Russia’s UN ambassador objected to discussing climate change in the security council.
US coal production is set to fall even faster than expected under the Obama administration’s climate policy that President Trump has repealed, reports the Financial Times. New government projections point to a 21% decline over the next 20 years, an even steeper fall than the 18% expected under Obama’s “clean power plan”. The projections “underlin[e] the difficulties facing [Trump] in his aspirations to revive the [coal] industry”, the paper says, adding: “Market forces have been driving electricity generators away from coal and towards natural gas and renewable energy…and those trends are expected to continue.” However, the projections suggest coal will still supply 17% of US electricity in 2050, reports Ars Technica. It adds: “Critics of the EIA’s [Energy Information Administration’s] annual energy outlook say that its reference case…favours fossil fuels.”
Young people around the world are protesting against government inaction on climate change, reports the Washington Post, citing movements in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. “Many of the protests are inspired by 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg,” the paper adds. BBC Newscovers the latest round of youth protests, while the Times, EurActiv and the Hill, among others, all report on Thunberg’s speech to world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of last week. The Guardian has an edited version of her speech, in which she said: “I am here to say, our house is on fire…We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.”
Meanwhile, EurActiv reports that tens of thousands marched in France and Belgium to call for more state action on climate change. More than 100 demonstrations took place across France on Sunday, reports France 24.
The world needs an international treaty like that on climate change to combat food industry lobbying behind the obesity crisis, reports the Times and others, covering a commission report published by the Lancet medical journal. Proposals include a tax on red meat to improve diets, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and free up land for other uses, the Times adds. It points out that some 25-30% of global emissions are due to the food system, according to the Lancet commission. The commission says lobbying and government subsidies are driving obesity, malnutrition and climate change, according to the Independent. The Lancet panel includes 43 biologists, climate scientists and policy experts, it adds. The Daily Mail and Vox also cover the commission’s recommendations. The Guardian has a comment on the report that argues: “The global food system is causing an ecological and health catastrophe.”
Wind farms could be built along the route of the HS2 high-speed rail route, reports the Sunday Telegraph on its front page, citing “an official strategy document”. The document is written by consultancy KPMG and “proposes powering the controversial rail line using lucrative onshore windfarms”, the paper says. It adds: “For some stretches of the line the majority of electricity would come from solar or wind farms built ‘on or near’ the track, according to the plans.” [The KPMG document uses the words “on or near” in a different context.] An HS2 deal with renewables would lead to a “hidden subsidy”, the Sunday Telegraph adds, citing “experts”. Only two people are quoted in the article: a spokesperson for HS2 and John Constable, director of the anti-wind lobby group the Renewable Energy Foundation and “energy editor” of the climate sceptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation. [Contrary to the Sunday Telegraph’s headline, the April 2018 KPMG report is not confidential as it has been released to the public under freedom of information rules. The report states that a contract to power HS2 with renewables would be “likely to have lower cost” than buying electricity from the national grid via a traditional supply deal.] In an editorial accompanying the article, the Sunday Telegraphsays: “It’s hard to imagine a more costly, unattractive combination guaranteed to infuriate British voters: HS2 plus onshore wind turbines. But, amazingly, tone-deaf officials are considering putting the two together.” [The document cited by the paper was written by consultants, not officials.] MailOnline has also picked up the story.
“Each new climate-related news headline seems to be worse than the last,” writes environmental author Mark Lynas in a comment for CNN, reeling off examples including ocean warming and coral bleaching. Lynas says he is in the process of updating his book “Six Degrees”, written in 2007. “It’s a scary task because many of the impacts that I had previously put in later chapters – equating to three or more degrees of global warming – have had to be moved forwards, because they are happening already.” He adds that he had, at the time, imagined there was an odds-on chance of avoiding 2C of warming. But this now “looks deluded”, Lynas concludes, given record-high emissions and that “millions of people – including the president of the United States – are still climate skeptics.”
“Almost all” forests in California lack resistance to severe and persistent droughts, a new study finds. To study forest resistance, the researchers generated and analysed maps of canopy water content through time and compared them to maps of meteorology. “These maps reveal significant spatial heterogeneity in drought resistance, and demonstrate that almost all forests have less resistance to severe, persistent droughts,” the authors say.
Greenhouse gases other than CO2 could have a large impact on yields of wheat, maize and rice as the world warms, research shows. Using modelling, the researchers examine the impact that individual pollutants, such as CO2, methane and aerosols, could have on global crop yields. “We find that although CO2 dominates climate change to date, other pollutants play a large role in driving crop yield changes, sometimes dominating overall impacts,” the authors say. For example, “maize yield losses are most strongly attributable to methane emissions”, the authors say.
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