Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Global CO2 emissions static for first time in 10 years
- Iceberg that’s twice the size of Washington cleaves off Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, in a sign of warming
- Plan to expand Bristol airport rejected after climate protests
- Marshall Islands, Suriname, Norway upgrade climate plans before COP26
- The Guardian view on climate anxiety: we live in frightening times
- Tory policies don’t look much like conservatism
- Implementation of UK Earth system models for CMIP6
- Little influence of Arctic amplification on mid-latitude climate
- Climate warming disrupts mast seeding and its fitness benefits in European beech
Global CO2 emissions from energy use remained flat in 2019 for the first time in 10 years, according to a story in the Financial Times. Reporting on figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the FT says CO2 emissions from energy fell in “advanced economies” including the EU and US, where the use of coal declined by between 15 and 25%. In total, emissions from advanced economies’ power sectors fell to levels “last seen in the late 1980s”, according to the IEA, the FT reports. Strong growth in wind and solar power, large-scale transitions from coal to natural gas and more nuclear power all contributed to the decline in CO2 emissions – even as developing economies in Asia continued to burn more coal, IEA chief Faith Birol tells the FT. “The clean energy transition is starting to accelerate very strongly…This makes me hopeful we are seeing a peak in emissions and they will now start to decline.”
The Washington Post reports that an iceberg twice the size of Washington has broken off Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica sometime between Saturday and Sunday, according to satellite data. “The Pine Island Glacier is one of the fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica, and along with the Thwaites Glacier nearby, it’s a subject of close scientific monitoring to determine whether these glaciers are in a phase of runaway melting, potentially freeing up vast inland areas of ice to flow to the sea and raising sea levels,” the Post reports. The breaking off of ice from the shelf doesn’t raise sea level because that ice was already floating – but it could lead to a quickening of ice flow into the sea, which would raise sea levels, the Post adds.
Elsewhere, the Guardian and others report on research by scientists taking part in a Greenpeace Antarctic expedition which finds that chinstrap penguin numbers have fallen by more than half across islands studied since the 1970s. The scientists believe that climate change, which is driving up winter temperatures and causing sea ice to disappear, is the most likely cause of the decline, the Guardian reports. “While several factors may have a role to play, all the evidence we have points to climate change as being responsible for the changes we are seeing,” Dr Heather Lynch, one of the expedition researchers, tells the Guardian. The scientists, traveling on two Greenpeace ships, the Esperanza and the Arctic Sunrise, conducted their expedition to Western Antarctica from 5 January to 8 February and used manual and drone surveying techniques to assess the scale of the damage, Reuters adds. MailOnline also has the story.
Several publications report that a scheme to expand Bristol airport in the UK has been rejected by the city’s councillors. Council officers had recommended that North Somerset council approve the expansion and warned that the authority could face a costly public inquiry if it turned it down, the Guardian reports. But following a four-and-a-half-hour meeting in Weston-super-Mare, councillors rejected the expansion plans by 18 votes to seven, the Guardian says. The councillors said the expansion would be “too harmful to the environment”, BBC News reports. ITV News also has the story.
The Marshall Islands, Suriname and Norway have submitted plans for tougher action to tackle climate change before a five-year milestone of the Paris Agreement in 2020 – with almost 200 other countries ignoring an informal 9 February deadline, Climate Home News reports. The three nations account for 0.1% of global emissions, it adds. Countries are meant to update their climate plans every five years and submit them at least nine months before the relevant climate talks. This year’s COP26 will be in Glasgow from 9-19 November, making 9 February a theoretical date for submissions. BusinessGreen also reports on Norway’s updated climate plan, which pledges to cut emissions by at least 50% and “towards” 55% by 2030 against 1990 levels.
An editorial in the Guardian argues that world leaders should take anxiety about climate change more seriously. The editorial says: “Already there is cause for concern, with research showing that people who have experienced extreme weather such as floods in the UK are 50% more likely to suffer from problems including depression.” Health professionals will need to meet this “growing demand for psychological support” as a result of climate change, the editorial says. Elsewhere, an editorial in the Daily Mirror looks at links between Storm Ciara and climate change. It says: “Bad weather is expected at this time of year, yet there is no doubt that the ever more extreme swings of Mother Nature are being triggered by the climate emergency. Just as Australians accept the devastating bush fires were inflamed by a changing climate we may come to recognise it is behind increasing floods and storms in Britain.”
In Australia, an editorial in the Melbourne Age says that this year’s devastating bushfires “have convinced many people that Australia needs to do more to combat climate change”. It adds: “While many Australians are reluctant to pay the hip-pocket expense of cutting emissions, there is broad agreement that more needs to be done. And yet our history of climate policy being used as a political wrecking ball to bring down those who offer solutions has crippled the debate.”
An opinion article in the Times by columnist and broadcaster Melanie Phillips criticises the UK government’s recently announced climate policies, claiming that they are “underwhelming” to working-class voters. Phillips says: “They’re even more underwhelmed by the government’s green target of reducing carbon emissions to virtually zero by 2050. This would involve not just banning sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2035 but removing people’s gas boilers and gas central heating. Such a programme would mean a huge rise in the cost of living. It’s also quite mad. Some 80% of UK households use gas. The resulting demand for electricity would have to be met by an impossible increase in wind farms or nuclear power stations, not to mention an unachievable rate of house conversions. All this, moreover, with zero prospect of affecting global climate change.” [The government’s climate adviser the Committee on Climate Change set out a path to net-zero last year, reported by Carbon Brief at the time. It stressed the “reasonable” cost and clear feasibility of the transition.]
A new paper describes the latest phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP), a programme which brings together results from Earth system models “to better understand their process representation and to pool their projections for robust understanding of future climate pathways”. The sixth phase – CMIP6 – “is larger and more ambitious than previous phases”, the authors say. The paper details “the setup of two UK models (HadGEM3‐GC3.1 and UKESM1) for a core set of experiments contributing to CMIP6, including simulations of historical and future periods covering 1850 to 2300”.
A new study suggests that rapid warming in the high latitudes, known as “Arctic amplification” (AA), has a limited knock-on impact for weather in the mid-latitudes. Using climate model simulations with and without the effects of AA, the researchers “show that cold-season precipitation, snowfall and circulation changes over northern mid-latitudes come mostly from background warming”. Overall, the researchers find “minimal impact on the mean climate” for latitudes below around 60 degrees North, which suggests “that the climatic impacts of AA are probably small outside the high latitudes”.
The process of “masting”, where different plants within the same area produce a large number of seeds at the same time, could be disrupted by climate change, a new study says. Masting “benefits plants because it increases the efficiency of pollination and satiates predators, which reduces seed loss”, the researchers say. Analysing a 39-year dataset of European beech trees, the researchers find that although seed production has increased, “the year-to-year variability of seed production and the reproductive synchrony among individuals” has decreased. This resulted in “less effective pollination and greater losses of seeds to predators”, the study finds, meaning that the “benefit that the plants gained from masting has declined”.
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