Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Global sea ice hits record low for January as the annual polar melting period expanded
- E.P.A. chief Pruitt postpones trip to Israel amid scrutiny of high-priced travel
- Ministers warned on subsidy risk to offshore wind power projects
- National Grid plans electric car power network
- Trans-Atlantic Network of Hard Brexit Climate Science Deniers Plotting ‘Shadow’ US-UK Trade Talks
- Dire outlook for US climate change is getting worse
- It needn’t rock your returns to divest from fossil fuels
- A Big-Sky Plan to Cool the Planet
- The cost of achieving South Africa’s ‘fair share’ of global climate change mitigation
- Interactions between urban heat islands and heat waves
The world’s sea ice hit a record low for January last month with scientists recording areas of ice melt when it would usually be growing. The 5.04m square miles of ice in the Arctic was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, making it the lowest January total in satellite records, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Combined with low levels in the Antarctic, global sea ice amounted to a record low for any first month of the year. NSIDC director Mark Serreze said he was more worried than ever because Arctic sea ice melt was now starting to happen all year round. And Ingrid Onarheim, of the University of Bergen and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, said: “We are losing sea ice in all seasons now.” Reporting by InsideClimate News says that nearly a third of the sea ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast disappeared over just eight days in mid-February. “At a time when the sea ice should be growing toward its maximum extent for the year, it’s shrinking instead – the area of the Bering Sea covered by ice is now 60% below its average from 1981-2010.”
Following scrutiny of his first-class air travel, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt has postponed a plan to visit Israel this week. A spokeswoman for the EPA declined to give a reason for the decision to delay the trip, which was to focus on water issues and included a stop at a water recycling plant. “We decided to postpone. The administrator looks forward to going in the future,” she said. Pruitt has faced criticism from Democrats and a handful of Republicans for spending $107,000 on first-class air travel and charter flights during the first six months of his tenure. The Washington Post and The Hill have similar coverage. Meanwhile, E&E News reports that climate sceptics are pushing for the appointment of a candidate to lead the Council on Environmental Quality who has questioned the role of human activity in climate change. In an interview, Donald van der Vaart – a chemical engineer and lawyer who has served as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality – said “the question is, how well do we understand this process—and that includes the amount of global warming that’s attributable to mankind—and also what are the mechanisms?” The nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White – former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Chairwoman – was withdrawn earlier this month “largely under the weight of her past comments questioning prevailing climate science,” says E&E News. And Elsewhere, The Hill reports that a new Department of Interior plan to fund infrastructure projects using money raised by drilling on public lands is facing scepticism from members of Congress and a former senior department official. The plan, part of the budget the White House proposed this week, would forgo traditional funding and instead opt to finance up to $18bn in “backlogged” infrastructure projects solely through the sale of mineral and fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters.
Government ministers have been warned that the UK risks forfeiting leadership on floating windfarms because of a withdrawal of subsidies that could leave projects without funding. At least two proposed floating wind farms off Scotland will not go ahead, says RenewableUK, unless a subsidy scheme due for expiry in October is extended. The first floating wind farm opened off the east coast of Scotland last October. Three more are now in development, but two will not be completed in time to meet an October deadline to qualify for a form of subsidies known as Renewables Obligation Certificates (Rocs). RenewableUK says there should be an 18-month extension of the deadline to April 2020. “Without this first group of projects we will not be able to build UK expertise and that would be a huge lost opportunity,” said deputy chief executive Maf Smith. Carbon Briefpublished a Q&A on floating windfarms last year. Elsewhere, the Financial Timesalso reports that the head of the World Coal Association (WCA) has warned that boycotts of coal projects by financial institutions will be counterproductive if they discourage investment to reduce power station emissions. “If you ignore the fact that coal is going to continue to play a big role in the global energy system, you ignore the technology we need to make it more efficient,” said Benjamin Sporton, WCA chief executive. “Developers want to work with international organisations and banks to finance that technology.”
National Grid is examining plans to install a fleet of superfast charging points for electric vehicles along Britain’s motorways that would feed directly off the electricity network. National Grid has mapped Britain’s motorways and transmission networks and identified 50 strategic sites, said Graeme Cooper, project director of electric vehicles at the group. This would allow more than 90% of drivers to drive in any direction from any location in the UK and be within 50 miles of an ultra-rapid charger. “It’s about future-proofing the network so it has the capacity to charge cars as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Cooper. “Range anxiety is listed at the top of [drivers’] reasons for not buying an electric car.”
Representatives from thinktanks on both sides of the Atlantic heavily involved in climate scepticism and lobbying for Brexit are set to meet to formulate their vision for a UK-US trade deal. According to documents uncovered by Greenpeace’s investigative unit, UnEarthed, the “shadow trade talks” will be hosted by London’s IFT (formerly the Institute for Free Trade), led by Conservative MEP and hard Brexit advocate Daniel Hannan. The talks, which will include 10 leading rightwing and libertarian groups from the UK and the US, are preparing to push their “ideal free trade agreement” that would allow the import of US meats, drugs and chemicals banned in Britain, reports the Guardian. Confirmed participants at the shadow talks from the UK include the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Legatum Institute, the Adam Smith Institute and Civitas.”The IEA sits at the heart of a network of organisations spreading disinformation on climate change working out of 55 Tufton St,” notes DeSmogUK.
The impact of future climate change on the US, spelt out in the federal government’s National Climate Assessment report last November, is looking even worse after the completion of further research. Scientists involved in the assessment – carried out every four years – gave an update at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Austin. New findings, for example about sea level rise and the frequency of severe weather, reinforced the report’s message, said report lead Prof Donald Wuebbles. “Climate change is not just something for the future. The bottom line is that our climate is changing now, extremely rapidly,” he said. The second volume of the assessment, focusing on climate change’s impact on specific US regions and economic sectors, is due to appear late this year.
While “early advocates of divestment [from fossil fuels] came from academic institutions or faith backgrounds…now the movement is more mainstream”, writes Brian Kennedy – fund manager on Davy Asset Management’s “ESG [environmental, social, governance] ex-fossil fuels strategy”. As of the end of last month, 833 organisations representing $6tn have divested their investment portfolios from fossil fuels, Kennedy notes. But exiting from fossil fuels doesn’t mean the investments have to suffer, Kennedy argues. “In recent years we have experienced unprecedented volatility in fossil fuel prices, perhaps best represented by fluctuations in oil price,” he says. “Unsurprisingly, there is evidence that the removal of fossil fuels has a supportive effect on the risk-return relationship in a portfolio”.
In an essay for the Wall Street Journal, Harvard University economists Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman write that “one thing has become abundantly clear” about solar engineering – “the costs of implementation would be relatively cheap – perhaps too cheap”. Their rough estimates suggest “the annual cost could amount to under $10bn”, and “such sums are hardly negligible, but in context, they start to look small.” But the difficulty in deploying solar geoengineering “would not be motivating countries to deploy aerosols but stopping them from doing too much too soon,” they warn. “Without international agreements, the country determined to do the most might just get its way”. “At best, [solar geoengineering] is a supplement to other efforts to combat climate change, and it’s an imperfect one at that – a drug that merely moderates dangerous symptoms,” they conclude. “The permanent solution is a regimen of diet and exercise”.
South Africa could save up to $5bn if it achieved its “fair share” of global climate change mitigation by 2030, a new study claims. A new study estimates the total cost of South Africa following an emissions reductions pathway consistent with global efforts to limit global warming to 2C, with its “fair share” of this mitigation determined using the Climate Equity Reference Calculator (CERC). A focus on “moving towards full decarbonisation” could allow the country to save $46bn by 2030, the study says.
A number of US cities could face an increase in heatwave intensity as future global warming interacts with the “urban heat island” effect, a new study finds. The urban heat island describes a phenomenon whereby urban areas feel the heat more so than rural areas due to human activities within cities. Using climate modelling, a new study finds that cities in temperature parts of the US could face an increased synergism between heatwaves and the urban heat island as the climate warms.
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