Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Greenland’s melting ice nears a ‘tipping point,’ scientists say
- Antarctic krill: Key food source moves south
- The 'environmental time bomb' caused by the effects of climate change on groundwater
- David Attenborough tells Davos: ‘The Garden of Eden is no more’
- German transport minister dismisses calls for a national speed limit as 'against common sense'
- Ireland: Greenhouse gas ‘failure’ faces court
- Renewables risk being a bolt-on rather than true energy substitute
- Annie Proulx on the best books to understand climate change
- The persistence of carbon in the African forest understory
- Krill (Euphausia superba) distribution contracts southward during rapid regional warming
- Warming trends in summer heatwaves
Greenland’s enormous ice sheet is melting so fast that it may have reached a “tipping point”, the New York Times reports. New research published yesterday adds to the evidence that the ice loss in Greenland is speeding up as the warming in the Arctic increases, the New York Times adds. The study found melting of the ice sheet could become a major factor in sea-level rise within two decades. The research found that the pace of ice loss increased four-fold since 2003, the Guardian reports. “We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers,” Prof Michael Bevis, lead author of the paper and a professor of geodynamics at Ohio State University, tells the Guardian: “But now we recognise a second serious problem: increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea.” The study suggests that Greenland‘s ice is melting far faster than initially thought, the Independent says. CNN also has the story.
Krill, a keystone prey species in the Southern Ocean, is retreating towards the Antarctic because of climate change, according to a new study, says BBC News. Krill form a major part of the diets of whales, penguins, seabirds, seals and fish, but “scientists say warming conditions in recent decades have led to the krill contracting poleward”, adds BBC News. Main populations of the shrimp-like crustaceans, which form vast swarms, have moved about 440 km (275 miles) south in the past 90 years, the authors write in the journal Nature Climate Change, says Reuters. “It’s often predicted that species will move towards the poles as the climate warms. It’s already happening with krill,” co-lead author Angus Atkinson, from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in England, tells Reuters. The Daily Express and BBC Newsround also have the story.
Future generations face an “environmental time bomb” caused by the effects climate change has on freshwater supplies, scientists have warned, reports MailOnline. Groundwater takes longer to respond to climate change than surface water, MailOnline adds, but will fall with lower rainfall, with major implications for the future availability of water for drinking, farming and industry, according to researchers. The Irish Examiner, NDTV and Carbon Brief also cover the story.
Sir David Attenborough has warned that “the Garden of Eden is no more”, the Guardian reports. Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Attenborough has urged political and business leaders from around the world to tackle climate change before the damage is irreparable, adds the Guardian. “I am quite literally from another age,” Attenborough told the audience. “I was born during the Holocene – the 12,000 [year] period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm, and create civilisations.” Attenborough told the business figures gathered in Davos that “what we do now…will profoundly affect the next few thousand years”, says the Independent. MailOnline and the Evening Standard also have the story. Meanwhile, Climate Home News reports on the buzzword set to dominate the WEF this week: “Globalisation 4.0.” Climate Home News also lists “six big questions” as Brazil’s new president heads to Davos.
German transport minister Andreas Scheuer has dismissed calls for a speed limit on the country’s motorways as “against all common sense” and “completely exaggerated, unrealistic mind games,” the Daily Telegraph reports. Scheuer’s comments follow a government commission set up by his own ministry recommending a new national speed limit and higher fuel taxes to limit harmful pollution, the Daily Telegraph adds, noting that Germany is one of the last countries in the world not to impose a national speed limit. “The derogatory remarks made by Andreas Scheuer clearly show that the transport minister doesn’t care about road safety or climate protection,” Jürgen Resch, head of the activist group German Environmental Aid (DUH), has said, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Separately, EurActiv reports that carbon pricing has been dropped from new Franco-German treaty. The new Elysée treaty, set to be signed today, no longer mentions carbon pricing among new bilateral initiatives, says EurActiv. A further EurActiv article warns the EU is at risk of missing its 2020 energy efficiency targets. And Reuters reports on a venture from E.ON and Nissan to develop so-called “vehicle-to-grid (V2G)” services to develop services that allow power stored in electric vehicle batteries to be sold back to the grid.
Ireland’s failure to tackle climate change will be tested in the High Court today, the Irish edition of the Times reports, in a case brought by environmentalists. The action, from Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), claims Ireland’s 2017 national mitigation plan breaches the constitution, human rights and a 2015 act to transition to a low-carbon economy, the Times adds. A separate story in the Times looks at a new report which finds Ireland’s energy supply remains “vulnerable”, with all its oil and almost a third of its gas supply sourced from overseas.
“Energy transition” is a phrase that is “used more often than it is examined”, writes ed Crooks, the Financial Times’ US industry and energy editor. “But it is an under-appreciated point that the ‘energy transition’ has no real precedent”, he adds. “The fact that there has never been a real energy transition before does not mean there can never be one. But if it is to happen, it will take a sustained effort from governments to drive it, say observers.” Meanwhile, Financial Timesenergy editor David Sheppard warns that “investors risk losing faith in returns on offer from ‘Big Oil’”. Martin Wolf, the Financial Times’ chief economics commentator, explains in a video why “painful economic action and bold leadership is needed now to tackle climate change”. Another piece in the FT discusses why the renewables boom “fails to dent investment allure of hydrocarbons”, while a further FT article argues that “oil and gas investors are endangered but not doomed”.
“Most of us were short-changed by educations that ignored ecology,” says celebrated author Annie Proulx in an article looking at her favourite books to help us cope with how our world is changing. “We need clear explanations of climate change, what it means and how to cope with it.”
The “understory” – a layer of smaller shrubs and trees beneath the main canopy of a forest – makes up as much as a fifth of the “carbon sink” in African forests, new research suggests. Using tree rings and diameter measurements, the researchers calculate the “average carbon age” – the period that carbon is fixed in trees – in different layers of African tropical forests. The results show that, despite their much smaller size, the average “carbon age” of understory trees (74 years) is greater than in sub-canopy (54 years) and canopy (57 years) trees. And while understory trees represent only 11% of the total carbon stock of the forests, they contribute “disproportionally to the forest carbon sink (20%)”.
There has been a “two-to-three-fold increase in heatwave activity” in England since the late 1800s, a new study says. Using the Central England Temperature timeseries, the researchers apply “crossing theory for the first time to determine heatwave properties solely from the distribution of daily observations”. The findings show that “week-long heatwaves that occur on average every five years were typically below about 28C, but now typically exceed it”.