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Daily Briefing

31.08.2017
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Harvey makes another landfall; Port Arthur now underwater & more
Harvey makes another landfall; Port Arthur now underwater & more

News.

Harvey makes another landfall; Port Arthur now underwater

Hurricane Harvey continued to cause destruction yesterday as Port Arthur, a Texas city located about 100 miles east of Houston, was struck by a wave of flash flooding. “Our whole city is underwater right now but we are coming!” Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman posted on Facebook yesterday. “If you called, we are coming. Please get to higher ground if you can, but please try (to) stay out of attics.” The New York Times reports that the city’s name began to trend on Twitter early Wednesday morning a people posted their addresses, saying that they were trapped in their houses with children and older people in dire need of assistance. Meanwhile, other news outlets report on issues that could hinder Houston’s recovery from flooding. The Scientific American reports that Houston has no quick way to get rid of the floodwater dropped by Harvey. According to estimates, the storm by Monday had already released 14 to 15 trillion gallons of water across the region. Houston has few options for quickly getting rid of this water as it sits on a low-lying coastal plain. “This means the capacity for drainage is very slow,” explains Arturo Leon, a professor of water resources engineering at the University of Houston. “If there were a slope, then it would drain faster.” Meanwhile, Buzzfeed reports that Houston was a “disaster waiting to happen” as lax building regulations allowed the city to expand into sprawling floodplains. “The reason there is damage is because very bad decisions have been made,” John Jacob, who heads the Texas Coastal Watershed Program at Texas A&M University in Houston, told BuzzFeed News. “People have been put in harm’s way time and time again.” Separately, the Guardian reports that conservative groups have sought to shrug off any link between tropical storm Harvey and climate change. Yesterday, Carbon Brief pulled together all the media coverage on Hurricane Harvey and climate change of recent days.

Ofgem balks at National Grid’s £840m Hinkley Point plans

The energy regulator Ofgem has challenged National Grid’s plans to spend £840m to connect the new Hinkley Point nuclear plant to the country’s high-voltage transmission grid. Ofgem claims the cost could be a fifth cheaper, and has warned National Grid that it may instead choose to take the project out of their hands by putting out a competitive tender. Part of Ofgem’s objection is to the Grid’s plans to use a new design of “T” shaped pylons that won a 2011 government-backed competition to replace the taller “lattice tower” style that has been in use for decades, says the Times. Ofgem also challenged National Grid’s budget of £116m to cover the “extreme weather risk” of building the cables through areas of the Somerset Levels that suffered severe flooding in 2012 and again in 2014, notes the Times. Ofgem countered that it was “impossible to be certain of the level of extreme weather that will affect the project” and that the company should not assume it would definitely occur. Reuters and City AM also have the story.

The Telegraph Read Article
Mumbai building collapses in monsoon rains as South Asia floods wreak havoc

At least seven people are dead and 40 trapped in rubble after a four-storey building collapsed in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, as monsoon downpours continue to blight South Asia. The residential building collapsed this morning in the densely populated area of Bhendi Bazaar as heavy rains continued to fall. Reuters reports that a total of 14 people have been killed in Mumbai during the floods. More than 1,200 people have died across India, Bangladesh and Nepal in the worst flooding to strike South Asia in recent years. Several villages in the Indian state of Bihar are still awaiting rescue after several days, with people living in makeshift shelters.

The Guardian Read Article
Coalition watering down Finkel review climate ambitions, leaked document reveals

The climate ambitions of the Finkel review, Australia’s current review into its electricity market, could be being watered down by the government as it is implemented, according to a draft report seen by the Guardian. The draft Coag Energy Council implementation plan removes a pivotal recommendation for an emissions trajectory for the country’s electricity system, alignment with the Paris accord and subsidised solar for poorer households. The leak comes hours after the Guardian also reported that former prime minister Tony Abbott has put pressure on current prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to pledge his support for coal ahead of Finkel. “If we are prepared to go ahead with pumped hydro, and we are neutral on technology, we should certainly be prepared to go ahead with a new coal-fired power station,” Abbott said. Despite this, there is evidence that Australian states and territories are powering ahead on internationally agreed climate targets despite inaction from the federal government, according to a new report, says another Guardian piece. States including South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania are leading the race to cut greenhouse emissions, according to a report conducted by the Climate Council, a crowd-sourced information provider based in Australia.

The Guardian Read Article

Comment.

Houston is paying the price for public officials’ ignorance

The loss of life and displacement of people in Houston following Hurricane Harvey is “an example of what happens when public officials ignore experts and refuse to take natural risks seriously,” argues an editorial in the Washington Post. The editorial chastises Trump’s administration for failing to act on climate change, saying: “Anyone watching Houston who fails to worry about how humans are intensifying natural risks, including storm surges, deluges and flooding, is ignoring the warning signs right in front of them.” Elsewhere, an editorial in the journal Nature says that while decisions on where to install, build and develop have always been weather dependent, “they are becoming increasingly so”. “Extreme weather events such as Harvey can be described as ‘unprecedented’ only so many times before companies and governments are forced to accept that such events are the new normal, and to plan accordingly,” it argues.

Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article
Closure of US coal study marks an alarming precedent

The cancellation of a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) study of the potential health risks of surface coal mining on communities in West Virginia is “another blow for science and for academic freedom,” says Nature in an editorial. Last week, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) – which commissioned the $1m report in 2016 – “ordered a stop to the study, with immediate effect,” says Nature. “The DOI’s assertion that the decision is a budgetary one is suspect, especially given that the study has already spent a good amount of its budget.” “It seems, instead, that the government would rather quash the review than risk it producing results that cast aspersions on the coal industry,” says Nature.

Editorial, Nature Read Article

Science.

Continuously Amplified Warming in the Alaskan Arctic: Implications for Estimating Global Warming Hiatus

Surface air temperatures (SAT) in the Alaskan Arctic have increased by 2.19C between 1921 and 2015, a new study finds – a rate of 0.23C per decade. Using data from an expanded monitoring network with 31 stations in the region, the researchers show that temperatures have warmed by 0.71C per decade over 1998-2015, which is two to three times faster than the rate established in global gridded datasets. The findings suggest “that sparse in-situ measurements are responsible for underestimation of the SAT change in the gridded datasets,” the researchers say.

Geophysical Research Letters Read Article
The biodiversity cost of carbon sequestration in tropical savanna

In tropical grasslands and savannahs, carbon mitigation programmes that promote forest cover may have negative impacts on conservation, a new study warns. Researchers investigated the impact of wildfire suppression in savannahs of the Brazilian Cerrado since 1986. They found that while the plants and trees captured and stored more carbon, the ecosystem suffered “acute species loss”. In sites fully encroached by forest, plant species declined by 27%, and ant species declined by 35%, the researchers say.

Science Advances Read Article
Very large release of mostly volcanic carbon during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum

Previous research has suggested that a natural warming event 56m years ago, known as the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), was caused by the release of carbon from sedimentary reservoirs such as frozen methane. Analysing the carbon in the shells of fossils of tiny marine creatures called “foraminifera”, a new study finds that the high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere would have originated in the Earth’s interior. The evidence suggests that the PETM was triggered by volcanic eruptions that occurred as Greenland separated from Europe during the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean, the researchers say.

Nature Read Article

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