Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Heat-related deaths projected to triple in the UK by 2050
- Wildfires are up more than a third in Europe – with heatwave-hit north seeing huge increases
- EDF’s Flamanville nuclear reactor to face further delays
- US West power prices soar to all-time highs again in heat wave
- Oil majors return to deepwater drilling
- The heat is on
- The future of hyperdiverse tropical ecosystems
- Ecosystem restructuring along the Great Barrier Reef following mass coral bleaching
- A stratospheric pathway linking a colder Siberia to Barents-Kara Sea sea ice loss
Heat-related deaths in the UK could triple by 2050, to reach as many as 7,000 per year, as hotter temperatures become the new norm, MPs have warned. The new report from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) says the UK is “woefully unprepared” for deadly heatwaves, reports the Guardian, with the government ignoring warnings from its official climate change adviser. One in five homes dangerously overheats during heatwaves today, the MPs say, while on the hottest day of 2016 alone there were almost 400 heat-related deaths. Buildings, particularly hospitals and care homes, must be prepared for heatwaves, the report warns, with sick and elderly people especially vulnerable to heart and breathing problems. The committee also suggests that Public Health England should tell employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working in heatwaves, says BBC News. “The government must stop playing pass the parcel with local councils and the NHS and develop a strategy to protect our ageing population from this increasing risk,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the committee, in the Independent. Reuters, the Express, Huffington Post and BusinessGreen all have the story, and it makes the frontpages of both the Mirror and the Daily Telegraph. Carbon Brief has all the details. Meanwhile, the Times reports that the UK could experience its hottest day on record in the next 48 hours, exceeding the 38.5C recorded at Faversham in Kent on 10 August 2003, and that the heatwave is putting swallows and house martins in danger.
The number of wildfires hitting Europe this year is 43% higher than the average for the last 10 years, new data shows. Figures from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) show that there have been 427 wildfires that were 30 hectares or larger so far this year in 2018 – 129 more than usual. The increase has been driven by high rates of wildfires in central and northern European countries, explains the Daily Telegraph – for example, both the UK and Sweden have seen 57 more wildfires than average. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “prime wildfire weather is sweeping across western US”. Hot, dry weather with high winds are forecast for many parts of Oregon, California, Arizona and Nevada today, which may “contribute to an already deadly wildfire season”. The Mail Online reports that Yosemite National Park in California has been evacuated as firefighters attempt to contain a huge wildfire just to the west of the park. There are currently 60 “uncontained large fires” across the US, says Think Progress. Reporting from Athens, Reuters says that the number of deaths caused by wildfires in the eastern resort of Mati reached at least 81. A brief change in wind direction gave residents “perhaps 20 minutes to save their lives”, reports another Reuters article.
French power utility EDF says there will be further delays and cost overruns at its Flamanville nuclear site in France. Continued problems with welding – first announced in April – mean 33 welds need to be repaired after quality deficiencies. The start-up date for the Flamanville 3 reactor has now been pushed back to the second quarter of 2020, reports Reuters, having originally been slated for 2012 when construction began in 2007. The revised cost estimate of 10.9bn euros is now three times the original budget. The news raises concerns about further delays to the Hinkley Point nuclear plant in the UK, says the Times, which is also being built by EDF.
The heatwaves across the northern hemisphere this summer are having knock-on impacts for electricity generation. Power prices in some western regions of the US rose to all-time highs for a second day in a row as consumers kept air conditioners running on full. Meanwhile, operators have reduced the output of Finland’s Loviisa nuclear plant because the seawater used to cool the reactors has become too warm, reports Reuters. And electricity prices in Norway hit a record high for this time of year last week due to lack of rainfall and warm weather limiting hydropower generation, says another Reuters piece. And in the UK, some solar power operators hit record highs for electricity generation over the past month, reports BusinessGreen. The heatwaves are also affecting food markets, with Reuters reporting that vegetable prices in Japan are up as much as 65% and industry groups have warned that the UK food supplies would start to be hit in autumn.
Higher oil prices is encouraging oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total, BP and Equinor to return to deepwater drilling, the FT reports. Newly approved projects are cheaper, simpler and often smaller than those sanctioned previously, as oil majors move back into “a high-cost, high-risk area that was all but abandoned during the oil price slump”. Elsewhere, the FT also reports that Saudi Arabia is suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea following an attack from Yemeni Houthi rebels on two of its giant crude carriers.
An editorial in the Mirror says that the UK “must prepare for the consequences of climate change. Or, better still, tackle it.” Quoting the findings of the new report from MPs, the Mirror writes that “our transport network, housing design and infrastructure all need upgrading and a strategy is needed to protect the elderly”. However, others are less concerned about the heat. Writing in the Sun, columnist Rod Liddle criticises the “tiresome drongos” at the Met Office who put out an amber alert for high temperatures this week. Liddle also complains that the “climate change monkeys are in full voice”: “Give it a rest. I think there is something to global warming. I am not a denier. But I remember the last few summers we’ve had — rainy and cool — and the climate change monkeys saying THAT was a consequence of global warming, too. You can’t have it both ways.” Similarly, Christopher Booker in the Daily Mail says “this kind of summer heat is far from unprecedented”. In a lengthy article, Booker argues that “we shall continue to have abnormally hot summers from time to time, just as we did in 1976 and 1846, way back before global warming was invented”. Meanwhile, writing in the Conversation, climate scientist Prof Len Shaffrey from the University of Reading outlines the three (and a half) reasons why it has been so hot and dry in the UK and Ireland. These include climate change, North Atlantic temperatures, La Niña and the luck of the weather. In a separate piece for the Conversation, scientists Dr Andrew King and Dr Ben Henley write that “heat extremes similar to those witnessed over the past month or two are expected to become more common as global temperatures continue to climb”. Elsewhere, the BBC’s David Shukman has a video piece on why there have been so many heatwaves across the world this summer, the Independent’s science correspondent Josh Gabbatiss asks whether the recent heatwaves are “the new normal”, and Bob Ward – policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment – warns in a commentary that “this is a public health emergency about which nobody is talking”: “hundreds of people are likely to die over the next few days as heatwave conditions worsen across much of the UK”.
A review of the threats facing tropical ecosystems concludes that “urgent action” is required to “prevent a collapse of tropical biodiversity”. Tropical ecosystems, which are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, face ongoing threats from climate change, habitat loss and pollution, the researchers say. These problems are likely to be exacerbated in the future by globalisation and population growth, they add. The article is one of six review papers from a collection on tropical issues. A second paper looks at the future of carbon storage in tropical rainforests, while a third evaluates scientists’ current understanding of El Niño and its complexities.
The 2016 mass coral bleaching event across the Great Barrier Reef drove large ecological shifts across the ecosystem, a new study finds. Data taken from both before and after the event shows that distributions of fish, algae, corals and invertebrates shifted following the bleaching event, which was driven by unusually high sea temperatures. “In particular, fishes that scrape algae from reef surfaces, which are considered to be important for recovery after bleaching, declined on northern reefs, whereas other herbivorous groups increased on southern reefs,” the researchers say.
A study looking into why Siberia’s harsh winters are growing colder as the world warms finds that changes to sea ice could explain the phenomenon. The researchers suggest that late autumn sea ice loss in the Barents-Kara Seas should be expected to result in a colder climate in Siberia the following winter. A second factor contributing to cold winters could be changes in the stratosphere, particularly shifts in and weakening of the stratospheric polar vortex.
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