Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal
- Climate change: California wildfires 'can now happen in any year'
- Carbon emissions continue to fall in the UK, but at a slower and slower rate
- Italy may depend on olive imports from April, scientist says
- Minnesota governor announces goal of 100% clean energy by 2050
- Dear Europe, Brexit is a lesson for all of us: it’s time for renewal
- Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services
- Our footprint on Antarctica competes with nature for rare ice-free land
- Global habitat loss and extinction risk of terrestrial vertebrates under future land-use-change scenarios
The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, says new research published in Nature Climate Change, covered in the Guardian. The increased heatwaves are “killing swathes of sea-life”, the Guardian adds. The new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more, says the Guardian. Ocean heatwaves are now happening 50% more often compared to the early 20th century, reports Reuters. These abrupt local spikes in temperatures are far less researched than heatwaves on land and add to pressures on marine life such as over-fishing and plastic pollution, adds Reuters. “Extreme temperature events may be one of the most important stresses on the oceans in coming decades,” lead author Dan Smale of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom tells Reuters. “Whether it’s seaweeds or corals, fish, seabirds or mammals, you can detect the adverse effects of marine heatwaves,” he says. The New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald also have the story. Marine heatwaves have become “34% more likely” over the past century, according to separate research covered by Carbon Brief last year.
Another Guardian article looks at the impact of marine heatwaves on Australia. Separately, the Guardian reports that some Great Barrier Reef corals have not recovered from back-to-back bleaching in 2016 and 2017, according to preliminary survey results. Others remain in good condition, it adds.
Wet winters are “no longer a guide to the severity of wildfires” in California, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests, reports BBC News. Higher temperatures due to global warming and more effective efforts to contain fires mean there’s now more dry wood to burn, BBC News adds. This means large wildfires of the kind seen in 2018 can now happen in any year, it adds.
Carbon emissions in the UK dropped for a sixth year running in 2018, iNews reports, in continuing coverage of new estimates published by Carbon Brief on Monday. However, emission rates dropped by 1.5% in the UK in 2018, compared to 2.8% in 2017, iNews adds. The Daily Telegraph, the Press Association and China Daily also report the story.
The slowdown in UK emissions reductions “raises fresh questions”, says James Murray in BusinessGreen. “Signs are growing that a new wave of climate policies and investments are urgently needed,” he writes. Meanwhile, the Sun has a comment piece by Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, who says the figures show “an astounding decline in Britain’s CO2 output”. This, he tries to claim, undermines “eco-activists” assertions that “governments, including ours, are deliberately wasting time”.
An olive harvest collapse will leave Italy dependent on imports from April, with extreme weather events the “main driver”, a leading climate scientist has warned. Prof Riccardo Valentini, a director of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, says there are “clear observational patterns” that point to weather extremes such as erratic rainfalls, early spring frosts, strong winds and summer droughts as “the main drivers of [lower] food productivity”, reports the Guardian. The country has seen a 57% drop in its olive harvest this year, the worst in 25 years, the Guardian adds.
Minnesota will require electricity providers to shift to 100% clean energy by 2050, if a proposal introduced by the state’s governor Tim Walz goes ahead, reports the Hill. “The new policies will ensure reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity in Minnesota,” Walz says, according to the Star Tribune. [Despite the headline the proposal appears to be for clean electricity alone, not all energy]. Meanwhile, Washington governor Jay Inslee, who announced his bid for president in 2020 last week, has called President Trump’s view of wind power and other environmentally friendly initiatives “moronic” and “narrow-minded’, says another Hill article. Climate change is Inslee’s “top priority” in Washington, says a Washington Post article.
Meanwhile, an editorial in USA Today looks at what a “more specific, realistic green new deal” would look like. It concludes: “Republicans in the White House and Congress are having a grand old time mocking the green new deal, and parts of the plan lend themselves to mockery. But the critics owe this and future generations more than scorn; they have an obligation to put better ideas and solutions on the table.” InsideClimate News has an article on the “clash of two world views” both seeking climate action in the US: green new deal versus a carbon tax. “For the first time ever, lawmakers face competing approaches to reviving US climate action. And despite hostility from the White House, each has significant support and the potential to shape the 2020 elections,” says InsideClimate News. Senate Democrats are “preparing a counteroffensive” over “the embattled ‘green new deal’” to make combating climate change a central issue of their 2020 campaigns, says the New York Times.
In a wide-ranging comment for the Guardian on the need for political renewal, French president Emmanuel Macron writes: “Getting back on track also means spearheading the environmental cause. Will we be able to look our children in the eye if we do not also clear our climate debt? The EU needs to set its target – zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 – and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition…This imperative needs to guide all our action: from the Central Bank to the European Commission, from the European budget to the Investment Plan for Europe, all our institutions need to have the climate as their mandate.”
The number of marine “heatwave days” per year across the world’s oceans has increased by 54% between 1925–1954 and 1987–2016, a new study finds. Marine heatwaves have “deleterious impacts across a range of biological processes and taxa”, the researchers say, including critical foundation species, such as corals, seagrasses and kelps. Marine heatwaves “will probably intensify with anthropogenic climate change”, the authors conclude, and “are rapidly emerging as forceful agents of disturbance with the capacity to restructure entire ecosystems and disrupt the provision of ecological goods and services in coming decades”.
A new paper assesses the impacts of the construction and operation of research stations on Antarctica. Mapping satellite images, the researchers find the footprint of all buildings to be more than 390,000 square metres, with an additional “disturbance footprint” of more than five million square metres just on ice-free land. These combine to create a “visual footprint similar in size to the total ice-free area of Antarctica”, the authors say, which impacts “over half of all large coastal ice-free areas”. The researchers conclude: “Our data demonstrate that human impacts are disproportionately concentrated in some of the most sensitive environments, with consequential implications for conservation management.”
Land use change could threaten around 1,700 species with extinction by the year 2070, a new study warns. The researchers use global decadal land-use projections under different socio-economic scenarios to evaluate potential losses in suitable habitat and extinction risks for approximately 19,400 species of amphibians, birds and mammals. The findings identify “substantial declines in suitable habitat” for species worldwide, including many in South American, Southeast Asian and African countries “that are in particular need of proactive conservation planning”.
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