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Briefing date 14.12.2021
Ice shelf holding back Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday glacier’ is fracturing and ‘won’t last long’, scientists warn

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Ice shelf holding back Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday glacier’ is fracturing and ‘won’t last long’, scientists warn
The Independent Read Article

Scientists have warned that the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica – often known as the “Doomsday glacier” – is fracturing and “retreating rapidly”, the Independent reports. CNBC explains that the glacier is currently held back by a “crucial” ice shelf – but warns that, according to scientists, the ice shelf “could shatter within the next five years”. If this happens, the glacier’s contribution to sea level rise could eventually increase by as much as 25%, it adds. Scientists have “discovered a series of worrying weaknesses” in the ice shelf, according to the Washington Post. It continues: “Until recently, the ice shelf was seen as the most stable part of Thwaites glacier…Because of this brace, the eastern portion of Thwaites flowed more slowly than the rest of the notorious ‘doomsday glacier’. But new data show that the warming ocean is eroding the eastern ice shelf from below. Satellite images taken as recently as last month and presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Geosciences Union (AGU) show several large, diagonal cracks extending across the floating ice wedge.” The paper adds that if the shelf fails, the eastern third of Thwaites Glacier will triple in speed. BBC News adds that the Thwaites glacier’s outflow speed has already doubled over the past 30 years. Stretching 120km across a length of frozen coastline, the glacier already contributes 4% to annual global sea levels, the outlet notes. New Scientist adds that, according to the researchers, the glacier “could break free of the continent within 10 years, which could lead to catastrophic sea level rise and potentially set off a domino effect in surrounding ice”. MailOnline includes satellite images shown at the AGU meeting. Meanwhile, the New York Times has published an interactive, showing water upwelling patterns around the Antarctic.

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed a new record-high temperature for the Arctic, reports the Press Association. According to the newswire, a temperature of 38C was recorded in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk on 20 June 2020. It continues: “The WMO said the temperature, more befitting the Mediterranean than the poles, came during conditions which averaged as much as 10C above normal for much of the summer over Arctic Siberia.”

In other news about the impacts of the changing climate, Bloomberg covers new analysis which finds that fires in Alaska are causing carbon-dense permafrost to melt. Meanwhile, the Independent covers a study which finds that the global supply of farmed seafood could drop by 16% over the next 70 years, “unless more is done to tackle the climate emergency”. The Conversation notes that diners are more likely to choose a vegetarian option when 75% of the menu is meat-free, according to new research. Elsewhere, the Independent reports that golden jackals are spreading out across western Europe for the first time in centuries, as snow diminishes across the continent. The Guardian covers a new report on soil health trends in forests in New South Wales (Australia), which finds that rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns could increase carbon losses and “make it more difficult to identify net carbon emissions”. It adds that the report has prompted “fresh doubts…over whether Australia can rely on boosting soil carbon to achieve its net zero emissions goals”. And Reuters has outlined the extreme weather events seen around the globe this year.

Russia blocks UN move to treat climate as security threat
The New York Times Read Article

Russia has blocked a UN Security Council draft resolution which would have “defined climate change as a threat to peace”, the New York Times reports. The outlet says the draft “would have obliged the 15-member body to include climate change as a factor regarding ‘any root causes of conflict or risk multipliers’. It also would have asked the UN secretary general to make regular reports on how to address the risks from climate change in preventing conflicts.” However, Russia’s UN ambassador “said it regarded the resolution as a pretext by wealthy Western powers to justify meddling in the internal affairs of other countries”, according to the paper. The Independent notes that the proposal was spearheaded by Ireland and Niger. It says that Russia’s vote “sank a years-long effort to make global warming more central to decision-making in the UN’s most powerful body” and that, if passed, the resolution would have been “the first devoted to climate-related security danger as an issue of its own”. The Hindustan Times adds that India also opposed the draft, calling it “divisive”, while China abstained from voting. According to the paper, India criticised the draft, calling it an attempt to “undermine the hard-won consensus which we reached in Glasgow”, which would “sow the seeds of discord among the larger UN membership”.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that gas prices have risen to their highest level in two months, due to “concerns that Moscow may withhold gas if it is blocked from starting up its Nord Stream 2 pipeline”. German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has cited the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border as “a factor” in delay to pipeline’s opening, the Financial Times adds. Elsewhere, the Financial Times says that “the timing couldn’t be worse for the European Commission, which is due tomorrow to make new proposals to tweak the energy market”. The proposed system was drawn up in response to high energy prices and would see EU countries “jointly buy gas to form strategic reserves of the fuel”, Reuters notes. Separately, the newswire carries an explainer entitled: “Can joint gas buying tackle Europe’s high prices?” Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the EU is planning to set a hard deadline for ending its long-term contract to import natural gas. This is “a setback for top supplier Russia”, it says.

US: President Biden declares major federal disaster in Kentucky
The Independent Read Article

US president Joe Biden has declared a “major federal disaster” following the tornadoes that hit Kentucky and surrounding states on Friday, the Independent reports. According to the newspaper, Biden has ordered federal aid to assist with temporary housing and home repairs, loans for uninsured property losses and other programmes. Biden will travel to Kentucky tomorrow, Reuters notes. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that, according to Kentucky governor Andy Bashear, 74 deaths had been confirmed on Monday. The paper adds: “From a meteorological perspective, the storm will also stand out for its timing, duration and strength…If confirmed as a single storm, this ‘quad-state tornado’ would be the longest tornado trek in US history and the first to cross four states. The Guardian adds that single tornado followed a 200-mile path, and the Washington Post says that the tornado was “so unusual that there are few historic comparisons”. Meanwhile, the New York Times says “the agonising aftermath of the tornadoes has compounded what was already a challenging year in Kentucky”, highlighting flash floods and an ice storm earlier in the year. Reuters adds that Biden has also approved federal assistance for Tennessee.

There is also continuing coverage of the potential link between climate change and worsening tornadoes. Biden has stopped short of “directly” blaming climate change for the tornadoes, but is “emphasising the storms’ extreme nature and ordering officials to get more definitive answers”, according to the Washington Post. Elsewhere, the Boston Globe carries a piece entitled: “The climate crisis might have contributed to the weekend’s deadly tornadoes.” The Hill speaks to experts who say that “rising global temperatures that have led to a number of examples of extreme weather contributed to some of the ‘ingredients’ that make tornadoes more likely to occur”, but that “the relationship between climate and tornadoes isn’t a direct cause and effect”. Meanwhile, Associated Press discusses a study presented at the American Geophysical Union conference on Monday, which finds that “nasty winter tornadoes” are “likely to be stronger and stay on the ground longer with a wider swath of destruction in a warming world”. Separately, the Independent also explores existing research on the impact of climate change on US tornadoes, adding that it is “too soon to fully explain” the role of climate change in this instance. Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has penned a piece entitled, “climate change is a disaster, whether or not it caused Kentucky’s tornadoes”, in which he states: “Climate change may or may not have played a role in Friday’s rare and deadly storms. But there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence suggesting it did.”

In other US news, the Los Angeles Times reports that storms across California this week are expected to end the “unprecedented” wildfire season.

US: Revealed – Biden administration was not legally bound to auction gulf drilling rights
The Guardian Read Article

After claiming that it was legally obliged to lease large swathes of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, the Biden administration has admitted that this was not actually the case, the Guardian reports. The US government held the largest-ever auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the history of the Gulf of Mexico last month – claiming that it was “obliged to hold the lease sale due to a court ruling in favour of a dozen states that sued to lift a blanket pause placed on new drilling permits by Biden”, according to the paper. It adds that 1.7m acres of sea bed were sold off in the auction in “a spectacular about-turn from Joe Biden’s previous promise to halt offshore drilling” that was “denounced by outraged environmental groups as a ‘huge carbon bomb’”. However, the newspaper reveals that a memo filed by the US Department of Justice before the lease sale shows that the court ruling did not force the government to auction off drilling rights to the gulf.


Postcards from a world on fire
Meeta Agrawal, The New York Times Read Article

In a major interactive project, a team of New York Times journalists – led by Meeta Agrawal, the Times opinion’s special projects editor – has documented one way that climate change is having an impact in each of the 193 UN member states. As Kathleen Kingsbury, the newspaper’s opinion editor, explains in an accompanying article: “Some of these stories may seem small, like an ancient drawing flaking off a cave wall in Indonesia; others are undeniably harrowing, like the stories of hungry people fleeing their homes in Guatemala; others may even seem hopeful, like the move toward building wooden skyscrapers in Norway. But taken together, they tell a story about what we consider to be the most existential issue facing the planet today. As the video editorial that is at the core of this project says: ‘Open your eyes: We have failed. The climate crisis is now.’”

President Biden’s executive order is not enough to fight climate change. Congress must act
Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article

An editorial in the Washington Post argues that “only Congress has the power to shift the whole country onto cleaner energy”. It opens: “President Biden last week signed an executive order tasking the government with reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, leveraging federal procurement to help build the market for greener products. Mr Biden’s action sounds more impressive than it is. Any executive order he issues might not survive beyond his presidency. Until Congress finally writes into law a comprehensive climate policy that provides a road map for a decades-long transition off polluting energy, the nation’s response to global warming will be fatally insufficient.” The editorial says that Biden’s actions so far are “not small commitments”, but adds that “there are limits to what Mr Biden can promise with his pen alone”. It highlights, for example, that the next president could cancel any of Biden’s executive orders. The board concludes: “Failing to pass a substantial climate bill is not an option. The moment demands the best policy the nation can advance. Mr Biden’s climate legacy will be determined in the coming weeks not in the Oval Office but on the Senate floor.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has published an article on US senator Joe Manchin. It notes that the Manchin family has made millions by selling waste coal from abandoned mines to a power plant that “emits air pollution at a higher rate than any other plant in the state” and that Manchin “played a central role” in “killing” Biden’s climate agenda. It continues: “When pressed about whether he has a conflict of interest, Manchin bristles. ‘I have been in a blind trust for 20 years. I have no idea what they’re doing’…But contrary to his public statements, documents filed by the senator show the blind trust is much too small to account for all his reported earnings from the coal company…If Manchin’s coal interests are not in a blind trust, ethics experts said, it calls into question the impartiality of a senator who in October forced Biden to drop the plan in his Build Back Better bill to phase out the same kinds of coal plants that are key to his family company’s profitability.”

Elsewhere, the Guardian has published a feature piece on Vanessa Nakate, including quotes from an interview with the Ugandan climate activist. The piece discusses “climate justice, reparations, imperialism and why the global north must take responsibility”, and outlines her journey in climate activism. Nakate calls 2.4C – the expected temperature rise if climate pledges are met – a “death sentence” and says that “pledges will not stop the impact of the crisis. Only real action will bring about justice”. And, in Australia, Guardian writer Greg Jericho has penned an opinion piece, entitled: “Don’t believe the Coalition’s ‘emissions are down’ spin. Australia has not delivered on climate policy.” It explores global temperature and emission trends, and highlights key points of Australian climate policy.


Attribution of typhoon-induced torrential precipitation in Central Vietnam, October 2020
Climatic Change Read Article

The impact of human-caused climate change on the typhoon-induced torrential rainfall that hit central Vietnam last year was “small”, a new study suggests. A sequence of five tropical depressions and typhoons in October 2020 caused extensive flooding and landslides in central Vietnam, killing more that 200 people. Using observations and model simulations, the study finds that the event “has not changed in either probability of occurrence…or intensity…in the present climate in comparison with early-industrial climate”. However, the authors add, “given the scale of damage of this hazard, our results underline that more investment in disaster risk reduction for this type of rainfall-induced flood hazard is of importance, even independent of the effect of anthropogenic climate change”.

Near-term transition and longer-term physical climate risks of greenhouse gas emissions pathways
Nature Climate Change Read Article

A new study explores the near-term (to 2030) transition risks and longer-term (to 2050) physical risks for a range of greenhouse gas emissions and associated global warming pathways that span 1.5-4C. Using an integrated assessment model, a climate model emulator and a “suite of impact models”, the authors find that, by 2050, “physical risks deriving from major heatwaves, agricultural drought, heat stress and crop duration reductions depend greatly on the temperature pathway”. By 2030, “transition risks most sensitive to temperature pathways stem from economy-wide mitigation costs, carbon price increases, fossil fuel demand reductions and coal plant capacity reductions”, they add.

Characterising the energy use of disabled people in the European Union towards inclusion in the energy transition
Nature Energy Read Article

Households in the European Union that include an “economically inactive disabled person” typically “earn less and consume 10% less energy than other households, and are more likely to experience energy poverty”, a new study says. The researchers compare disabled households’ embodied energy use, income, risk of poverty and energy poverty, and other socio-demographics with other households in the EU. In effect, disabled households “have – and sometimes inadequate – access to resources”, the authors say, adding: “We conclude that more attention should be paid to disabled households needs to ensure a just energy transition.”

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