Today's climate and energy headlines:
- In blow to climate, coal plants emitted more than ever in 2018
- Democrats demand Trump abide by Paris climate deal
- Leaders told to bring plans, not speeches to UN climate summit
- A Greenland glacier is growing. That doesn't mean melting is over.
- We might be reaching 'peak indifference' on climate change
- Interruption of two decades of Jakobshavn Isbrae acceleration and thinning as regional ocean cools
- Glacially sourced dust as a potentially significant source of ice nucleating particles
Several publications report on the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s latest annual report on global carbon emissions. The Washington Post focuses on the “grim findings”, which show “that not only are planet-warming CO2 emissions still increasing, but the world’s growing thirst for energy has led to higher emissions from coal-fired power plants than ever before”. The Post adds: “Energy demand around the world grew by 2.3% over the past year, marking the most rapid increase in a decade, according to the report from the IEA. To meet that demand, largely fuelled by a booming economy, countries turned to an array of sources, including renewables. But nothing filled the void quite like fossil fuels, which satisfied nearly 70% of the skyrocketing electricity demand, according to the agency, which analyses energy trends on behalf of 30 member countries, including the US.” The Guardian also leads with the news that “global coal use is up”, adding that the “young fleet of coal-fired power plants in Asia account[s] for a large proportion of the increase”. It adds: “Asia is now responsible for the majority of coal-fired power generation globally, and the average age of power plants there is now just 12 years, meaning they have decades to go before reaching their planned end of production in about 30 to 50 years.” The Guardian also quotes Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director: “We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade. Last year can also be considered another golden year for gas. But despite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts.” The Financial Times notes that the “growth in emissions last year — 560m tonnes — is equivalent to the entire annual emissions from the aviation sector. It was the second consecutive year of rising emissions, after a period during which CO2 emissions were mostly flat between 2014 and 2016”. The paper also quotes Birol: “‘It seems like a vicious cycle,’ said Mr Birol, pointing out that in India air conditioning had become a big factor in power demand. ‘Heating and cooling are one of the biggest drivers of energy demand growth.’” Deutsche Welle, Bloomberg and Reuters are among the other outlets reporting the news. The IEA’s report follows separate analysis by the Global Carbon Project – covered by Carbon Brief last December – which found that “preliminary data showed that output from fossil fuels and industry will grow by around 2.7% in 2018, the largest increase in seven years”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on new Energy Innovation analysis which shows that “around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households”. The newspaper adds: “The study’s authors used public financial filings and data from the Energy Information Agency to work out the cost of energy from coal plants compared with wind and solar options within a 35-mile radius. They found that 211 gigawatts of current US coal capacity, 74% of the coal fleet, is providing electricity that’s more expensive than wind or solar.” The Hill also covers the report.
Politico reports that “House Democrats are planning to introduce a climate change proposal this week that will demand the US live up to its commitments under the Paris climate accord, according to multiple Democratic sources”. It adds: “The legislation — which is expected to be unveiled Wednesday, according to five sources — is part of a blitz by speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats to refocus the House agenda as they adjust to a world after special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report to the Justice Department.” Kathy Castor of Florida, chairwoman of the House Democrats’ special committee on climate change, is expected to lead a press conference tomorrow which will explain how the bill would “keep the US in the Paris climate accord and require president Donald Trump’s administration to come up with a plan to meet the emissions reductions goals under that agreement within 120 days from enactment of the bill”.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that “Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, will force Democrats [today] to take a stand on the Green New Deal and its ambitious goal of conquering climate change — after a long windup designed to drive a wedge between cautious Democratic senators and the liberal activists pushing for climate action”. The New York Times adds: “The resolution, which pairs quick action to throttle carbon emissions and liberal job-creation programs, will fail at the hands of the Republican majority. Many, if not most, Democrats plan to vote present, arguing that the resolution up for a vote is not anything like a fully formed piece of legislation and has not even received a hearing. Stunt votes in the past by both parties have had little political impact.” The Hill also covers the story. Axios reports that retiring Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said on the Senate floor yesterday that “he believes climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases are a major cause — but that Democrats’ ‘green new deal’ is ‘so far out in left field that no one is going to take it seriously’.” Instead, he has proposed a 10-point plan called “The New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy”.
The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has published an “information note” ahead of his climate summit in New York this September, reports Climate Home News. He is calling on countries “to bring plans, not speeches”, says Climate Home News, and urging them to “demonstrate a leap in collective national political ambition and massive low-emission movements in the real economy”, according to the note. The note continues: “This summit will be action-oriented…The deliverables and initiatives that will be showcased need to be implementable, scalable and replicable and have the potential to get us in line with the commitments of the Paris Agreement.”Countries are due to update their current Paris Agreement pledges by the end of next year. The note also reveals how some countries have been paired up to be, according to Climate Home News, “encouraged to form coalitions focused on specific aspects of the climate puzzle. For example, they may collaborate on the best ways to use carbon pricing, green heavy industry or develop ‘nature-based solutions’ like forest growth.” The UK has been paired with Egypt, for example.
A number of outlets cover a new study published in Nature Geoscience which, according to National Geographic, “reveals that the Jakobshavn glacier [in Greenland] — whose ice reaches some 2,600 feet under the sea — is extremely sensitive to changes in ocean temperature”. The magazine continues: “For the last two decades, this warming river of ice has purged more ice into to sea than any other Greenland glacier. But since 2016 — and after 20 years of unprecedented melting in Greenland — Jakobshavn’s rapid retreat has slowed down considerably and the glacier has even grown bigger. This might appear to be a rare dose of good news for the Arctic — a place that’s heated up over twice as much as the rest of the planet. But no. Instead, a team researchers led by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered that Jakobshavn’s stagnated melt is only a temporary blip brought on by cooler ocean currents. Though worryingly, the recent slowing also carries ominous news for the thawing landmass.” Association Press quotes climate scientist Jason Box who was not part of the study: “That was kind of a surprise. We kind of got used to a runaway system…The good news is that it’s a reminder that it’s not necessarily going that fast. But it is going.” He adds: “[Jakobshavn is] arguably the most important Greenland glacier because it discharges the most ice in the northern hemisphere. For all of Greenland, it is king.” NASA climate scientist Josh Willis, a study co-author, tells AP that while the recent growth is “good news” on a temporary basis, this is bad news on the long term because it tells scientists that ocean temperature is a bigger player in glacier retreats and advances than previously thought: “In the long run, we’ll probably have to raise our predictions of sea level rise again.“ Mashable also covers the study.
Meanwhile, CNN reports on a separate study published in Nature Communications which has found that when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017 it “changed the makeup of the forests that cover more than half the island, with certain species declining after the storm and others increasing”. It concludes that “the research suggests this could be a portent of changes that could come to forests across much of the Atlantic Tropics, as climate change drives more powerful storms”.
Science writer Clive Thompson explores whether attitudes to climate change have reached “peak indifference”, a term coined by Cory Doctorow. “Often, when society is facing a problem that’s terrible but slow-growing, we ignore it. We’re indifferent to the problem. Climate change isn’t the only example (think of digital privacy or income inequality), but it’s perhaps the toughest to crack. The psychologist Robert Gifford once enumerated the ‘seven dragons of inaction’ on climate, from ingrained habits (car culture) to lack of trust (in, say, scientists) to numbness (statistics overload). As the crisis grows, our indifference grows too. But at some point, a crisis gets so bad that it becomes unignorable. Our indifference reaches a peak, begins to decline—and panic emerges. This could describe what we’re now seeing in the climate polling. Media coverage and real-life events have finally broken through to folks…But Doctorow’s theory also predicts another psychological hazard: When we ignore trouble for so long, we can slip quickly into nihilism. It’s too late. We missed our chance to take action. That means the current political moment is incredibly interesting. Anyone who wants to deal with climate change may have only a brief window to sell the public on a plan.”
Meanwhile, in the Conversation, Quan Nguyen, a PhD student at the University of St Andrews, explains “why fear and anger are rational responses to climate change”.
The retreat of Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier has stalled since 2016, according to new research. The glacier had been the single largest source of mass loss from Greenland over the past 20 years and contributed the equivalent of one millimetre to global sea level rise from 2000-11. The pause in its retreat has been caused by a pulse of cool water entering the sea surrounding the glacier, the researchers say. This cool water burst came as a result of changes to ocean circulation patterns.
The dust left behind when Arctic glaciers retreat could play a role in enhancing low-level clouds, a study finds. The dust could act as “ice nucleating particles”, the research says, facilitating the the condensation of water vapour into liquid. Low-level clouds could play a role in Arctic warming, the authors say.
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