Today's climate and energy headlines:
- King penguins face warming challenge
- CO2 emissions from average UK new car rise for first time since 2000
- Freezing weather in Europe linked to soaring temperatures at North Pole, say scientists
- EU foreign ministers say China must sign up to universal climate rules
- Shell warns of future LNG supply crunch
- U.S. energy drilling boom could mean $6 billion in federal well cleanups
- With Brazilian biofuels on the rise, can we keep ethanol green?
- Winners and losers in the age of energy abundance
- Anthropogenic range contractions bias species climate change forecasts
- Mitigation potential of soil carbon management overestimated by neglecting N2O emissions
- Dryland photoautotrophic soil surface communities endangered by global change
King penguins are “in deep trouble if nothing is done to constrain climate change”, says the BBC in its coverage of a new Nature Climate Change paper. As the climate warms, foraging areas “will simply become too distant for many birds to fetch for their chicks” from current islands used for breeding. “The largest colonies are on islands that will be too far from the source of food,” co-author Emiliano Trucchi told the New York Times. “They will need to either move somewhere else or they will just disappear”. Around 1.1m of the breeding pairs – 70% of the current population – will be forced to relocate or disappear if greenhouse gas emissions continue at present rates, says the MailOnline. There is similar coverage in the Times and Telegraph, while the story made the frontpage of the Guardian. Carbon Brief has all the details.
CO2 emissions from the average new car sold in the UK rose last year for the first time since 2000, according to a report from the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Although car manufacturers said new models coming on to the market were on average about 12% more fuel-efficient than their older versions, a shift away from diesels and towards larger vehicles has led to an 0.8% increase in the average amount of CO2 generated per new car. The SMMT that “the anti-diesel agenda” and a slower than expected take up of electric vehicles means that the industry would make it harder for the UK to hit its CO2 reduction targets, reports the Independent. If car manufacturers fail to keep cutting CO2 emissions they will face multi-million pound fines under EU climate change targets coming in 2021, says the Telegraph. In an analysis column, BBCtransport correspondent Victoria Fritz notes “the car industry has laid the blame firmly at the feet of government for the impact of anti-diesel rhetoric on new car sales”. Consumer uncertainty around what the “true financial and environmental costs of owning a diesel might be” and what it might be worth on the secondhand market mean “it is no surprise new diesel sales fell by 17% in 2017”, she adds. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Germany’s top administrative court will decide today whether cities in Europe’s biggest car market can ban diesel vehicles. An environmental lobby group has sued Stuttgart and Duesseldorf to force them to implement driving bans, after about 70 German cities were found to have nitrogen oxide levels exceeding EU limits. And elsewhere, BusinessGreen reports that Fiat Chrysler is expected to announce that it will stop producing diesel passenger cars by 2022.
While Britain shivers in the “Beast from the East”, temperatures at the North Pole have risen above freezing repeatedly, reaching as high as 30C above normal for this time of winter. The cause is a “warm air intrusion” bringing mild and moist air to the Arctic and sending a blast of chilly Arctic air towards Europe. This unusual, but not uncommon, pattern has been deeper and longer than normal, scientists say, and could become more frequent as a result of climate change. “It’s never been this extreme,” said Dr Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, and reported by Reuters. While Prof Lars Kaleschke from the University of Hamburg tweeted that the “wacky weather continues with scary strength and persistence” – a reference to the “warm Arctic, cold continent” or “wacc-y” weather pattern. A study published last July found that since 1980, these events are becoming more frequent, longer-lasting and more intense, reports the Washington Post. Overall, temperatures across the Arctic were above zero C on nine separate days during February, notes the Independent, which has never happened before. Mashable also covers the story.
EU foreign ministers have “set a collision course with China” in a statement calling for the same rules to bind all countries under the Paris Agreement, reports Climate Home News. A 9-page statement on climate diplomacy objectives, released at the conclusion of a council meeting yesterday, said UN talks this year on implementing the Paris Agreement must create “a universal regime with rules applicable to all”. China and allies are calling for a two-tier rulebook, with less stringent reporting requirements for developing countries. Meanwhile, the Thomson Reuters Foundation has an interview with Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She says the body “still maintain[s] hope that there could be a reconsideration” from the US on withdrawing from the Paris deal. “In the meantime, they have been participating in the negotiations and deliberations,” she said. Espinosa also highlighted that the Paris Agreement has now been ratified by 175 nations.
Tens of billions of dollars of new investment is needed in liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects to avoid a supply crunch in the 2020s, Royal Dutch Shell has warned. Despite a series of projects in Australia and the emergence of the US as a net exporter of gas, renewed investment is needed to meet surging demand from China and other developing countries, says Shell in its 2018 LNG Outlook. Along with Chevron, Total and ExxonMobil, Shell put the brake on further investment in 2014 because of concern of a supply glut. Now, Maarten Wetselaar, director of Shell’s integrated gas business, said an extra 200m tonnes of annual LNG capacity would be needed by 2030 – equivalent to about 20 large projects, each of which has typically cost about $10bn to develop. “The industry is still looking at quite a challenge to build supplies to meet demand in the 2020s,” Wetselaar told Reuters. If the potential shortfall “isn’t solved, then you will get higher prices”, Wetselaar told the Times. Energy Live News also has the story.
Cleaning up the tens of thousands oil and gas wells on US federal land after they stop producing could cost over $6bn, according to new analysis by the Center for Western Priorities. The study says the drilling boom that has made the US a top world oil and gas producer will likely have reclamation costs several times higher than the amount the government has collected from oil and gas companies for cleanup. Taxpayers could be liable for some of the difference, the report notes., Meanwhile, The Hill reports President Donald Trump’s comments that the US makes “better solar panels than China”. Speaking to a group of governors gathered at the White House, Trump said there was talk of “reopening [solar panel] plants that have been closed for a long time” in the US. “And we make better solar panels than China. One of their knocks were that the solar panels were lousy, they weren’t good. We make a much higher quality solar panel,” he added.
Writing in the FT, Dr Heitor Cantarella, director of the Soil and Environmental Resources Center at the Agronomic Institute of Campinas in Brazil, discusses the “RenovaBio” law, signed into effect in January, which aims to stimulate the production of biofuels in Brazil. The law is “welcome news to the sugarcane mills and ethanol producers that have struggled to compete with subsidised gasoline”, he writes, but “how can we ensure the long-term viability of biofuel as an alternative energy source?” “To make the transition from fossil fuels to biofuels a sound move both economically and environmentally, we need to keep in check the emissions made in its production,” he cautions. Indirect emissions from production and land clearing for sugarcane “vary greatly and can be significant,” he notes. “RenovaBio could revitalise biofuel markets and go a long way to helping Brazil in its quest for a low emissions future,” Cantarella concludes, but “we must make sure that reducing emissions at the production stage, producing more on less land and incorporating new technologies, are also part of this plan, or we risk losing the benefits of switching from fossil fuels in the first place”.
In his column for the FT, Nick Butler looks into the impact of the boom in shale gas and oil in the US. “Shale developments in the country have helped to produce a fundamental shift in the world market,” he writes, “instead of being scarce, and ever more costly, energy is plentiful and prices have fallen”. The potential benefits could include “no scope for energy exporters such as Russia to use supplies of oil or gas as a tool to threaten adversaries” and low prices encouraging “sensible reform in countries currently dependent on oil and gas revenues, such as the Gulf states”. However, “the actual outcomes fall some way short of the aspirations”. “Russia continues to press ahead with the development of Nordstream 2, which will entrench Europe’s dependence and allow Moscow to isolate Ukraine. Although Kuwait and Abu Dhabi have developed relatively modern economies none of the Gulf states have escaped from reliance on oil revenues.” “An age of plenty is producing as many losers as winners, and as many dangers as opportunities,” Butler concludes.
Forecasts about how climate change could cause the range of a species to shift or shrink may be biased by the assumption that these ranges are static, research finds. Typical modelling studies assume that ranges remain static over time, the researchers say, but, in reality, a species’ range is dynamic and shaped by changing factors such as local extinctions and resource availability.
The potential of soil carbon management programmes to tackle global warming may have been overestimated, the researchers say. This is because previous research does not take into consideration how soil management techniques can lead to a large increase in NO emissions. Using modelling, the researchers estimated how an increase in NO emissions could alter the overall effectiveness of soil carbon sequestration. “We conclude that significant CO2 mitigation can be achieved in the initial 20–30 years of any C management scheme, but after that N inputs should be controlled through appropriate management,” the researchers say.
The area covered by the world’s biocrust – which is made up of algae, lichen and mosses – could decrease by 25-40% as a result of climate change and human land use within 65 years, a new study warns. Biocrusts are “crucial for soil stability as well as water, nutrient and trace gas cycling at regional and global scales,” the researchers say.
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