Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Lightning strike 'partly to blame' for power cut
- UK privately appeals to senior Australian ministers for climate action
- Climate change could cost the US up to 10.5% of its GDP by 2100, study finds
- China provides $1bn in 'green' finance to coal projects in first half of the year
- US enticed by Greenland’s rare earth resources
- Coal industry stakes survival on carbon capture plan
- Feeding the future: Fixing the world's faulty food system
- Greta Thunberg’s attackers are morally bankrupt, but her deification isn’t helpful
- Robustness and uncertainties in global multivariate wind-wave climate projections
- Amplification of mega-heatwaves through heat torrents fuelled by upwind drought
An interim report by the National Grid suggests a lightning strike and the rare loss of two large generators from the system caused nearly a million people to lose power in England and Wales earlier this month, reports BBC News. [The report – the contents of which were leaked to parts of the media over the weekend – has now been formally published by the National Grid following a review by energy regulator Ofgem.] The outage affected homes, businesses and transport, and while power was restored quite quickly, disruption continued into the next day, says BBC News. The lightning strike was one of many to hit the grid on the same day, says the Guardian, but in what the report calls an “extremely rare and unexpected event” it managed to bring down two electricity generators more than 100 miles apart. The National Grid was unable to cover the twin outages at a gas-fired power plant in Bedfordshire and an offshore wind farm off the east coast of England because it did not have enough backup, the Guardian adds, noting that “The combined power capacity lost in the outages was more than 1,300MW and National Grid had only 1,000MW in reserve when the outages took place”. Ofgem has launched an investigation, says the Daily Telegraph, which will “attempt to establish whether the parties involved – National Grid ESO [Electricity System Operator], National Grid Electricity Transmission, 12 distribution network operators in England and Wales, as well as generators RWE Generation (Little Barford Power station) and Orsted (Hornsea) – breached their licence conditions”. Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem’s executive director of systems and networks, said: “Having now received National Grid ESO’s interim report, we believe there are still areas where we need to use our statutory powers to investigate these outages,” reports Sky News. “This will ensure the industry learns the relevant lessons and to clearly establish whether any firm breached their obligations to deliver secure power supplies to consumers,” Brearley added. The National Grid has to publish a final, technical report by 6 September and any Ofgem enforcement action will follow after that, notes BBC News. The Evening Standard and Financial Times also have the story, while the Guardian also reports that National Grid’s annual report, published yesterday, shows that its chief executive received a £1m pay rise over the last financial year to reward his “strong performance”.
In an “exclusive”, the Guardian reports that the British government has privately appealed to senior Coalition ministers in Australia to develop a more “ambitious” climate policy. The UK’s high commissioner to Australia, Vicki Treadell, has met with both emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor and foreign minister Marise Payne since the Australian election in May, says the Guardian – “using the introductory meetings to convey Britain’s view that it wants all countries, including Australia, to increase their climate ambitions”. The meeting with Taylor “discussed the future of Australia’s energy policy after the Coalition dumped its proposed national energy guarantee in the dying days of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership”, the article adds. A spokesperson for the UK high commission in Canberra said the call for more ambitious action on the climate emergency did not just apply to Australia. “No countries’ targets have been ambitious enough and every country needs to do more, including both the UK and Australia,” they said. Elsewhere in the Guardian, Vanuatu’s minister for foreign affairs Ralph Regenvanu urges Australia to “prepare well ahead” of the next meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2020 and “come to the table ready to make real, tangible commitments on climate change”.
“Extreme weather events, cuts to worker productivity and other effects of climate change could cause major global economic losses unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly curtailed in the next few decades,” reports the Washington Post. The new study, published as a working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research, warns that under a high-emissions scenario, warming would cause a 7.2% cut to GDP per capita worldwide by 2100, the article notes. It continues: “In contrast, if countries were to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement, then such effects could be limited to closer to a 1.1% loss in GDP per capita.” A study author tells the Post that the “United States will be one of the countries that will suffer the most” with as much as a 10.5% cut in real income by 2100.
Chinese financial institutions provided at least $1bn in “green” financing to coal-related projects in the first half of this year, Reuters reports. The financial review by Shanghai-based financial data provider Wind shows that 7.4bn yuan ($1.1bn) in green corporate and financial bonds were issued by 13 coal projects in the first half of the year, says Reuters, which involve “power plants fuelled by coal or coalbed methane as well as coal-to-chemical projects”. While the share of coal in China’s total energy mix fell to 59% last year, “overall capacity is still set to grow”, Reuters notes, adding that “last year, more than a quarter of the green bonds issued in China failed to meet international criteria, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), a non-profit group that promotes global green bond standards”.
“President Donald Trump’s idea to buy Greenland may be fantasy, but the US has staked an interest in the island’s resources — in particular, its rare earth minerals,” reports the Financial Times. Greenland is estimated to hold 38.5m tonnes of rare earth oxides – compared to total global reserves of 120m tonnes, the paper notes. These minerals are “critical to high-tech applications, including electric vehicles, wind turbines and military technology”, it adds. The US recently signed a memorandum to co-operate with Greenland on rare earth mining in order to promote investment in the sector, the FT says, “amid wider efforts to secure alternative supplies after China hinted that it could constrict exports to the US”. (Carbon Brief has previously published an explainer on six metals that are key to a low-carbon future.) Separately, E&E News reports that Greenland “is perhaps best-known as one of the foremost symbols of climate change”.
Henry Sanderson, who covers commodities and mining for the Financial Times, has a “big read” on how the coal industry is staking its survival on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. “The concept that coal can be made cleaner by capturing the carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations and storing them underground” is “now the centrepiece of the $360bn coal industry’s efforts to ensure its survival”, Sanderson writes. He continues: “But the coal industry’s lobbying has raised concerns among critics and investors, who say it is an unwise bid to prolong coal’s life in a world of ever cheaper renewable energy such as wind and solar. In addition, they say technologies to extract carbon from power plants are prohibitively expensive and better suited to other industrial sectors such as oil and gas production.”
In a feature article, Daily Telegraph data journalist Josh Wilson “delves into the data” to explore ways to fix the world’s “faulty food system”. “Each year 821 million people suffer from hunger”, says Wilson, yet “at the same time, around two billion people are eating too much of the wrong type of food”. The world “is also facing an unprecedented climate emergency, with temperatures hurtling towards a dangerous tipping point”, he adds. Wilson presents a range of datasets, showing how meat production has “skyrocketed to keep up with population growth” and that “drought causes over 80% of agricultural damage”. He notes: “Scientists have warned that any initiatives to ensure future food security must account for global climate change and seek to minimise agriculture’s contribution.” On a similar theme, BBC News journalist David Brown looks at “five ways that UK farmers are tackling climate change”.
“As Greta Thunberg sets sail across the Atlantic to the United Nations in New York, the backlash against her has been as vicious as it is has been inevitable,” writes author and philosopher Julian Baggini in the Guardian. “Shooting the messenger is, of course, a tried and tested way of dealing with bad news,” he says. “The case that the anthropogenic climate crisis is real and urgent is now so strong that it’s pretty much the only tactic left for those who refuse to accept it.” However, “the uncomfortable question for Thunberg’s supporters is whether their virtual canonisation of her has presented a gift to their opponents”, notes Baggini. “Making a young and idealistic teenager the figurehead of a movement makes it too easy to dismiss the campaign as a whole as naive and idealistic.” “Thunberg has done infinitely more in a few short years to improve humanity’s prospects than I have done or will do in a lifetime,” Baggini concludes: “Lionising her doesn’t help the cause. But the excessive zealotry of some of her supporters is a trifling fault compared to the egregious attacks by critics who would rather take her on than the inconvenient truths she brings.” Elsewhere, the Sun picks up on an “investigation” in Standpoint magazine – published in the Sunday Times at the weekend – and asks whether Great is “a green prophet or a schoolgirl puppet controlled by more sinister forces behind her?”.
Around half of the world’s coastline is at risk of “wave climate change” if future global emissions are extremely high, a new study says. This means around half of the world’s coast could see changes to wave height, direction or duration if little action is taken to tackle climate change. Around 40% of the world’s coast could see “robust changes” in at least two of these wave variables, the authors add.
The European “mega-heatwaves” in 2003 and 2010 were intensified by torrents of hot air that were transported in from dry regions upwind, a new study suggests. For both of these events, about 30% of the heat was caused by upwinds – which rapidly brought hot temperatures, the study says. “Since subtropical droughts are projected to aggravate during this century, in light of our results, this may be accompanied by consequent intensification of midlatitude mega-heatwaves,” the authors say.
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