Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Major power cut across country as London goes dark after National Grid failure
- UK chooses Glasgow to host major UN climate change summit
- Climate change to be the focus as Scott Morrison attends Pacific Islands Forum
- Economic fears pour cold water on oil demand
- The Guardian view on climate crisis: what can we do?
- National Grid boss must tell us why the UK was reduced to the chaos of a tin-pot state by a huge power cut
- Quantifying the local effect of Northern Hemisphere atmospheric blocks on the persistence of summer hot and dry spells
There was blanket coverage of the power cut that struck parts of England and Wales on Friday. A Daily Telegraph front page story reported that hospitals, airports, rail and road networks in towns across the country were affected, and a total of one million people. PA described “apocalyptic” scenes during rush hour following what the National Grid Electricity System Operator said were issues with two generators, first the gas-fired power station at Little Barford in Bedfordshire and then the Hornsea offshore windfarm off the coast of Yorkshire. The Sun included descriptions of people stuck on trains for “more than six hours in the dark” following the outage, which struck just before 5pm. Reuters reported the issue had been resolved later that evening.
Coverage continued over the weekend, particularly discussions concerning the cause of the outage. The Independent reports – under a headline saying “wind generation not to blame…National Grid boss says” – on comments by Duncan Burt, director of operations for the National Grid Electricity System Operator, that the “incredibly rare event” came after two power stations – gas and then wind – disconnected near-simultaneously. He went on to say that the events “really have nothing to do with changes in wind speed or the variability of wind”. A piece in PA quotes several scientists supporting this statement. MailOnlinealso has a piece on Saturday quoting energy experts “playing down” the suggestion wind power was to blame for the cuts. Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday reports there have been two more “sharp drops” in supply “in the past three months alone”. It quotes Jeremy Nicholson of energy firm Alfa – and the former head of the UK Energy Intensive Users Group, lobbying on behalf of heavy industry – saying that the grid will see “increasingly frequent” periods with low levels of conventional generation in the future. The Mail on Sunday describes Nicholson as “a leading expert” and incorrectly says he is “warning that blackouts will become ‘increasingly frequent’”. Its headline goes even further, saying “experts blame [blackout on] UK reliance on wind”. Nicholson is the only “expert” quoted and his quote does not blame the blackout on wind. Sky News reports that despite the turn of events, National Grid said its backup system had “worked well”. The Financial Times quotes an analyst at energy consultancy Cornwall Insight saying the windfarm failure may have been a knock-on effect from the loss of the gas-fired power station. The paper also quotes Keith Bell, a professor in electronic and electrical engineering at the University of Strathclyde, saying: “This has become an opportunity for people – from the Labour party to climate change deniers – to promote a particular agenda, even though it basically seems like an unfortunate series of events.”
BBC News reported on Sunday that business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Andrea Leadsom had launched an investigation into the incident, while the Financial Times noted the National Grid could face a fine following the outage.
The COP26 climate summit will take place in Glasgow next year if the UK is successful in its bid to host the major UN event, according to the Guardian. While it has not been confirmed yet, the UK is expected to co-host the two-week event with Italy at the end of 2020, according to the paper, which notes a formal announcement is expected in December. The Financial Times notes the move is “seen as an effort to curry favour with Scotland” after Boris Johnson took power. The paper quotes former energy minister Claire Perry, who has been nominated as COP president, calling Glasgow “one of the UK’s most sustainable cities”. PAreports that with up to 200 world leaders expected to attend for the final weekend, the event would be the largest summit the UK has ever held. Meanwhile, the Herald carries a quote from WWF Scotland director Lang Banks, who says: “COP26 in Glasgow would be an opportunity to put our leadership and our zero-carbon economy on the world stage but we also need to put in place more concrete actions at home”. BBC News, the Scotsman and Business Greenalso have the story.
Climate change will be the key issue at a week-long meeting involving Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and Pacific leaders, says ABC News. According to the news outlet, Morrison emphasised on the Friday the “hundreds of millions of dollars” Australia is investing in the region, which is grappling with the impacts of climate change. However, ahead of the meeting Pacific leaders have called for the Australian government to ramp up its efforts to cut emissions. The Guardian reports that the Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama warning Australia to transition away from coal and appreciate the “existential threat” facing the islands. SBS News has footage of a welcoming party of children in Tuvalu, who greeted arriving leaders while submerged in water. The Sydney Morning Herald has a piece written by reverend James Bhagwan, the general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, reminding Morrison as he arrives in Tuvalu “that he is setting foot in a country that could soon be under water”.
The International Energy Agency has cut its growth forecasts for oil, citing economic uncertainty that has created a “fragile” outlook for oil demand, according to the Times. The paper reports the Paris-based agency warned that the escalating trade tensions between the US and China had more bearing on this trend than the more recent events taking place in the Middle East. The Financial Times says that Brent crude, considered the international oil benchmark, fell below $57 per barrel this week, the lowest since January and down 26% since April. Reuters notes oil demand growth from January to May has now reached its lowest level since the financial crisis of 2018.
After last week’s land report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Guardian has an editorial considering both the way the topic was handled by the press and the debate surrounding individual versus system change. “Many news outlets summarised it with the injunction: eat less meat… It was certainly a more accessible angle than the lengthy report’s advice on issues such as smallholders and soil protection,” it says. The editorial notes the “danger” of such an approach is that “great demands can become reduced to individual purchasing decisions”, letting governments and businesses off the hook. However, it ultimately concludes a holistic approach is necessary: “We should be suspicious of attempts to reduce issues to individual consumer choices; mindful of the need for personal changes; and awake to the chance that even small shifts may trigger much greater ones”.
Other writers had a rather different outlook on the IPCC’s report. Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore says that “food-guilt is becoming the eco-zealots’ weapon of choice”. He notes that the report itself does not explicitly tell people to cut out meat, and criticises the Guardian and BBC’s coverage of the issue. Meanwhile, in the Sunday Telegraph under a headline warning of a “war on meat”, Matt Ridley questions the science behind advice to eat less meat on climate change grounds. He also says while he is not averse to moving beyond meat, “the moment somebody decides to shame or coerce me into being a vegetarian, they will lose my vote”. A piece by Magnus Linklater in the Timesargues that the impact of giving up red meat is outweighed by activities such as flying, and warns of “disastrous” consequences from giving up livestock pastures in the UK.
Separately, an opinion piece in the Washington Post calls for urgent action on climate change in the context of thousands of deaths and hospitalisations around the world linked to recent heatwaves. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Herald says that the storms battering the UK show “it’s time to get serious about climate change”. An explainer piece for the Sunday Times says that this year’s erratic weather “may not be an aberration so much as a foretaste of what the great British summer will become like in future”.
Editorial, The Sun on Sunday.
The Sun on Sunday has an editorial calling for an explanation of what triggered the Friday blackout from National Grid chief executive John Pettigrew. “One of the generators that crashed was a wind farm, on which we are putting such hopes for a sustainable future. And that was while the country was being lashed by gale-force winds that should have been generating shedloads of power,” it says. “The trouble is that we have been left, literally, in the dark.” A short section of the editorial in the Mail on Sunday also bemoans the fact that a “rich, compact first-world” country was facing such issues.
Also writing in the Mail on Sunday, political analyst Richard North compares the blackouts that struck Britain to Venezuela, and considers what might have been behind them. “Part of the problem is the obsession with ‘renewables’ such as solar and, particularly in Britain, wind power. We ignore how patchy their contribution is. The wind doesn’t always blow,” he writes. The Spectator has that argues, without explanation, that “renewable energy makes power cuts more likely”.
Other articles were not so quick to blame renewables. An Observer editorial describes the event as a “rude awakening to the brittleness of core parts of British infrastructure”. It says the focus on Brexit has meant resilience planning has fallen by the wayside, and warns that the government is not prepared for the coming switch to more renewables and nuclear. An Independent editorial also warns that the UK’s infrastructure is in need of an overhaul, and says it is “no-brainer that we should use this period of low interest rates to finance an investment in improving our electricity supply”. In the New European, an opinion piece by consultant and former academic Elwyn Lloyd Jones states that due to the UK’s future reliance on interconnectors to Europe, the EU is vital to helping stabilise the country’s electricity supply.
Atmospheric blocking increases the chances of a heatwave in the Northern Hemisphere lasting for another day by 50%, a new study says. Atmospheric blocks are large-scale patterns in the atmospheric pressure field that are almost stationary, effectively “blocking” weather from passing over land. Blocks can play a key role in severe heatwaves by causing paths of hot weather to become stationary over land. The authors say: “The survival odds of hot spells are increased by more than 50% over most of the Northern Hemisphere extra tropical land masses when co-occurring with blocks.”
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