Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Met Office forecasters set for 'billion pound' supercomputer
- PM must prioritise climate or COP26 will fail, say leading figures
- EDF poised to submit planning application for £20bn nuclear power plant
- Aid money would be better spent on flood defences here in Britain
- ‘The only uncertainty is how long we’ll last’: a worst case scenario for the climate in 2050
- Rising Antarctic temperatures show how desperately we need a Green New Deal
- The link between climate change and Britain’s winter storms
- Extended cave drip water time series captures the 2015-16 El Niño in Northern Borneo
Many UK outlets report the news that the Met Office has secured government funding for a £1.2bn supercomputer, which will improve both weather forecasts and climate projections. BBC News says: “It’ll be the biggest investment in the 170-year history of the organisation and will dwarf the £97m bill for the current supercomputer. In the new project, the billion-plus cost will cover not just the hardware itself but all the running costs too over a 10-year period. There’ll be a first stage installation, which should be six times more capable than the supercomputer used now. And then five years later there’ll be a major upgrade to increase performance by a further three times.” Specifically on climate change, BBC News says: “It should mean researchers can add more detail to their projections, weaving in factors such as the way nitrogen reacts with the carbon in the air. And as the UK moves towards its target of net-zero emissions by 2050, there’ll be a chance to explore different options for how the country uses the land. For example, what will the effects be of planting new forests or protecting peat bogs or growing more biofuels?” Reuters says the new computer will “enable better forecasting for airports so they can plan for potential disruption and provide more detailed information for the energy sector so it can prevent potential energy blackouts and surges”. The Financial Times says: “The announcement is one of the first to be made under what the government has billed its ‘year of climate action’ in the lead up to COP26 in November when national governments must pledge more ambitious carbon reduction targets — though only the Marshall Islands, Suriname and Norway have done this so far.” BusinessGreen quotes Prof Penny Endersby, the Met Office’s chief executive, who says the computer will help to provide “the information needed to build a more resilient world in a changing climate and help support the transition to a low carbon economy across the UK”.
The Guardian reports that “leading international figures” have stressed that the UK government must put climate change at the top of its priorities if it wants COP26 to be a success. The concern has been expressed following the appointment last Thursday of Alok Sharma as the UK’s new business secretary of state and president of COP26. “Some climate experts are concerned that he won’t be able to stand up to governments reluctant to make strong commitments to cut greenhouse gases, while at the same time supporting British businesses struggling in the turmoil of Brexit,” says the Guardian. It adds: “The appointment of Sharma has encouraged civil servants who were concerned that COP26 had slipped down the government’s agenda. Insiders said the appointment of Sharma – a well-regarded secretary of state for international development – would kickstart the process of international diplomacy needed to make the COP26 climate conference a success.”
Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday reports that “the safety of world leaders visiting Britain for a major climate change summit has been put at risk by an astonishing security breach”. It adds: “Highly sensitive plans of the [Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow] – described as a ‘manual’ for terrorists – have been published online by bungling civil servants. Detailed drawings reveal secret tunnels, the venue’s power hubs and generators, and its gas, electricity and drainage networks. The plans show where counter-terror bollards are positioned to prevent vehicle attacks and even show backstage and dressing areas, VIP lounges, security control rooms and the media centre.”
The Independent has published a comment piece by Joss Garman, the UK programme director of the European Climate Foundation (which funds Carbon Brief), in which he says: “Without European leadership, failure would be all but guaranteed, yet right now Brussels is not on track either to have agreed a new more ambitious 2030 climate target or a new longer-term net-zero target to match Britain’s, which it could carry into the EU-China summit in Leipzig in September. Johnson and his newly-appointed COP president Alok Sharma will need to work in tandem with counterparts in Rome, Berlin and Paris on this in the next few months, even as trade negotiations with the EU and US make things much harder. Is it any wonder such a herculean task didn’t appeal to David Cameron or William Hague?”
The Sunday Telegraph says that “EDF is poised to submit a formal planning application to build a new £16bn nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk within weeks”. (The article does not explain the “£20bn” figure used in the headline.) It adds: “The French state-controlled electricity giant is putting the final touches to the paperwork required for a so-called Development Consent Order for the new station, Sizewell C, from Britain’s Planning Inspectorate, the final stage in the planning process. If approved, the new station, on the coast between Ipswich and Lowestoft, would include two new EPR reactors – making it an identical twin of another plant under construction at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Sizewell C, which is also backed by CGN, a Chinese government-controlled company, would generate 7% of UK electricity, enough for 6m UK homes.” The Sunday Telegraph also explains: “The National Infrastructure Commission is expected to take about a year to approve or reject the application. However, a government funding package for the plant has not yet been finalised, raising doubts over how quickly it will proceed.”
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that new analysis by Imperial College London shows that the “UK’s power sector CO2 has fallen by around two thirds over the past decade”, which is “faster than anywhere else in the world”. BusinessGreen quotes Imperial College London’s Dr Iain Staffell, who has produced the analysis for Drax: “In the past decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in Britain’s power system, which has transformed at a speed never seen before. If this pace of change can be maintained, renewables could provide more than half Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and the power system could be practically carbon free.” Last year, Carbon Brief published an interactive article showing, year-by-year, how the UK’s power generation has been transformed over the past decade.
An editorial in today’s Daily Telegraph argues that “for whatever reason there seems to have been more intense flooding in recent years and those at risk evidently need more protection than they are getting”. It adds: “The government’s commitment to flood defence programmes is questionable. At a time when the new administration is eager to emphasise the need for ambitious engineering projects such as HS2, just 1.5% of infrastructure spending – about £1bn a year – is directed towards flood defences…Most leading politicians in Britain accept that global warming is happening and that we need to adapt to a different climate. Ministers have previously made a connection between a greater incidence of severe flooding and changing weather patterns. Yet it remains the case that part of our spending goes on shoring up flood defences abroad through the overseas aid budget, which is set at a guaranteed 0.7% of GDP and now stands at about £14bn…Boris Johnson’s new team should ask whether they have got the right balance between spending abroad and at home. They could put the question to people bailing water from their homes and shops once more.”
An editorial in London’s Evening Standard says that the UK’s capital city “leads” the way in fighting climate change, adding “growth, development, and increased prosperity can be compatible with becoming greener if the right approach is used”. It concludes by saying: “Most important of all, however, is that momentum already created by the contributions of Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough, and the growing public recognition that fundamental environmental action is needed, endures beyond Glasgow.”
An editorial in today’s Times responds to new research claiming that “Baby Boomers outclass the young on green living”. The editorial says: “While the 16-24s sun themselves under the glare of incandescent lights and enjoy the warm glow of year-round central heating, over-55s are more likely to get by on energy-savers and turn the thermostat down. While the young feast themselves on exotic ingredients flown in from afar and Deliveroo dinners, older eaters grow vegetables at home and stick to seasonal ingredients, saving fuel and cutting emissions.” Last year, Carbon Brief published analysis showing “why children must emit eight times less CO2 than their grandparents”.
The Observer carries an extract from a new book, The Future We Choose, by the “architects of the Paris climate accords”, which offers “two contrasting visions for how the world might look in 30 years”. Christiana Figueres, the former head of the UNFCCC, writes: “The demise of the human species is being discussed more and more. For many, the only uncertainty is how long we’ll last, how many more generations will see the light of day. Suicides are the most obvious manifestation of the prevailing despair, but there are other indications: a sense of bottomless loss, unbearable guilt and fierce resentment at previous generations who didn’t do what was necessary to ward off this unstoppable calamity.”
The Observer also carries an interview with Figueres by Damian Carrington. She says: “This is the decade in which, contrary to everything humanity has experienced before, we have everything in our power. We have the capital, the technology, the policies. And we have the scientific knowledge to understand that we have to half our emissions by 2030. So we are facing the most consequential fork in the road.”
Hannah Martin, co-executive director of Green New Deal UK, argues in the Independent that “we know that the British public is increasingly concerned about climate change”. She adds: “Environmental action doesn’t need to be at the expense of human flourishing; we can live in a world where there is economic security and protection of the natural world. A programme like the Green New Deal, a 10-year ambitious national action plan to transform our economy and secure a liveable climate while building a fair society, is the answer.”
In the Financial Times, the political strategist John McTernan writes: “Across the world, the Green New Deal is becoming the one thing on which progressive parties can agree. Most are struggling to find successful electoral strategies to face the challenge of the populist right. There is bitter disagreement on tactics, strategy and policy on display in both the Democrat primaries in the US and the UK Labour party leadership campaigns. Yet, despite wide differences in many areas, all sides seem to agree on the need for a Green New Deal…With progressives in opposition in so many countries, the Green New Deal feels like a lifeline — a collective solution to a collective problem. They should beware, however, that it is also a potential trap. The Green New Deal, for some, is a Trojan horse for sneaking the failed ideology of socialism back in.”
The Sunday Times has published analysis by Simon Lee, a meteorologist at Reading University, explaining how climate change is affecting the UK’s winter storms: “Part of the answer lies in the jet stream, the powerful westerly wind blowing about six miles above us which, driven by that steep temperature gradient, has accelerated and got bigger. That energy feeds into our storms. On their own, Ciara and Dennis are not symptomatic of climate change or a global weather crisis. What climate change does is to alter the likelihood of such events. Computer models of the impact of climate change predict an increase in winter rainfall for the UK, along with warmer atmospheric temperatures and changes to the tracks followed by storms across the north Atlantic. This year may not be a sign of things to come, but we will probably see more severe winter flooding in future.” He adds: “So far the world has seen warming of about 1C. That is going to continue and the best guess is that the world could be — in a worst-case scenario — 4C-6C warmer by 2100. That may not sound much – but multiplied by the area of the planet it means that the atmosphere will hold an enormous amount more energy. That energy will not only be felt as heat. It will also power our weather like never before. That means more and bigger storms, stronger winds and changes in the temperature of the oceans, which will make the sea levels rise. If our weather is exciting now, it may soon be overwhelming.”
A study presents a new proxy data on rainfall variability, reconstructed from cave stalagmites at three sites in Gunung Mulu National Park in Northern Borneo. These reconstructions “rely on the fact that differences in the isotopic composition of rainwater set by regional rainfall patterns is preserved as the rainwater travels through cave bedrock to feed the cave drip waters forming stalagmites”. The three 12-year timeseries “capture El Niño and La Niña events in Northern Borneo”, which provides “a strong foundation for stalagmite‐based climate reconstructions from this site”.