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Daily Briefing

13.08.2018
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING More than 100 large wildfires in US as new blazes erupt
More than 100 large wildfires in US as new blazes erupt

News.

More than 100 large wildfires in US as new blazes erupt

Six large new wildfires have erupted in the US over the weekend, pushing the number of major active blazes nationwide to over 100. More than 30,000 personnel, including firefighters from across the US and nearly 140 from Australia and New Zealand, have been battling the blazes that have now consumed more than 1.6m acres of land, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. “Dry lightning”, which produces lightning but little rain, is expected to trigger more fires in the Rocky Mountain region. Tourism in the western US – particularly around Yosemite National Park – has taken a hit because of this year’s fires, says Reuters. While New Scientist reports that an invasive species of grass, known as “cheatgrass”, is making US wildfires up to twice as large and three times as frequent, a news study finds. The Hill reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is “seizing on California’s wildfires” to promote logging in the state. Zinke is expected to push the benefits of forest management at an event with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today. Last week, Zinke argued in an opinion column for USA Today that wildfires could be curbed “through active forest management like prescribed burns, mechanical thinning and timber harvests”. Elsewhere, another Reuters article reports that two villages on the Greek island of Evia were evacuated because of a wildfire, and the Daily Telegraph says that Arctic wildfires have risen almost tenfold in a decade. Writing in the Conversation, climate scientist Prof Kevin Trenberth laments that “the role of climate change is seldom mentioned in many or even most news stories about the multitude of fires and heatwaves”. While global warming does not directly cause wildfires, he says, it “exacerbates the conditions and raises the risk of wildfire”. Carbon Brief’s factcheck on US wildfires, published last week, came to the same conclusion.

Reuters Read Article
US-China trade spat could hit oil demand, IEA warns

A growing US-China trade dispute could hurt oil demand growth this year and next if the global economy takes a hit, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Friday. The two countries have announced plans to increase tariffs on a range of goods, and these trade tensions “might escalate and lead to slower economic growth, and in turn lower oil demand,” the energy body said in its monthly market outlook. The IEA also warned that new US sanctions on Iran later this year could make maintaining global supply “very challenging”, reports Reuters, and “would come at the expense of maintaining an adequate spare capacity cushion”. Meanwhile, the FT reports that Royal Dutch Shell “is doubling down” on deepwater drilling, with break-even prices for extracting oil now down to around $30 a barrel. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that United Arab Emirates is planning to build an oil pipeline connecting Eritrea and Ethiopia. And in more pipeline news, Reuters also reports that the Russia-led Nord Stream 2 consortium says it has applied to Denmark for an alternative gas pipeline route through the Baltic Sea that would avoid Denmark’s territorial waters. The Danish parliament is considering passing legislation allowing it to veto the pipeline route through its waters on security grounds. Writing in the FT, Eugene Rumer – director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program – says that although US and Europe are “in rare agreement” in their opposition to Nord Stream 2, “they are all misguided in their own ways”.

The Financial Times Read Article
We need to take climate change very seriously, warns astronaut Tim Peake

“We are under no illusions that the planet is warming, climate is changing and we need to address that in a very serious manner,” says astronaut Major Tim Peake. Speaking at Peterborough Cathedral, where the capsule that brought him back to Earth after his six-month mission in space has gone on display, Peake said: “I take my information along with everybody else from the scientific reports that we get back and of course we are aware that the planet is on a trend, a global trend towards warming temperatures”. Asked about the risks of parts of the Earth becoming inhabitable, Peak said: “it’s very difficult to predict but we do know that if temperatures go beyond about two to three degrees warmer then it’s going to dramatically change the conditions on Earth and it’s very hard to tell exactly what those conditions will be in the future”.

Associated Press via the Belfast Telegraph Read Article
Pension funds warned of legal action over climate risk

Fourteen of the UK’s biggest pension funds have been warned by lawyers they risk legal action if they fail to consider the effects of climate change on their portfolios. Environmental law NGO ClientEarth has written to funds – including the Tesco Pension Scheme, British Airways Pensions and the BP Pension Fund – urging them to consider how they manage and report on climate risk. “We are concerned that you, as scheme trustees, may be failing to take sufficient steps to address climate risk and therefore failing to manage the scheme’s investments in a manner consistent with members’ best interests,” the letter says: “In doing so, you are potentially putting members’ retirement outcomes at risk and exposing yourselves to the possibility of legal challenges for breach of your fiduciary duties.” A second FT article reports that pension funds across Europe “are belatedly waking up to the threats to their investment portfolios posed by climate change”. According to this year’s survey by investment consultants Mercer, 17% of European pension funds consider the investment risks posed by climate change, up from just 5% in its 2017 survey.f

The Financial Times Read Article
The chips are down in Belgium as heatwave hits supply of frites

The Europe-wide heatwave is likely to threaten Belgium’s national dish – the frite, reports the Guardian. The hot, dry weather has shrunk Belgium’s early crop of potatoes by about one-third compared with an average year. Without significant rainfall over the next few weeks, the key September and October harvests could be smaller still. The heat impacts not only the yield, but the size of the potatoes and the roughness of their skins – if they are too tough, they cannot be handled by the peeling machines used by chip manufacturers. The president of the stallowners’ association tells Politico that “prices have already increased and potatoes will be smaller…We are hopeful. It’s the first time Belgians are praying for more rain”.

The Guardian Read Article

Comment.

Heat of the Moment

“Only the most wilfully obdurate could look at the weather mayhem across the globe this year and deny that it has been caused, or at the very least exacerbated, by global warming,” says the Irish edition of the Times in an editorial. Highlighting the series of heatwaves and wildfires across the northern hemisphere, as well as last week’s “hothouse Earth” journal paper, the editorial warns that “the Irish government seems entirely unable to grasp the urgency of the situation”. “Nine years ago, Ireland was given a target to reduce its greenhouse emissions to 20% below what they were in 2005,” the article notes: “It is nowhere near reaching that goal”. On the topic of extreme heat, the Guardian’s G2 magazine has a “sweltering cities” feature by Jonathan Watts and Elle Hunton on how a 50C city “is fast becoming a reality”. Meanwhile, writing in the Independent, author and academic Andy Martin reviews the new collection of essays from Roy Scranton, “We’re Doomed. Now What?”. And taking a different tack, writer and Indy columnist Mary Dejevsky argues that the UK could benefit from climate change with “summers that are more like, well, summer”. “Carry on trying to save the planet by all means,” she concludes, “but bear in mind that for our islands, as for some other countries, a bit more heat could do a lot to improve our quality of life”.

Editorial, The Times Read Article
It’s time to switch on to the smart meter revolution

Dermot Nolan, the chief executive of Ofgem – the UK’s energy regulator, writes in the Daily Telegraph in defence of energy smart meters. “Smart meters provide the foundations for an energy revolution as Britain moves to a smarter, cleaner and lower-cost system,” he says. Smart meters help smooth the peaks and troughs of electricity demand, thus reducing how much back-up power is needed, Nolan argues. As such, they “will help to reduce energy bills, [make] them more accurate, and will also help unlock the benefits of new digital energy devices and apps like smart chargers”, he concludes. Smart meters are also in the news, with the Times reporting that the charity Citizens Advice is advising that the national deadline for completing installation of smart meters should be delayed by three years to prevent inadequate installations and rising costs.

Dermot Nolan, The Daily Telegraph Read Article
Warmer seas will not lure great white sharks to UK, experts say

“Despite a spate of scare stories…anyone hoping for sightings of great white sharks in British waters are likely to be disappointed,” says the Guardian’s natural history writer Patrick Barkham. Speaking to a number of shark experts, Barkham finds that rising sea temperatures around the UK will not increase the likelihood of great whites arriving. “Most experts agree that the real conundrum with great white sharks is not whether they are likely to start rocking up but why they are not here,” shark campaigner and author Richard Peirce tells Barkham: “Our conditions in Britain are already perfect and warming waters are not going to help them.” Carbon Brief factchecked the recent shark claims two weeks ago.

Patrick Barkham, The Guardian Read Article

Science.

Retreat of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, over the next 100 years using various ice flow models, ice shelf melt scenarios and basal friction laws

The retreat of Thwaites, a key glacier in West Antarctica, is likely to be “rapid and sustained” over the next 100 years, research suggests. The researchers say: “We find the uncertainty is small in the first 30 years, with a cumulative contribution to sea level rise of 5mm, similar to the current rate. After 30 years, the mass loss depends on the model configurations, with a 300% difference over the next 100 years, ranging from 14 to 42mm.”

The Cryosphere Read Article

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