Today's climate and energy headlines:
- ‘Too much glass’ risks overheating modern buildings
- World has three years to save humanity from climate change, warn experts
- One of America's First Clean Coal Plants May Have Just Died
- Plastic bottle menace ‘rivals threat from climate change’
- UK taxpayers face multi-billion burden for dismantling of North Sea rigs
- Mayors of 7,400 cities vow to meet Obama's climate commitments
- Better market information can help combat climate change
- Carbon catch-22: the pollution in our soil
- Climate change is an energy problem, so let's talk honestly about nuclear
- Ice-free habitats in Antarctica will expand in a warming world
The UK government’s climate change committee (CCC) has warned that the UK is “locking in problems for future generations” by designing buildings that become too hot in soaring summer temperatures. A growing number of heatwaves is turning many modern glass buildings into greenhouses, overheating the people inside, the CCC says, and a failure to update regulations could triple heatwave deaths by 2040. “More than 90 per cent of our population live in urban areas and as we have all been experiencing, heat is a significant problem,” said Baroness Brown of Cambridge, deputy chair of the committee, “yet building regulations don’t cover heat and the management of high temperatures.” Air conditioning, which uses a lot of electricity and pushes heat out on to the streets, should not be viewed as a solution to the problem of overheating, said Lord Deben, the committee’s chairman. Instead, planners should demand designs that cool buildings naturally, and look to replicate designs already seen in Mediterranean countries such as Portugal Bloomberg writes. Cladding walls in ivy and other climbing plants is another solution preferred by the CCC – ivy-covered walls can be 6C cooler than bare walls. Elsewhere in the report the CCC calls for the government to set a target that electric vehicles should make up at least 60% of new cars and vans sold in the UK by the end of the next decade, the Telegraph reports. The committee suggests that the drive towards this electric vehicle boom should include tax incentives, financial support, a strategy to roll out electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as tougher emissions standards on new car sales beyond 2020. The report also finds that household energy bills and carbon emissions will rise unless ministers devise new policies to save power, according to the BBC. Carbon Brief, the Times and the Guardian also cover’s the CCC’s report.
The world has three years left to start making significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, experts have warned in an article the journal Nature. The group of over 60 experts – including the former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – say that the next three years will be crucial, and call on world leaders to be guided by the scientific evidence rather than “hide their heads in the sand”, since “entire ecosystems” are already beginning to collapse. They calculate that if emissions can be brought permanently lower by 2020 then the temperature thresholds leading to runaway irreversible climate change will not be breached, the Guardian writes. “The maths is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence [before] 2020”, Schellnhuber said. Global emissions had been rising rapidly but have stayed broadly flat for the past three years.
A “clean coal” power plant in Mississippi that US utility owner Southern Co. has spent years and billions of dollars building appears to be dead, Bloomberg reports. Work on the part of the plant that was designed to turn coal into gas to generate electricity has been suspended, the company said yesterday. Instead, the complex will run off natural gas only. The decision is a setback for advocates of “clean coal” technologies, Bloomberg notes – the kind that the Trump administration has hailed as a way of saving mining jobs. The New York Times, the Hill, Ars Technica and the Washington Post also have the story.
Plastic bottles could produce an environmental crisis on a par with climate change, campaigners have warned, with more than half a trillion expected to be sold every year by the end of the decade amid rising demand for bottled water, according to figures obtained by the Guardian. The spread of an “on-the-go” culture in China and the Asian Pacific has helped fuel the demand, the Times writes, with one million currently sold around the world every minute. While most bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, which is recyclable, authorities around the world are struggling to collect them and keep up with the rising demand. Less than half of those bought last year were collected for recycling and just 7% were converted into new bottles.
British taxpayers face paying billions of pounds more than previously expected for decommissioning oil and gas facilities in the North Sea, according to a report by the Oil and Gas Authority. Dismantling the rigs will cost an estimated £59.7bn, and around half of that will be paid for by the British public. Oil companies enjoy between 40% and 75% tax relief on their clean-up costs because of their contribution to Treasury coffers during production years, the Guardian writes. The Times also covers the story.
At the first meeting of a “global covenant of mayors”, city leaders from across the US, Europe and elsewhere vowed that Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord will spur greater local efforts to combat climate change. They will devise a standard measurement of emission reductions to help them monitor their progress, and share ideas for delivering carbon-free housing and transport. “We have the ability to still achieve between 35% and 45% CO2 emission reductions without the involvement of the national government and it is why I chose to be here at this time to send a signal to 7,400 cities around the world that now should be a time of optimism, passion and action”, said Kassim Reed, the mayor of Atlanta. Grist also carries the story.
Mark Carney, who is governor of the Bank of England and chair of the Financial Stability Board, has written a comment piece for the Financial Times arguing that the financial markets “have the potential to improve our prospects for tackling climate change, but only if we make climate risks and opportunities more transparent”. “Investors need accurate data”, he says, “yet the climate-related risks and opportunities businesses face are currently shrouded in secrecy”. Having information on the “substantial” risks would allow corporations to “not only to meet investor demand for information, but also to position their businesses to win, rather than be left behind in, the transition to a low-carbon economy”. To address this knowledge deficit a task force of private-sector industry leaders, lead by Michael Bloomberg, “has worked to develop a set of clear and consistent recommendations for corporate disclosures around climate risk”, Carney writes. He concludes that climate change “Also presents opportunities that wise chief executives and investors will capitalise on. The solution provided by the task force recommendations is by the market for the market. And by acting in their own interests, leading companies, banks and investors from across the G20 are helping society address one of the gravest challenges we face.”
Jessica Davies, a lecturer in sustainability at Lancaster University, has written a feature explaining her research on soil carbon storage and nitrogen fertilisers. Their study suggests that the past 200 years of nitrogen pollution have increased the carbon stored in soils across natural ecosystems in Britain. The catch-22 is that “if we kick our polluting habits, this carbon is at risk of returning to our atmosphere, contributing to climate change”.
Nuclear may be the most efficient and clean energy source we have, albeit with complications, argues Dr David Robert Grimes, a physicist at Oxford University. “Fears about nuclear energy run deep”, he admits, but “while the risk to human health is generally low to nonexistent, safely storing such materials is a challenging engineering problem and legitimate concern”, he says. But “for progress to occur, both sides need to heed each other and have an honest conversation about the advantages and risks of all forms of energy production..we urgently need a nuanced discussion on our energy future to stave off the worst ravages of climate change”, he concludes.
Only around 1% of Antarctica is occasionally ice free, but almost all the life on the continent lives in that small region. As Antarctica warms, this seasonally ice-free region is expanding. A new paper in Nature looks at how this expansion of ice-free areas will change in different future warming scenarios. Under a business-as-usual high warming scenario, these seasonally ice free areas will expand by around 25%, or 17,000 square km, by 2100. Most of this expansion will occur in the Antarctic Peninsula, and will drastically change the availability of habitat for plants and animals. The researchers suggest that warming could end up reducing biodiversity in Antarctica by leading to more competition between plant and animal species, leading to the extinction of less-competitive species and the spread of invasive species.
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