Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Number of ‘coral babies’ emerging from Great Barrier Reef drops by 90% due to global warming
- Groundbreaking BlackRock analysis defines climate-change risk
- Last time CO2 levels were this high, there were trees at the South Pole
- Gas supply glut in Europe drives prices to multiyear lows
- World seems ambivalent about swift action on climate change
- How climate change is fuelling the US border crisis
- Don’t celebrate more domestic flights, Chris Grayling. Think of the planet
- Global warming impairs stock–recruitment dynamics of corals
- Urban heat island: Aerodynamics or imperviousness?
There is extensive media coverage of a new study in Nature showing that, according the Independent, “devastating heatwaves have caused the number of coral ‘babies’ emerging from the Great Barrier Reef to drop by nearly 90%”. Rising ocean temperatures resulting from climate change in the region have been linked with bleaching events and “the largest die-off of corals ever recorded”. Prof Terry Hughes of James Cook University, who led the study, remarks that “dead corals don’t make babies”. The New York Times says: “For millenniums, ecosystems have withstood fires, floods, heat waves, drought and even disease by adapting and rebuilding their biodiverse communities. But according to new research, there is a limit to what even the largest and most resilient places can stand, and climate change is testing that limit by repeatedly disturbing one of the earth’s most precious habitats: the Great Barrier Reef.” The Financial Times says the study found that mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 killed almost half the coral in the world’s largest reef system and caused a crash in coral replenishment in 2018. The newspaper says that the study “concludes reef resilience is compromised and recovery is uncertain given projections of increased frequency of severe climatic events over the next two decades” The Washington Post carries the views of Kim Cobb, a coral reefs expert and climate scientist at Georgia Tech University, who was not involved in Wednesday’s study, and who calls the findings “devastating”. National Geographic, MailOnline and HuffPost US are among the other outlets carrying the news. Last month, Carbon Brief published an in-depth interactive feature on the topic of whether the Great Barrier Reef can survive climate change. Last November, Carbon Brief published an in-depth interview with Prof Terry Hughes.
Separately, the Guardian reports that academics have mapped out a network of sanctuaries they say are required to save the world’s oceans, protect wildlife and fight climate breakdown: “The study, ahead of a historic vote at the UN, sets out the first detailed plan of how countries can protect over a third of the world’s oceans by 2030, a target scientists and policy makers say is crucial in order to safeguard marine ecosystems and help mitigate the impacts of a rapidly heating world.”
New research published by asset manager BlackRock shows that investors are underestimating the risks that extreme weather poses to their portfolios, reports the Financial Times, adding that the analysis “could drastically alter how the industry considers climate change in its risk management processes”. It continues: “BlackRock’s study looked at three US asset classes — municipal bonds, commercial real estate and US utility stocks — and said climate change was already having a tangible effect on securities. It warned that the trend would only accelerate. The study said investors in the $3.8tn municipal bond market could experience losses as vulnerable cities saw their economies suffer, with gross domestic product dipping by more than 1%. BlackRock also expected securities backed by commercial real estate mortgages to face an average loss rate of up to 3.8% as properties faced cash-flow shortages after severe storms and floods. The greater incidence of hurricanes and wildfires over the past 12 months has highlighted the effect of global warming. Investors, however, have been slow to take note of how climate risks could affect their portfolios.” Brian Deese, head of sustainable investing at BlackRock and a former adviser on climate and energy policy to US president Barack Obama [Deese was interviewed by Carbon Brief in 2017], is quoted saying the lack of robust data had meant the extent of the underpricing of these risks had not been clear until now.
Separately, EurActiv carries an interview with Nobel Prize economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz who calls on Europe and China to join forces against the US at the WTO, saying America has become a “free-rider” on climate change under the Trump administration, in violation of global free trade rules.
Several UK publications report on findings announced at a Royal Meteorological Society meeting which show that temperatures near the South Pole were about 20C higher than now in the Pliocene epoch (5.3m to 2.6m years ago). The Guardian says: “Trees growing near the South Pole, sea levels 20 metres higher than now, and global temperatures 3C-4C warmer. That is the world scientists are uncovering as they look back in time to when the planet last had as much CO2 in the atmosphere as it does today.” The Pliocene is a “proper analogy” and offers important lessons about the road ahead, Prof Martin Siegert tells the paper. The geophysicist and climate-change scientist at Imperial College London says: “The indication is that there is no Greenland ice sheet any more, no West Antarctic ice sheet and big chunks of East Antarctic [ice sheet] taken.“ In the Pliocene, a variety of beech and possibly conifer trees grew at Oliver Bluffs, 300 miles from the South Pole. The tree remains had been unearthed as fossils, along with cushion plants and mosses. Jane Francis, director of the British Antarctic Survey, is quoted saying it is an “amazing discovery”. The Independent and BBC News also carry the story.
The Financial Times reports that “utilities across Europe are enjoying a windfall, as a gas glut caused by excess liquefied natural gas shipments from Asia drives prices to multi-year lows”. It adds: “A mild Asian winter coupled with nuclear-plant restarts in Japan and ample supplies from the US and Russia have cut down deliveries of LNG to large buyers in the region. As prices for the supercooled fuel have fallen, hitting a three-year low, cargoes have been directed instead to Europe. That is pushing down prices there, too: the UK wholesale day-ahead gas price, for example, is trading just above 31p per therm, the lowest seasonal level since 2016 and below a 5-year average of 46p per therm.” The papers says that the UK is among the leading destinations for LNG cargoes “thanks to plentiful terminal storage capacity”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the French government is sticking to its previously announced target of shutting down France’s remaining coal power plants by 2022. The news was announced by environment minister Francois de Rugy following the confirmation by grid operator RTE that a shutdown would not threaten security of power supply. Reuters adds: “[RTE] said plant closures could start in 2022 and should be gradual. It added that all the generators could cease production in 2022 if French power demand were to remain stable, and if EDF’s new EPR nuclear reactor in Flamanville; a new gas-fired power plant; and a high-voltage power interconnector between Britain and France, were operational by then.” Elsewhere in France, Climate Home News reports that “French police tap counter-terrorism unit to quell climate activists”. In Germany, CNN reports that German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has received “the last piece of black coal” dug from a German mine, as a symbolic gesture marking the end of the country’s bituminous coal production.
With scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in Edinburgh this week, IPCC chair Prof Hoesung Lee and co-chair of working group III Prof Jim Skea have co-written an opinion article in the Scotsman: “Emissions of CO2 would need to fall by roughly 45% by 2030 from present-day levels to keep us on track towards 1.5C. Are governments, and are citizens, up for that? The signs are ambivalent.”
A lengthy New Yorker feature reports from the western highlands of Guatemala where farmers say that the changing climate is “wiping out the region’s crops”. In turn, this is leading to farmers “abandoning their land” and heading north towards the US. “There are always a lot of reasons why people migrate,” Yarsinio Palacios, an expert on forestry in Guatemala, tells the magazine. “Maybe a family member is sick. Maybe they are trying to make up for losses from the previous year. But in every situation, it has something to do with climate change.” Another section of the article reports: “In most of the western highlands, the question is no longer whether someone will emigrate but when. ‘Extreme poverty may be the primary reason people leave,’ Edwin Castellanos, [says] a climate scientist at the Universidad del Valle. ‘But climate change is intensifying all the existing factors.’”
The journalist Michael Segalov is angered by the sight of UK transport minister Chris Grayling celebrating the launch of new daily Flybe flights between Newquay in Cornwall and London Heathrow: “While I’m sure travellers were thrilled to be greeted by grinning Grayling at baggage reclaim, news that more domestic flights are set to take off and land in Britain is not a cause for celebration. It’s remarkably irresponsible, even by this government’s standards, to embrace a growth in domestic air travel when global carbon emissions are on the up, as are global temperatures. To put it bluntly: it is entirely unsustainable while we’re in the midst of a climate emergency.”
After “unprecedented” back-to-back mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017, “recruitment” of new coral larvae fell by 89%, a new study finds. This decline was a “consequence of mass mortality of adult brood stock…owing to heat stress”, the researchers say. The observed shift in larval recruitment will influence the composition of recovering corals, the authors warn, which could affect their ability to cope with bleaching events in the future. Carbon Brief recently published an in-depth interactive article on the threat climate change poses to the Great Barrier Reef.
A new study investigates the causes behind variations in the “urban heat island” (UHI) effect. The “traditional” view is that variations in daytime UHI intensity stem from urban areas having a higher percentage of “impervious” surfaces like concrete that lead to lower rates of evaporative cooling, the researchers say. However, recent work has suggested that they can be explained by differences in how efficiently urban and rural land areas transfer heat to the lower atmosphere. Using a new attribution method, the researchers find that the intensity of the UHI effect in the daytime is “controlled by variations in the capacity of urban and rural areas to evaporate water”. This would suggest that “strategies enhancing the evaporation capability such as green infrastructure are effective ways to mitigate urban heat”, the authors conclude.
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