Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Ocasio-Cortez, Markey to unveil Green New Deal bill as soon as next week
- 'End of the road' for UK citizens' climate case rejected by appeal court
- Climate change could hurt babies' hearts, study says
- Renewable energies chip away at coal power, stats show
- US lawmakers urge Pentagon to revise climate change report
- Could CO2-storing superplants save the planet?
- The complexities of wildfires
- Jeff Goodell begins his trip to Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica
- Heterogeneous retreat and ice melt of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica
- When will current climate extremes affecting maize production become the norm?
- Photochemical degradation affects the light absorption of water-soluble brown carbon in the South Asian outflow
In an “exclusive”, Axios is reporting that the Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey are set to unveil legislation laying out a “green new deal” as soon as next week. It says: “A spokeswoman for Markey confirmed the offices are working on legislation, but said there is no final text and timing isn’t final yet for next week. A request to Ocasio-Cortez’s office wasn’t immediately returned. Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, also said legislation is due as soon as Wednesday or Thursday of next week. The youth-led group has been at the forefront of the green new deal movement. The green new deal is a set of vague, but broad progressive policy goals seeking to transform the economy in the name of fighting climate change. It has risen from obscurity to prominence since the November election, with Ocasio-Cortez, a rising progressive star, leading the charge. Democrats eyeing presidential runs — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — are backing the general concept of the green new deal, which is sure to play a role in the 2020 primary.” The Hill says that Markey has confirmed the news: “Language in the bill was not yet final, the spokesperson said, nor was a timeline for when the bill would be unveiled.” Last month, Carbon Brief published an explainer about the green new deal.
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, the newspaper’s economics editor Larry Elliott has written a column arguing that “the left must be bold and back a green new deal”. He explains: “Full disclosure here: I was a founder member of the UK Green New Deal Group in 2007 and have been banging on about the idea – with almost zero impact – ever since. There was a time in 2008 when both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown seemed to be warming to it, but the moment was lost. There is already pushback against Ocasio-Cortez, and without question the immediate chances of success are not great. For a green new deal to become a reality, the Democrats would have to be in control of the White House and both houses of Congress. What’s more, the Democratic hierarchy would need to stop thinking that the answer to Donald Trump is to cleave to the centre. But, as the new right showed all those decades ago, it is important to start preparing the ground even when the politics look unfavourable, so that you are ready when the opportunity arises. And, let’s face it, it is only a matter of time before an opportunity does present itself.”
Climate Home News reports that a citizens’ lawsuit over the UK government’s 2050 climate target has hit “the end of the road” after an appeals court refused to hear the case. It says: “Plan B and 11 Brits lodged the case in December 2017, seeking to compel business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Greg Clark to raise the country’s target for cutting emissions by mid-century. The plaintiffs were appealing the High Court’s decision in July not to hold a full hearing of the case. The Court of Appeals, however, sided with the High Court, saying there was ‘no compelling reason’ why it should hear it. While Plan B said it was disappointed with the ruling, it claimed in a statement on Tuesday that the legal action played a role in pushing the UK government to revisit its 2050 climate goal.” BusinessGreen also reports the story, adding: “Plan B is also set to return to court next week for the latest step in its separate legal battle against the government’s decision to approve expansion plans for Heathrow airport.” Meanwhile, the Independent says “green campaigners condemn ‘disgraceful’ North Sea gas discovery hailed as biggest in a decade”.
CNN is among the outlets reporting a new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association which has “found that a larger number of babies will probably be born with congenital heart defects between 2025 and 2035 due to their mothers’ exposure to higher temperatures, triggered by climate change, while pregnant”. It adds: “This especially holds true for moms who were pregnant through spring or summer. Climate change could result in as many as 7,000 additional cases of congenital heart defects in the United States over an 11-year period, according to the study. The Midwest will probably see the biggest percent increase, followed by the South and Northeast regions of the United States.” The Hill and MailOnline also covers the story.
EurActiv reports the findings of a review of 2018 European electricity statistics by two leading energy policy thinktanks which shows that “new wind, solar and biomass power generation displaced hard coal last year – especially in Germany, France and the UK”. Renewable energies continued to pick up last year to reach 32.3% of total power generation in the EU, up two percentage points from the previous year, notes EurActiv. Total coal power generation fell by 6% across the EU in 2018 and is now 30% below 2012 levels, the analysis found, confirming the rapid decline of coal in electricity generation across most European countries. “This was caused by renewables growth in Germany and the UK and by the return of hydro in Italy and Spain,” said the report’s authors, Agora Energiewende and Sandbag. BusinessGreen also report the findings. Separately in BusinessGreen, editor James Murray looks more closely at Germany’s new coal phaseout plan and concludes: “It contains good parts and bad parts, but given what is it stake Germany’s coal phase out strategy remains a wholly bad egg.” Earlier this week, Carbon Brief published analysis showing how far Germany’s 2038 coal phaseout would breach Paris climate goals.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a new 1 gigawatt interconnector between the UK and Belgium, “which has the capacity to provide power for one million homes”, has begun operating today.
Reuters reports that three Democratic lawmakers, including the House armed services committee chairman, have urged the Pentagon to revise a report on climate change, saying it omitted required items such as a list of the 10 most vulnerable bases. It explains: “The Pentagon’s report, released on 10 January, said climate change was a national security issue and listed 79 domestic military installations at risk from floods, drought, encroaching deserts, wildfires and, in Alaska, thawing permafrost. But the report, required by a defense policy law signed by President Donald Trump in 2017, did not include the top 10 list, and details of specific mitigation measures to make bases more resilient to climate change, including the costs. It also failed to list any Marine Corps bases or installations overseas.” Separately, InsideClimate News reports that the US intelligence community has warned in its annual assessment of worldwide threats that climate change and other kinds of environmental degradation pose risks to global stability because they are “likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond”.
In a long feature for the FT’s magazine, environment and clean energy correspondent Leslie Hook travels to San Diego to hear about how scientists at the Salk Institute are “setting out to do something that has never been done before, to create the “Ideal Plant” — one that will help curb global warming”. She continues: “Salk is talking to seed companies and preparing to do tests on major agricultural crops — including wheat, soyabeans, corn and cotton — so that the Ideal Plant might one day be introduced on farms around the world.” One of the ideas being examined revolves around “genetically engineering a plant to hold CO2 in the ground”. The article concludes: “As the planet warms, ideas that once seemed outlandish are starting to be taken seriously. Compared with proposals like colonising Mars or sprinkling aerosols in the sky, using plants to draw down CO2 is hardly the strangest approach to address global warming.”
“Human activities and climate change lead to interactions with fire dynamics that need our attention,” says an editorial in the journal Nature Geoscience, which is part of a series of articles “that explore the trends and impacts of wildfires in disturbed ecosystems”. The editorial continues: “Anthropogenic climate change can exacerbate the impacts of fire, as it can increase mortality of the woody vegetation, speed up the accumulation of fuel for wildfires and help fires to spread faster. Long-term satellite observations suggest that fire seasons are lengthening.” However, it concludes: “There is in fact no one-size-fits-all answer for different regions. The complexities of wildfire dynamics and their interactions with human interference and climate change are such that each region and ecosystem must be studied in its own right.” Last year, Carbon Brief published a factcheck on “how global warming has increased US wildfires”.
Rolling Stone magazine has published the first despatch by its writer Jeff Goodell who is currently travelling to Antarctica aboard a six-week research trip bound for the Thwaites Glacier. He writes: “The mission of this scientific expedition is straightforward: to better understand the risk of catastrophic collapse of Thwaites glacier, one of the largest glaciers in West Antarctica. Thwaites glacier is perhaps the most important tipping point in the Earth’s climate system. Thwaites is the cork in the wine bottle for the entire West Antarctic ice sheet. If it collapses, it could dump enough ice into the ocean to cause seas to rise by 10 feet or more. That would doom Miami, Boston, New York City, London, Shanghai, Jakarta — and virtually every other coastal city in the world. As Thwaites goes, so goes human civilization as we know it.” Last year, Carbon Brief published a video interview with one of the scientists studying Thwaites. Meanwhile, MailOnline has a story headlined: “Fears rise ‘world’s most dangerous glacier’ could be on the verge of collapse as NASA study reveals gigantic cavity two-thirds the area of Manhattan and almost 1,000 feet tall at base of Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.”
Some parts of the Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica are retreating at a rate of 800 metres a year, a new study finds. Using a collection of satellite data, the researchers detect the evolution of ice velocity, ice thinning, and grounding line retreat of Thwaites glacier from 1992 to 2017. The findings reveal a “complex pattern of retreat and ice melt”, the authors say, “with sectors retreating at 0.8 km/year and floating ice melting at 200 m/year, while others retreat at 0.3 km/year with ice melting 10 times slower”.
Global maize losses that would be expected once every 10 years could become the “new normal” under 1.5C of warming, a new study warns. Using a statistical model, the researchers estimate the effects of heat stress and drought on annual maize production, variability and trend at country and global scales. Under 2C of warming, “maize areas will be affected by heat stress and drought never experienced before, affecting many major and minor production regions,” the study finds.
Particles of “brown carbon” that warm the climate lose their warming capacity during atmospheric transport across South Asia, a new study suggests. The researchers collected atmosphere samples of brown carbon – predominantly emitted from burning biomass – during winter in the India, Bangladesh and the Maldives. Using model simulations, the researchers found that the chemical composition of the brown carbon aerosols changed between sites and over time. The particles gradually “bleached”, the authors say, losing their capacity to absorb light and thus reducing their warming impact as they were blown across South Asia.
Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email.