Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Pompeo, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, is a ‘great climate skeptic’
- China shake-up gives climate change responsibility to environment ministry
- Half of species at risk from climate change in nature-rich areas – report
- Extreme winter weather becoming more common as Arctic warms, study finds
- Russia gains gas foothold in UK as relations deteriorate
- Obituary: Stephen Hawking
- Comment: Beyond Three Thirds, The Road to Deep Decarbonization
- The implications of the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change for globally significant biodiversity areas
- Climate warming enhances snow avalanche risk in the Western Himalayas
- Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States
The sacking of Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state removes one of the last remaining presidential advisers whose views on global warming are in line with the rest of the world, reports the New York Times. His mooted replacement, CIA director Mike Pompeo, has questioned the scientific consensus on climate change and strongly opposed the Paris Agreement, the Times adds, saying the change in leadership “all but cements an increasingly hard-line opposition to the idea of climate change at the highest levels of the US government.” If confirmed, Pompeo would lead the State Department as it joins key international climate talks in Poland later this year, notes the Washington Post. It quotes veteran climate lawyer Sue Biniaz, who says any change in the State Department approach to climate talks depends on whether this becomes an area of focus and if new personnel are appointed to deal with climate issues. Pompeo’s career has been “tightly intertwined with the oil magnate Koch brothers”, says Inside Climate News. At the start of the Trump administration, Tillerson’s appointment had been one of the “least worrisome development[s] in regard to climate change policy”, notes a blog from Harvard’s Robert Stavins. He continues: “Perhaps Mr. Tillerson should be credited for the fact that the State Department has at least remained engaged in the climate change negotiations…However, such continued bureaucratic involvement cannot make up for the fact that the US is disengaged at political levels, which much be attributed – at least in part – to Tillerson’s ineffectiveness in tilting the President toward a more sensible path on climate change policy.” Several green groups have criticised the choice of Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement, reports Reuters. Huffpost, Climate Home News and Carbon Pulse also report on the climate implications of the announcement.
China is to hand responsibility for climate change to a beefed-up environment ministry, reports Reuters, in what is the country’s biggest government shake-up in years. “In a bid to take on polluters, China has been strengthening its environment ministry,” Reuters notes, giving it wider responsibility and drawing up new laws. Climate change was previously the responsibility of the powerful state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NRDC). Li Shuo, a senior climate adviser for Greenpeace, tells Reuters the switch could “aid coordination…but much more detail, including who heads which department, is needed to tell if it is a net positive more”. The new arrangement could “give enforcement teeth to climate regulations”, says the World Resources Institute’s Ranping Song, quoted in Science. The New York Times says the changes create “superagencies to fight pollution and other threats to Party rule”.
Unchecked CO2 emissions could lead to 50% of species vanishing from some of the most naturally important places on earth, says the Press Association, covering a new report from the University of East Anglia, James Cook University and WWF. Even if warming is limited to 2C above pre-industrial levels, the study says a quarter of species could die out in areas including the Amazon rainforest in South America and the Yangtze delta in China. The report looked at 35 of the world’s most biodiverse places, says CNN, adding that hotter days, longer droughts and more intense storms are already having an impact, according to one of the report’s authors. The upper estimate of 50% die-off relates to warming of 4.5C by 2100, says AFP. The study was published in the journal Climatic Change on Tuesday, notes Inside Climate News. The new research is also reported by the Express, the Times, Huffington Post UK, the Guardian and Metro.
The severe cold that has recently hit parts of the US and the UK is becoming more common as the Arctic warms, says the Guardian, reporting on the findings of a new study published in Nature Communications. According to the Guardian: “Extreme cold winter weather is up to four times more likely when temperatures in the Arctic are unusually high, the study found.” Inside Climate News and Ars Technica also cover the new research. Carbon Brief recently explored what we know about links between climate change and extreme cold in a detailed explainer.
Half of Britain’s imports of liquified natural gas so far this year have come from Russia, the Financial Times reports. The UK has received three LNG shipments from Siberia this year, along with three from elsewhere in the world. The FT notes that these shipments make up only 3-5% of UK demand so far in 2018. It adds a response from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which says the UK is “in no way reliant” on Russian gas and that “less than 1% of our gas comes from Russia”.
Stephen Hawking, the world-famous physicist and ambassador for science, has died aged 76 after a long battle with motor neurone disease, reports the BBC. Last year, at a conference in honour of his birthday, Hawking spoke of the “avoidable environmental damage” that would be caused by president Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. You can watch those comments in a video from the BBC.
In an extended commentary, Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, explores what will be required for “deep decarbonisation” of the global economy. This must go far beyond what he calls the “‘new orthodoxy’ of…the Three-Third World [where] by 2040 one third of global electricity will be generated from wind and solar; one third of vehicles on the road will be electric; and the world’s economy will produce one third more GDP from every unit of energy.” The good news is that this three thirds world is “probably unstoppable”, Liebreich says. The bad news is that “it will not be enough to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement,” because much of the economy, from industry to aviation and heat, remains to be tackled. Options to address these areas include “treating the energy efficiency of our buildings like it really matters” and using hydrogen for energy storage. However, he cautions that there is a particular “circle of hell” for those promoting hydrogen from gas with carbon capture as a climate solution and that using excess wind and solar to electrolyse water probably won’t make sense. Separately, a report from National Grid, which operates the UK’s gas transmission network, says the country can “lead the world in decarbonising gas”, including by combining it with carbon capture, reports Energy Live News.
The current commitments made under the Paris Agreement have “important but limited benefits” for preserving biodiversity conservation areas around the world, a new study finds. Without any mitigation at all, just 33% of each conservation area is likely to be able to act as climate refuge for threatened species, the researchers say. This increases to 47-52% under current Paris commitments, but would be as high as 67% if global temperature rise is limited to 2C above pre-industrial levels.
Rising temperatures are causing more avalanches to occur in the western Himalayas, a new study suggests. Using tree ring data, the researchers constructed a 150-year record of the occurrence and runout distances of snow avalanches in the region. Warming air temperatures in winter and early spring have “favoured the wetting of snow and the formation of wet snow avalanches”, the paper says, “which are now able to reach down to subalpine slopes, where they have high potential to cause damage”. The results “have major implications for the western Himalayan region, an area where human pressure is constantly increasing”.
Periods of severe winter weather, including both cold spells and heavy snow, have become more frequent in the eastern US as the Arctic warms, a new study says. Building on previous research linking a warming Arctic with extreme mid-latitude winter weather, the study analyses observations across 12 US cities dating back to 1950. The results show that a cold and snowy winter in the Eastern US is two to four times more likely when temperatures in the Arctic are unusually high.
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