Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Rain melting Greenland ice sheet 'even in winter'
- Next UN climate summit scheduled for December in Chile
- Hunterston B: Pictures show cracks in Ayrshire nuclear reactor
- Climate change gets worse management under Trump, investigation finds
- A greener and more pleasant land: How Britain cut carbon emissions more than nearly any other country
- Despite what Trump says, climate change threatens our national security
- Corsia is a unique opportunity to make growth in international aviation carbon-neutral
- Temporal scaling of carbon emission and accumulation rates: Modern anthropogenic emissions compared to estimates of PETM onset accumulation
- Subsidising renewables as part of taking leadership in international climate policy: The German case
BBC News is among a number of outlets reporting a new study published in the Cryosphere which finds that rain is becoming more frequent in Greenland and, as a result, accelerating the melting of its ice. David Shukman, BBC News’s science editor, writes: “Scientists say they’re ‘surprised’ to discover rain falling even during the long Arctic winter. The massive Greenland ice sheet is being watched closely because it holds a huge store of frozen water…Precipitation usually falls as snow in winter – rather than as rain – which can balance out any melting of the ice in the summer. The scientists studied satellite pictures of the ice-sheet which reveal the areas where melting is taking place. And they combined those images with data gathered from 20 automated weather stations that recorded when rainfall occurred. The findings…show that while there were about two spells of winter rain every year in the early phase of the study period, that had risen to 12 spells by 2012.” MailOnline adds: “Increasing levels of rainfall over Greenland’s ice sheets are speeding up the melting of its surface – and it will only gets worse as climate change accelerates, experts say. This increases the amount of water that runs off and empties into oceans and lakes, causing a greater problem than icebergs ‘sheering’ off the continent’s covering.” InsideClimate News also covers the study.
Climate Home News reports that the UNFCCC has confirmed that the next annual round of climate negotiations, COP25, will take place on 2-13 December 2019 in Santiago, the Chilean capital. It says: “COP25, as it is known, was originally scheduled for November in Brazil, but the plan changed after Jair Bolsonaro’s incoming administration withdrew the offer to host. Environment minister Carolina Schmidt led a successful bid for Chile to take over the presidency. She will be the first woman to oversee the negotiations in eight years.…There had been talk of deferring the conference until January 2020, to give the country more time to raise funds and prepare. However the UN Climate Change Bureau ultimately agreed to squeeze it into 2019. The precise venue is to be confirmed. It is not the only high-profile event in Santiago’s calendar: leaders of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries are due to convene 16-17 November.”
The first pictures have emerged of cracking in the graphite bricks which make up the core of nuclear reactors at Hunterston B Power Station in Ayrshire, reports BBC News. It adds: “Reactor three has not produced electricity since cracks were found to be forming quicker than expected. About 370 hairline fractures have been discovered which equates to about one in every 10 bricks in the reactor core. Owner EDF Energy says it does intend to seek permission from the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to restart. It first has to prove it can still shut down the North Ayrshire reactor, which has not produced electricity for a year, in all circumstances…When operational, the two reactors at Hunterston B provide a base-load of electricity which is enough to power 1.8m homes. It has advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGC) similar to those at Heysham 1 and 2, Torness, Hartlepool, Hinkley Point B and Dungeness B. The industry expects all 14 reactors to eventually be decommissioned because of the cracking.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Finland’s government has issued an operating permit for the long-delayed Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor. This is one of the final requirements to allow the plant to start up in 2020. Reuters adds: “The permit, the first one issued for 40 years, is a major milestone for the 1.6 gigawatt reactor. Finland is a net power-importer and wants to cut its dependency on Russia and Sweden…The plant’s owner, Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), has waited for more than 10 years for delivery of the unit by Areva, now renamed Orano. The original start-up target date was 2009.” Olkiluoto 3 uses the same “EPR” reactor design as Hinkley C in Somerset.
CNN reports that the US federal government is doing a worse job managing the problem of climate change under President Donald Trump, according to an investigation from the Government Accountability Office. CNN explains that the GAO “has been putting the list together since 1990 and delivers it to Congress every two years to make legislators aware of the programs that it considers most vulnerable to mismanagement, fraud, waste or abuse and most in need of fixing”. This year’s “High Risk List” is a 293-page assessment by the GAO of the threats facing the federal government, which it says includes climate change. CNN says: “Because the government has revoked policies that had partially addressed climate change and has not taken steps recommended in previous reports, this high-risk area requires ‘significant attention’…The government had been making big strides in improving its leadership on climate change in the Obama administration, according to past reports, but it ‘has not made measurable progress since 2017’, the latest report says.”
In other US-related news, the Washington Post reports that “as the Trump administration races to roll back Obama’s most ambitious climate rule [on vehicle fuel-efficiency standards], it lobbies to get industry on board”. It adds: “Trump officials thought they were doing the auto industry a favour when they decided to freeze gas mileage standards. But automakers aren’t so sure. To persuade them, White House officials have launched an intense lobbying campaign as they seek to line up support for a proposal they hope to finalise this summer. The rule, which would undercut the most ambitious climate policy enacted during Barack Obama’s time in office, is sure to set up a legal clash with California and 13 other states that plan to press ahead with stricter tailpipe standards.”
Meanwhile, Vice News interviews Trump’s new science adviser, Kelvin Droegemeier, and finds that that he “has no opinion on the president’s winter-storm tweets and has no plans to talk to him about them”. It adds: “Droegemeier said he does believe climate change is occurring, and that humans play a ‘significant’ role in it. But he ultimately landed on a standard refrain often heard within the Republican Party, arguing that humans aren’t the main culprit. ‘If you say humans are the cause of climate change, that’s incorrect because climate change is due to humans and natural variability,’ he said.”
Finally, InsideClimate News looks at the various proposals in the US for a carbon tax and assesses “how they compare and why oil giants support one of them”.
A news feature in the Economist says that amid reports about rising temperatures and emissions “there are slivers of good news”. It cites Carbon Brief’s new analysis of the UK’s CO2 emissions (published on Monday), which shows that they fell by 1.5% last year to 361m tonnes. The Economist says: “That marks the sixth annual fall in a row. The country’s emissions of CO2 are now around 39% lower than they were in 1990, the benchmark year against which most climate-change targets are set. If anything, that undersells the scale of the fall. Historical emissions figures must be estimated from secondary sources. But it seems likely that the last time CO2 emissions were as low as today was in the closing years of the 19th century, when Queen Victoria was on the throne and cars and electric lighting were cutting-edge curiosities. Most of the reduction comes from removing coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, from the electricity grid.” However, the Economist also notes that “the rate at which emissions are falling seems to be slowing down. Getting rid of coal is the easy part. Replacing gas will be harder…Still, the home of the Industrial Revolution has made more progress than many when it comes to the green sequel.”
“Once again, the Trump White House is publicly crossing swords with the intelligence community in ways that are likely to harm American security”, co-write a retired Marine Corps general and professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. They are responding to reports that Trump is considering (again) whether to “red team” (challenge) climate science with a panel largely made up of climate sceptics. They add: “While it’s always a good idea to look at uncertainties in any scientific assessment, the White House red-teaming is poised to investigate the wrong questions. The scheme, anchored in the climate-denier community, is designed to generate talking points for a president who is skeptical of climate science and thus will focus on whether climate change is happening at all and whether a little warming is all bad news. A useful red team would investigate uncertainties in the opposite way, by focusing on the evidence that the climate is changing much more rapidly than originally expected. Getting serious about the odds that global warming could be much more harmful than expected could amplify previous assessments for the nation’s security.”
Meanwhile, in the New Yorker, Rachel Riederer has written a lengthy review of David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth. She concludes: “Overhauling the fossil-fuel economy will represent a true loss, but its sacrifices will be nowhere near the alternative. The process is subject to all matter of difficulties: the problem of collective action, scientific uncertainty, technological challenges, political mobilisation, and many others. But to do anything less is to go insane.”
Baroness Worthington, EDF’s executive director for Europe and a key architect of the UK’s Climate Change Act, writes in BusinessGreen that the potential for the UN’s new scheme (known as “Corsia” – see Carbon Brief’s recent explainer) for tackling aviation’s fast-growing emissions potential “will only be realised if countries can guarantee a fair and transparent process”. Worthington adds that “a massive amount of responsibility will likely be shifted onto its newly appointed Technical Advisory Body, established to recommend eligible offsetting programs…Thus far its membership and guidelines have remained secret, and the risk is this will continue with confidential recommendations being made that cannot be scrutinsed or challenged. This is a near total departure from normal UN practices…European leaders must therefore take an active role in ensuring the integrity and transparency of Corsia and take additional actions to ensure its own climate ambitions are not weakened.”
The Paleocene‐Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) is a global greenhouse warming event that happened 56m years ago. It was caused by a release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This study suggests that humans are now emitting carbon some 9–10 times faster than during the PETM. If the present trend of increasing carbon emissions continues, the world may see PETM levels of atmospheric CO2 and global warming in as little as 140 years, or about five human generations.
Leadership in climate policy is usually associated with leading by example in mitigation efforts. However, less attention has been paid to leadership in climate-friendly technological progress. This study suggests that pioneering activities that create reliable demand, such as Germany’s feed-in tariff for solar energy, are an important form of technological leadership. Based on global learning curves, the authors argue that the enormous reduction of prices for photovoltaic modules is due to demand-side interventions, such as Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act, and related international technology diffusion and policy transfer, especially to China.
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