Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Renewable energy generates more electricity than fossil fuels in the UK for first time
- Climate change: Big lifestyle changes are the only answer
- Scientists endorse mass civil disobedience to force climate action
- This must be the climate crisis election
- The climate crisis: can we fix it?
- Acceleration of the extreme sea level rise along the Chinese coast
- Perceptions of hurricane track forecasts in the US
There is widespread coverage across the UK media of Carbon Brief’s latest analysis showing that renewable-energy sources generated more electricity than fossil-fuel power plants over the past three months. This is an “eco first”, says the Press Association via the Mirror. Wind farms, solar panels, biomass and hydropower plants generated around 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh) of power in Q3 2019, compared to 29.1TWh from power stations fired by coal, gas and oil. PA quotes RenewableUK’s Luke Clark, who says: “[This is] great news not just for the environment but also for consumers. The expansion of clean power is set to accelerate in the years ahead, as our offshore wind capacity will more than treble by 2030, generating more than a third of the UK’s electricity.“ The Guardian quotes Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for energy and clean growth, who says: ““[This is] yet another milestone on our path towards ending our contribution to climate change altogether by 2050. Already, we’ve cut emissions by 40% while growing the economy by two-thirds since 1990. Now, with more offshore wind projects on the way at record low prices we plan to go even further and faster in the years to come.” The Times quotes Dr Simon Evans of Carbon Brief, who undertook the analysis. He says the “milestone highlights the fact that the UK’s electricity system is in the midst of a stunning transformation, which is only set to continue”. He adds: “It is no longer a question of whether renewables can form the backbone of the UK grid, generating more electricity than any other source, it is a question of when they get there and how quickly and how far they continue to expand beyond that.” New Scientist also describes it as a “significant milestone” which marks the “the first quarter in history that renewables have eclipsed fossil fuels in the country”. The Financial Times says “it is the first time fossil fuels have been outpaced for an entire quarter since the first public electricity-generating station — fuelled by coal — opened in central London in 1882”. It adds: “Gas accounted for the biggest single source of electricity generation last year, but Dr Evans said the further rise of renewables ‘means that gas generation is likely to continue falling’…The Carbon Brief analysis includes biomass among renewables, which some environmentalists contest
Meanwhile, many outlets report the demolition of four cooling towers at the Ferrybridge coal-fired power plant in West Yorkshire. The Press Association says the demolition over the weekend is a “significant milestone in the history of the UK energy industry”. It adds: “The final three towers are being retained in case a decision is taken to use the ground for a new gas-fired power station.” Separately, the Sunday Times reports that campaigners have claimed that fracking is now “dead” in the UK: “Cuadrilla, the fracking company most active in England, has begun removing equipment from its only testing area after the work was blamed for minor earthquakes in August. There are no plans to continue at the Lancashire site, and an imminent energy white paper from the government is set to prioritise renewable energy over fracking.” In an accompanying piece in the Sunday Times, Robert Watts says that despite “few innovations [having] been welcomed with such enthusiasm by Westminster”, it is now the case that “Westminster insiders [say] that shale gas fracking [is] out of step with the move away from fossil fuels and the target of net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. Activism by Extinction Rebellion and growing public concern about climate change have weakened the chances of an industry once expected to create 64,500 jobs ever getting off the ground.”
Ahead of an episode of Panorama being broadcast on BBC One at 8.30pm tonight, BBC News’s chief environment correspondent Justin Rowlatt reveals that researchers at Imperial College London have recommended that the UK government “must tell the public small, easy changes will not be enough to tackle climate change”. Commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – who advise the government – the research recommends that”we must eat less meat and dairy, swap cars for bikes, take fewer flights, and ditch gas boilers at home”, says BBC News. It continues: “It says an upheaval in our lifestyles is the only way to meet targets…the new report warns major shifts in policy across huge areas of government activity are needed to keep the public onside.” Speaking to Panorama, the CCC’s Chris Stark says the government’s plan for cutting emissions is “not nearly at the level of ambition required…every bit of policy now needs to be refreshed”. BBC News adds: “The new report, called Behaviour Change, Public Engagement and Net Zero, amounts to an extensive ‘to-do’ list for government. It says subsidies for fossil fuels have to go and taxes on low-carbon technologies must be cut. At the same time, consumers need to be given far more information on the environmental consequences of their actions. It also urges the government to consider introducing a carbon tax, increasing the prices of carbon-intensive products and activities.” A number of UK titles follow-up on the story. The Financial Times notes that the report “also recommended requiring all public sector catering menus to include at least one vegan option every day, and that the government fund training in ‘plant-based cooking’”. The Times lists some of the other recommendations, which include: “Mandatory labels on food should show climate impact; Air miles and frequent flyer reward schemes should be banned; Disused rail lines should be reopened.” The Guardian adds that the report recommends an “escalating air miles levy”, which would “rein in the number of trips taken by frequent flyers without penalising those taking an annual holiday, with the income raised to be invested into low-carbon aviation technology”. The Independent also carries the story.
There is continuing extensive coverage of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests. Reuters reports that “almost 400 scientists have endorsed a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing governments to take rapid action to tackle climate change”. It adds: “In a joint declaration, climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and others from at least 20 countries broke with the caution traditionally associated with academia to side with peaceful protesters courting arrest from Amsterdam to Melbourne.” London’s Evening Standard reports that the XR protests are set to continue into a second week “after at least 1,309 arrests”. ITV News reports that XR protesters have targeted the BBC’s headquarters in central London where activists “demanded that the BBC devote more coverage to climate change”. The Financial Times reports that donations has “poured in” as XR “goes global”. It adds: “Extinction Rebellion has raised some £510,000, mostly from crowdfunding, so far this month, its second-highest total since it formed a year ago.”
Meanwhile, the US media reports that the 81-year-old US actor Jane Fonda has been arrested on the steps of the US Capitol for protesting against climate inaction by politicians. The New York Times says “Ms Fonda wanted to show solidarity with young climate change strikers such as Greta Thunberg”.
Ed Miliband, the Labour MP and former leader of the party and climate change secretary of state, notes that the “government that wins the next [UK] election stands to govern for half of the decade that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have left to tackle the climate emergency”. But despite the political consensus in the UK that climate change needs addressing, he warns that “there is a real danger that this sense of consensus creates complacency”. He adds: “For all our relative progress as a country, no country, including us, is doing enough to meet the Paris goal. The UK is off track for our targets for the late 2020s and 2030s, and outside the power sector, progress has stalled. We are consumed by Brexit, when next year we will need to strain every sinew and use every resource at our disposal to get 190 countries to agree to toughen their targets so we can get closer to having a chance of meeting the Paris goals.” He concludes: “If an election comes soon, Brexit will be the dominant issue. But the climate emergency matters even more to the long-term future of the country. That future depends on decisions made in the next five years. Consensus on the need to act matters. But to save the planet, we need an arms race on speed, scale and urgency.”
An editorial in the Guardian reinforces this point: “True, a consensus exists in the UK and most of Europe with regard to the necessity of cutting emissions. That is in stark contrast to countries such as the US and Australia, where leading politicians deny climate science and promote fossil fuel extraction. But acceptance of the evidence that shows the next decade will be crucial for efforts to restrict global temperature rises to 1.5C is the basis for action, not a substitute for it. Politicians should be judged on what they do.”
Similarly, in the New York Times, Justin Gillis argues that in the US “the climate troglodytes must be thrown out of office”. He adds: “We need laws with teeth to propel the clean energy transition: hard targets, bans, taxes, mandates. We cannot stand back for another presidential election in which the Republican Party lies about this issue while the Democratic Party hides from it.”
And writing for Conservative Home, the director of the Conservative Environment Network Sam Hall says that “Conservatives shouldn’t ridicule or rage against Extinction Rebellion. Instead, we should trump them with our own ideas.” He adds:“In the run-up to hosting the international climate summit in Glasgow next year, the government should bring forward a major package of climate and nature policies to showcase conservative environmental leadership. These could include additional auctions to build new offshore wind farms, an incentive scheme for land owners to plant trees and restore peat bogs on their land, and private-sector-led infrastructure programmes for home insulation and electric vehicle charge points. The conservative movement has never been as enthused by environmental issues as it is now. We must harness this energy and translate it into an enduring conservative legacy through market-led solutions to these pressing environmental challenges.”
In lengthy feature for the Sunday Times, the veteran feature writer Bryan Appleyard ranges across some of the solutions being proposed to tackle climate change: “So the first step — cut subsidies — looks like a no-brainer that would also save us trillions. The other steps are more familiar: make cars electric and buildings better insulated, industry more efficient, stop moving around so much and stop eating meat…Giving up our holidays and business jaunts will be more difficult. There is no feasible remedy for the vast emissions from aircraft. Electric planes are a distant dream. We will just have to stay at home.”
Meanwhile, many right-leaning publications continue to publish columnists attacking Extinction Rebellion. In the Sunday Times, Dominic Lawson once again returns to the theme describing XR as a “doomsday cult”. In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens describes them as “fanatics” and “irrational zealots”. And in the Sunday Express, Nick Ferrari says: “It was another week when the Tristrams and the Tabithas deserted the shires and spent some of their trust fund cash to join the great unwashed, unloved and underemployed to indulge in the ludicrously selfish hissy fit that was the latest Extinction Rebellion protest.”
Extreme sea levels along China’s coastline have increased over the past four decades, a new study says. Using high‐frequency tide gauge observations from 1980‐2017, the researchers find that “extreme sea level rise was accelerated at most tide gauges throughout the whole study period”. The increase in global average sea levels “was confirmed as the major driver of the extreme sea level change according to the analysis”, the researchers say. However, local sea levels are also affected by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), the study finds, which “is supposed to affect the mean sea level through a combination of variation in sea surface temperature, pressure system and wind”.
People being evacuated from their homes during US hurricanes tend to overestimate “the true danger from land-falling hurricanes in many storms”, a new study suggests. Assessing Hurricanes Isaac (2012), Harvey (2017), and Irma (2017), the researchers conducted surveys with evacuees to see how their perception of the storm track compared to the official projection. The findings suggest that “most evacuees from hurricanes in the US appear to perceive storms closer to their home locations and overestimate wind speeds at their homes”, the study concludes.
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