Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Shale gas will run out in five years, say scientists
- Amazon fires: Brazilian rainforest burning at record rate, space agency warns
- China slowdown knocks Asia coal price to three-year low
- The UK cannot function if there is a constant risk of power cuts
- Why carbon offsetting is not the panacea Harry and Meghan might think it is
- Nuclear safety in the unexpected second nuclear era
- Extreme snow events along the coast of the northeast United States: Analysis of observations and HiRAM simulations
The UK’s reserves of shale gas may be far lower than previously thought, according to a new scientific paper reported by the Times. The study, which has received widespread coverage in the British press, adds fuel to the ongoing debate about fracking in the UK. The Daily Mail says previous estimates that the UK had enough shale gas to supply the country for 50 years were “seized on by politicians”. However, the new laboratory analysis by the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey (BGS) finds there is less than 10 years left at current levels of demand, according to the Mail, while the Times says there “may be as little as five years’ worth”. BBC News notes the previous report from 2013, also conducted by BGS, suggested the Bowland Shale in northern England was “one of the world’s biggest reserves”, containing around 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. However, it quotes the paper’s lead author saying they were “struggling to get anywhere above 200 trillion feet”. The Independent meanwhile quotes study author Dr Christopher Vane, who says the research “transforms our view of UK shale gas reserves”. It also reports the findings, published in Nature Communications, were “dismissed” by energy firm Cuadrilla, which has been attempting to extract shale gas in Lancashire. The Times says the company’s chief executive Francis Egan, “questioned why the authors had not sought input from his firm”, given its knowledge of the Bowland Shale formation the data came from. The Guardian notes government officials have recently hinted at a review into “loosening UK limits on fracking”, and quotes a government source saying exploration is still needed to determine whether it is possible to “safely and economically extract” Britain’s shale gas. The Daily Telegraph also has the story. Carbon Brief has previously published a Q&A on the potential return of fracking to the UK and what it could mean for the climate.
New data from the nation’s space agency has revealed that Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has seen a record number of fires this year, according to BBC News. It says satellites revealed an 83% increase on the same period in 2018. The BBC notes that the news comes just weeks after president Jair Bolsonaro sacked the head of the agency following a row over the recent upward trend in rates of deforestation. As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon is considered a vital carbon sink that helps buffer against climate change. Sky News notes comments from an agency researcher that the blazes were not themselves related to an unusual dry season or natural phenomena alone. “The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident,” the researcher said. Reuters reports that the “unprecedented surge” in wildfires coincides with Bolsonaro’s push to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining.
The price of coal used across Asia as fuel in power stations has fallen to its lowest level in three years following decreased demand in India and China, according to the Financial Times. Specifically, it says analysts think the trend is the result of slower growth in power demand in China, which is the world’s largest coal consumer, as well as ample supplies of the fuel. “The slump comes as coal faces increasing competition around the world from cleaner, renewable energy such as wind and solar, as well as cheap natural gas,” the paper notes.
Meanwhile, an opinion piece for the Guardian by Richard Denniss, chief economist for the Australia Institute, says that when it comes to coal, Australia has “transitioned away from economics and common sense”. He notes that despite urgent calls from Pacific Island nations about the threat of climate change, the world’s largest exporter of coal is doubling down on its operations.
An editorial in the Daily Telegraph questions whether the UK is sufficiently prepared with enough backup power to guard against future blackouts.After National Grid announced that lightning strikes were “partly to blame” for the widespread power cuts earlier this month that affected over one million people, the regulator Ofgem has launched its own investigation. “It goes without saying that a major economy like the UK’s cannot function if there is a constant risk of power cuts. The importance of an uninterrupted electricity supply is enhanced in an era when most work is carried out on computers. As drivers switch to electric cars, the pressure on the generating system will grow dramatically at peak times,” the editorial says. According to National Grid, the Hornsea offshore wind farm and Little Barford gas plant suddenly reduced their electricity supply after a lightning strike hit a transmission circuit north of London. “There is a sense that the entire system is always on the edge of breakdown and greater resilience is needed. We may all need to pay more for it. But the National Grid, the generators and the distribution network operators must reassure Ofgem and the rest of us that this will not happen again,” the Telegraph concludes. The same sentiments are shared by a Times editorial from the weekend, which noted that “failure to answer reasonable criticisms is only going to fuel suspicion about a market economy’s ability to regulate natural monopolies and provide superficial plausibility to fanciful schemes of socialist economics”.
Several articles consider the practice of offsetting the carbon emissions from flights after Sir Elton John defended the private jet used by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to visit him in France, citing the offset he had paid for to make up for it. A piece in the Guardian says the idea that emissions are “cancelled out” by reforestation and renewable energy projects “is not clearcut”. An opinion piece by Madeline Grant in the Daily Telegraph targets rich “eco-sinners”, and notes the advice from “UN experts” that trees planted today “simply cannot grow quickly enough to cancel out contemporary habits”. “This modern form of absolution – the carbon offset model – is facing heightened scrutiny amid concerns it may actually be harming the environment,” she writes. An article in the same paper goes into greater depth about the issues with carbon offsetting. An analysis piece in the Independent similarly concludes that “generation easyJet has to keep its feet on the ground” if it is serious about tackling climate change. Guy Adams in the Daily Mail questions the validity of a “rapidly-growing industry which seeks to provide a quick and easy means for customers to feel like they are combating climate change – without having to do anything more than write a small cheque”. Meanwhile, Jane Moore in the Suncriticises the hypocrisy of the Royal couple, who have recently made statements about their commitment to the environment. “It’s smoke-and-mirrors nonsense designed to deflect from the reality that the public is wearied and irritated by the constant proselytising of a young couple who don’t appear to practise what they preach,” she writes. A piece by environmental journalist Lucy Siegle in the Times includes some recommendations about what people can do to make their travel plans more climate-friendly.
Nuclear energy development is entering an “unexpected second era”, a new paper says, and “despite major efforts to pursue a safe nuclear energy system in the first nuclear era, severe nuclear accidents occurred”. The researchers argue that society does “not have an adequate understanding of nuclear safety” and thus set out to “reexamine the nature of nuclear safety and reviews how previous experts understood it”. The paper also identifies new challenges with which society is likely to confronted. The researchers argue that “social aspects, rather than just technical measures, must be involved to ensure nuclear safety”.
A new study investigates the characteristics of “extreme” winter snowfall events during 1980-2015 in four major cities in the northeast United States. Using both observations and global climate model simulations, the researchers find that Boston had the most events (69), followed by New York City (40), Philadelphia (36) and Washington DC (30). The study also simulates extreme snowfall events out to 2075-2100, finding that “a warming global climate tends to decrease the extreme snowfall events but increase extreme rainfall events”.
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