Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Spain targets 90 per cent carbon cuts under new climate strategy
- New EU energy targets put bloc on course to overshoot climate goals
- Climate change: Heatwaves 'halve' male insect fertility
- G20 nations still led by fossil fuel industry, climate report finds
- Half of Australia's emissions increase linked to WA's Gorgon LNG plant
- Scientists acknowledge key errors in study of how fast the oceans are warming
- The Zinke effect – how the US interior department became a tool of big business
- The Earth is in a death spiral. It will take radical action to save us
- Deadly 'megafires' the new normal in California
- Editorial: The UK must reassess its long-term energy plans
- Environmental change, adaptation strategies and the relevance of migration in Sub-Saharan drylands
Spain would aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to at least 90% below 1990 levels by 2050 under a draft new climate law released yesterday, BusinessGreen reports. Interim targets would aim to cut emissions by at least 20% by 2030 – 37% below current levels – reports Climate Home News. The draft would also target 100% renewable electricity by 2050, ban petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 and ban fossil fuel subsidies, it adds. An interim target would aim for 70% renewable power by 2030, reports EurActiv. The draft would also ban new licences to extract fossil fuels, including fracking, reports the Guardian. El Paísnotes that the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) is governing in a minority and will have to negotiate the draft law in Congress . It adds: “[This] process may take a long time as the government seeks cross-party support.” El País says the draft includes a target to install 3,000 megawatts of renewable capacity each year between 2020 and 2030. It says renewables supplied 32% of Spain’s electricity last year. The government hopes to present the draft plan to parliament by the end of the year, reports Reuters. It notes that the ruling party holds less than a quarter of the seats in parliament, which will have to approve the planned climate change law, adding: “[The prime minister] has struggled to find support for any major proposals…in the face of opposition led by the conservative People’s Party which dominates the upper and lower houses.” The Independent also has the story
New energy efficiency and renewable energy targets signed off by the European Parliament yesterday put the bloc on course to overshoot its climate goals, reports Reuters, citing analysis from the European Commission. The targets to cut energy use by at least 32.5% and to raise the renewable share of the mix to at least 32% by 2030 would put the EU on track to cut emissions 45% below 1990 levels by the same date, according to the commission. Its current goal is “at least 40%”. The commission also yesterday announced adjustments to the targets to account for the UK leaving the bloc, Reuters notes: “As one of the strongest voices on climate change and biggest economies in the EU, Britain’s exit is forcing the bloc to revise the calculations for much of its complicated patchwork of legislation aimed at reducing global warming gases.” Separately, Reuters reports a European Commission decision to exclude the UK from the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) in the event of a no-deal Brexit in March 2019. Last month, the UK said it would replace the EU ETS with a carbon tax in the event of no deal, Reuters notes. An article in the Financial Times reports on a joint letter from European energy groups sent to leaders in London and Brussels, calling for post-Brexit continuity in energy relations. The letter says the UK-EU future relationship deal should include a chapter on energy and climate matters, according to the FT.
Heatwaves can damage the sperm of insects and make them almost sterile, according to widely-covered new research reported by BBC News and others. The findings come from experimental heatwaves in a laboratory, BBC News says, noting: “Climate change is affecting biodiversity around the world, but the drivers remain poorly understood.” It quotes the study’s lead scientist saying: “We don’t know whether this explains the widely-recognised collapse in insect biodiversity and abundance, but limits on your ability to reproduce certainly isn’t going to help.” The beetle study could help explain a global decline in wildlife, says the Guardian. It adds: “The scientists behind the findings said there could also be some relevance for humans: the sperm counts of western men have halved in the last 40 years.” The New York Times says the experimental results suggest male infertility is “at least one factor” behind the observed declines in insect populations. The Independent, USA Today and Metro also have the story.
Some 15 of the world’s 20 largest economies reported a rise in emissions last year says the Guardian, based on a report from Climate Transparency, which finds current commitments would put the world on course for 3.2C of warming this century. The report found the G20 nations increased fossil fuel subsidies from $58bn to £114bn between 2007 and 2016, the Guardian adds, noting: “Politicians [in these countries] are paying more heed to the fossil fuel industry than to advice from scientists.” [Carbon Brief published a comprehensive overview of fossil fuel subsidies in 2017.]
Half of the latest increase in annual Australian CO2 emissions can be linked to a large new liquified natural gas (LNG) project in Western Australia, the Guardian reports. Oil firm Chevron’s Gorgon development was supposed to capture its CO2 emissions and store them underground, it adds: “Nearly two years after the start of LNG production from the Gorgon gas field, emissions storage is yet to begin.” An article from Reuters says Australia, already the world’s second-largest LNG exporter, has plans to build its “next big energy industry” around hydrogen exports, with the fuel generated from wind and solar power – or brown coal. Reuters explains: “Output may start through the gasification of brown coal with the hydrogen and carbon dioxide separated out. But eventually wind and solar power would be used to crack water to become the biggest hydrogen source.”
A study that suggested the world’s oceans were warming faster than thought contained errors making its key conclusions seem more certain than they actually are, reports the Washington Post. The authors of the study, published two weeks ago in Nature, have submitted corrections, it adds. There is still evidence from this study and others that ocean warming has been higher than suggested by observational estimates in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment report in 2013, the article notes.
Ryan Zinke, secretary of the US interior department, has been remaking the agency “as an ally of big energy, emails and records reveal”, says Jimmy Tobias, a contributing writer for the Guardian, in a piece “supported by” the Society of Environmental Journalists and published in collaboration with Pacific Standard. “Zinke rapidly installed a slew of conservative operatives and industry sympathizers in key positions throughout the agency,” Tobias writes. “Hundreds of pages of correspondence and calendars reviewed by the Guardian and Pacific Standard show how Zinke and his top aides have favoured corporate and conservative calls to prioritise resource extraction at the expense of conservation, while consistently delivering on industry desires – despite sometimes running afoul of conflict of interest rules.”
The Guardian columnist George Monbiot argues that “we can no longer tinker around the edges and hope minor changes will avert collapse”. As a supporter of the climate activists known as “Extinction Rebellion”, he argues: “We cannot save ourselves without contesting oligarchic control, the fight for democracy and justice and the fight against environmental breakdown are one and the same. Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.”
Authorities in California have in recent years reported an increase in large, explosive and swiftly spreading “megafires”, says a Reuters feature. “Four out of the five largest fires in California history have occurred in the last six years,” it notes. It quotes a Cal Fire spokesperson saying: “A lot of it is climate related; we’ve seen a significant increase in temperatures; we’ve seen an increase in dry and dead conditions.” An article in Wired says of the recent wildfires: “The climate change reckoning is here. This is what inaction looks like.” Wildfires in California are “consistently surpassing [scientists’] projections”, reports InsideClimate News. It adds: “The reality on the ground is surpassing what a government report projected just months ago in assessing the links between climate change and an increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in [California].” Northern California utility Pacific Gas and Electric is under renewed scrutiny as a possible culprit in one of the current fires, reports Axios, in an article that says the US energy system is “ill-prepared for [the] impact of accelerated global warming”. In a Q&A with climate scientist Daniel Swain, InsideClimate News explains how drier autumns are “fueling deadly wildfires” in California. In an article for Yale Climate Connections, Dana Nuccitelli lists “the many ways climate change worsens California wildfires”. Carbon Brief published a look at how climate change has increased US wildfires earlier this year.
Toshiba’s decision to pull out of the planned Moorside new nuclear plant in Cumbria “raises fundamental questions about UK energy policy”, argues an editorial in the Financial Times. A new fleet of nuclear plants has long been “central” to UK plans, yet the editorial says: “The cost of replacing old nuclear plants with new ones has steadily risen while technological advances have made the opposite true of wind and solar power. There could still be a case for nuclear power in a complementary mix of supplies that ensure both energy stability and emissions reductions. But that case may weaken to the point of obsolescence by the time five remaining nuclear projects – at various stages of planning – are due to be built.” The piece says there are “obvious pitfalls” to the government’s current “ad hoc approach”, under which it is discussing a direct investment of £5bn in Wylfa, another new nuclear scheme (“This would represent a dramatic policy U-turn.”) The government should commission a strategic review of nuclear, the Financial Times concludes: “To keep its place in national ambitions, nuclear power needs to come in at a lower cost and to attract investment. It should not require subsidies unavailable to rivals.”
A new study investigates the adaptation responses to climate and environmental change in sub-Saharan drylands. Analysing data from 63 studies covering more than 9,700 rural households, the researchers find that adaptation strategies related to crop, livestock, soil and water management were, by far, the most common. However, some form of migration was also used by 23% of households, the authors say, which emphasises “the importance of migration for responding to unfavourable environmental conditions at the household level”.
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