Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Trump cites massive winter storm to mock global warming
- Rolls-Royce in talks to supply Chinese nuclear plant in Essex
- Pentagon: Climate change threatens military installations
- Great Australian heatwave takes a breather – only to return again soon
- Germany's 2019 hard coal imports seen rising after mining ends
- North American glaciers melting much faster than 10 years ago – study
- The Observer view: the Hitachi fiasco confirms that our energy policy is in ruins
- Acting in our own self-interest will not make the world a better place
- Falling demand is the energy sector’s next challenge
- How to stop the climate crisis: six lessons from the campaign that saved the ozone
- Climatic warming increases spatial synchrony in spring vegetation phenology across the Northern Hemisphere
In a tweet in the early hours of yesterday morning, US president Donald Trump again cited significant winter storms to mock the concept of global warming, reports the Hill. Trump tweeted: “Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold…Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!” Trump has raised similar concerns “nearly every year since 2012”, notes the Atlantic. A winter storm is currently bringing some of the coldest temperatures of the season to the east coast, says the Independent, with parts of upstate New York seeing as much as 11 inches (28cm) of snow overnight. The Washington Postlooks at how climate scientists have responded. Time also has the story.
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that a federal court in South Carolina has blocked the Trump administration from issuing any permits to conduct seismic testing for offshore oil and natural gas drilling during the partial government shutdown.
China’s largest state-backed nuclear company is in talks with Rolls-Royce about supplying equipment for the power plant it hopes to build in Essex, reports the Financial Times. Rolls-Royce would provide CGN with the control systems for the Hualong HPR1000 reactors it plans to install at Bradwell on the Essex coast. This technology drives the operation of the reactor and allows it to be safely shut down should problems occur. Using the British group’s equipment would be a significant concession by CGN, says the FT, as the “Chinese group has developed its own control systems which it hopes to export along with its reactor technology”.
Elsewhere in UK energy news, BBC News reports that plans for an onshore gas site in Cheshire will make it “less likely” the UK will meet its commitments on global warming, a public inquiry has heard. In January 2018, Chester and Cheshire West Council has rejected IGas’s plan to test for gas by injecting acid into a well at Ellesmere Port. At the appeal hearing, local MP Justin Madders said production at the Portside North site, if approved, would lead to higher carbon dioxide emissions though.
Finally, the Independent reports that a no-deal Brexit could cost the UK £2.2bn every year as the network connecting the nation’s electricity supply with its European neighbours would no longer function effectively. While the physical infrastructure for sharing electricity will remain, environmental thinktank Green Alliance warns: “The economics will get affected in a no-deal Brexit scenario, in the sense that there will be inefficient sharing of electricity across borders.”
A new report by the US Defense Department warns that climate change poses a threat to two-thirds of US military installations, reports Politico. The Pentagon report into 79 installations, delivered to Congress on Thursday, says 53 currently experience recurrent flooding, 43 face drought, 36 are exposed to wildfires, six are undergoing desertification and one is dealing with thawing permafrost. More installations will feel those climate stressors in the future, the report says, which also notes that it probably underestimates the full extent of risk to military facilities because it only looks at likely impacts over the next two decades. However, the report “does not provide what Congress actually requested”, says InsideClimate News, which was “a list of the 10 most vulnerable facilities in each branch of the armed services”. The top 10 list was supposed to help the military and Congress identify where to focus limited funds to help prevent costly damage in the future. The Washington Post also focuses on the shortcomings of the report, while Vox says “the pithy document will likely fall on deaf ears anyway”.
Last week’s record-breaking heatwave is over for now in Australia’s south-east, reports the Guardian, but “the reprieve will be short-lived as temperatures build up again in the coming days”. Around 20 records have been broken as neither the northern monsoons nor the southern cool fronts have made their usual appearances to cool summer temperatures. The Observer has a feature on the heatwave, mapping the temperatures that have reached as high as 48.9C in Port Augusta.
Also in Australia, the Financial Times has a feature and video about the one million fish killed due to drought and excessive water use in the Murray-Darling river basin. The Guardian says the Australian Academy of Science will assemble a group of experts to help pin down the causes of the mass fish kill. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Australia’s wind and solar boom “looks set to power through 2019 following a record year”.
Germany is expected to import 45m tonnes of hard coal this year, up by around 1.4% from 2018 despite mounting competition from renewable energy, reports Reuters. Germany’s last two hard-coal mines closed at the end of December under a deal to stop unprofitable mining in favour of imports. Reuters also reports that China’s December coal output climbed 2.1% from the year before, hitting the highest level in over three years.
In other Germany news, Reuters also reports that unlimited speeding on Germany’s Autobahn network could be over if the government adopts draft proposals on climate protection put forward by its committee on the future of transport. And the New York Times reports on how recent hot, dry springs and summers in Germany have been a disaster for many farmers and foresters, but a “blessing for winemakers”.
New research shows that glaciers in western North America, excluding Alaska, are melting four times faster than in the previous decade, the Guardian reports. The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, says the changes are in part a result of changes in the jet stream – currents of fast-flowing air in the atmosphere that affect weather. The jet stream has shifted, the authors say, causing more snow in the north-western US and less in south-western Canada. Overall, glaciers in western North America have lost about 117bn tonnes of ice since 2000, notes E&E News, and are currently losing about 12bn tonnes a year.
“By any standards, last week’s decision by Hitachi to end construction of its £20bn nuclear power plant at Wylfa in Wales was a major blow to Britain’s prospects of creating an effective energy policy for the 21st century,” begins an Observer editorial. Along with the withdrawal by Toshiba from a similar project in Cumbria last year, this “leaves Britain struggling to find ways to generate electricity for a low-carbon future”. The Observer urges the UK government to “reopen talks with Hitachi and Toshiba to hammer out a sensible electricity pricing mechanism for power from their plants and so allow building work to resume”. In addition, “investments in other areas also need to be pursued more emphatically and imaginatively,” it says. The UK’s recent nuclear programme has “been driven largely by a series of optimistic guesses”, says Financial Times city editor Jonathan Ford. “These include not just the cost of new reactors, but also the willingness of private capital to fund them without assistance from the state,” he adds. Citing the nuclear deals struck in Abu Dhabi, Ford says the UK government “needs more bang for its buck”. This may mean the government “acting as owner, committing to fund construction itself rather than going through complex contortions to attract just a sliver of risk-bearing equity”, notes Ford, adding: “ There may not be the political willpower.” In the Daily Telegraph, energy editor Jillian Ambrose asks whether “Britain’s new nuclear age ever see the light of day?”, while Andy Critchlow writes that the decision could be “a blessing in disguise”. He writes: “Instead of further subsidising a globally declining industry, the government has simpler alternatives to ensure long-term energy security and affordable electricity prices for all. Natural gas, more renewables, storage and demand response are cost-efficient solutions with significantly lower risk than subsidising the potentially ruinous cost of atomic fission.”
Writing in the Times, Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, looks at the parallels with resolving climate change, Brexit and inequality. There are “lots of reasons” why there is “such a big risk that we will mess up each of these challenges”, Johnson says, but the “common feature, though, is that these are all forms of collective action problem”. He writes: “In each case, if people could work together effectively we would all be better off. But some combination of conflicting interests, difficulty in building trust and the potential for free-riding can act as fatal barriers to co-operation.”
Meanwhile, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland looks at the things “we don’t talk about when we only talk about Brexit”. He notes: “If news bulletins, front pages and social media feeds were your guide, you’d think climate change had gone away, quietly resolved while we were obsessing over the Northern Ireland backstop.”
The FT’s energy commentator Nick Butler ponders the implications of recent Carbon Brief analysis showing that UK electricity generation has fallen to its lowest level since 1994. “The decline in consumption is not limited to the UK or to electricity. Over the past decade, both total energy demand and electricity use have fallen across the developed world,” he notes. Butler looks at the reasons behind the decline in consumption and how there “is already a surplus of generating capacity in many parts of Europe”. “The sector’s growth hopes continue to rest on converting sectors of the economy such as transport and industry from the use of hydrocarbons to reliance on electricity,” says Butler, but “the industry faces restructuring to force out those who cannot make money”.
Thirty years ago, 197 countries got together to ban the chlorofluorocarbon gases that were damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. In the Guardian’s G2 features section, global environment editor Jonathan Watts looks at what lessons can be learned for tackling climate change today. These include the importance of imagery and language, using the the “precautionary principle” in the face of uncertainty, and sharing the burdens caused by the change. “Rich countries dealt with the job losses, technology upgrades and other economic consequences internally, but also provided support for poorer nations to manage the transition,” Watts notes. He concludes by noting the success of the ban “reminds us that nothing in politics is inevitable, that profits do not have to come before people, that global problems can have global solutions, that we can shape our own future”. Watts also features on the Guardian’s latest “Today in Focus” podcast.
Climate change could disproportionately affect the arrival time of spring in higher latitudes – causing springtime to become more synchronous across the Northern Hemisphere, a study finds. This change could be “due to both a larger rate in spring warming at higher latitudes and larger decreases in the temperature sensitivity of [spring] at low latitudes”, the authors say. “The consequent impacts on the northern ecosystems due to this increased synchrony may be considerable and thus worth investigating.”