Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK and Canada lead global alliance against coal
- A More Conciliatory Tone on Climate from the U.S. at Global Talks
- Keystone pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons of oil onto farm land in South Dakota
- Norway wealth fund proposes end to oil and gas investment
- What they don’t tell you about climate change - Negative-emissions technology
- Groundwater Depletion: A Significant Unreported Source of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
- Recent changes in extreme floods across multiple continents
The main story coming from the COP23 climate talks in Bonn over the past 24 hours is widespread coverage of the “Powering Past Coal” commitment that Reuters reported yesterday. “The UK and Canada have launched a global alliance of 19 countries committed to phasing out coal for energy production,” says the BBC. Members of the alliance – including France, Finland and Mexico – say they will end the use of coal before 2030. The exact number of countries that have joined the alliance differs between reports, from “at least 15” in Reuters to “more than 25” in the Financial Times. Ministers hope to have 50 countries signed up by the time of the next major UN conference in Poland next year. “The case against coal is unequivocal” on both environmental and health grounds, said UK climate minister Claire Perry, reports the Guardian. “The alliance will signal to the world that the time of coal has passed.” “I’m thrilled to see so much global momentum for the transition to clean energy – and this is only the beginning,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment minister. The New York Timeslooks at the “notably omissions” from the alliance. These include the US, China, Germany, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh. The alliance so far only accounts for 3% of coal use worldwide, with many key members “already on their way to retiring what little coal power they had left”. Perry and McKenna declined to criticise the US stance, notes the FT. “My message to President Trump is: Have a look at what other countries are doing,” Perry said. “Clearly you have to make choices based on your manifesto agreements. But there are really big opportunities out there in the transition to clean energy for jobs and for growth.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China and 18 other nations representing half the world’s population are planning to use more bioenergy to generate energy as part of efforts to limit climate change. The group – which includes the UK, Brazil, China, France, India, Indonesia, and Italy – plans to work out collective targets for increasing the use of what they called “sustainable bioenergy”.
In further COP23 coverage, there are mixed reports on the contributions from the US. The New York Times reports that a senior US diplomat told world leaders yesterday that the US would remain engaged in global climate change negotiations even as it planned to exit the Paris agreement “at the earliest opportunity.” Judith G. Garber, a State Department acting undersecretary, gave the first official American remarks to the United Nations climate body since Trump’s announcement of his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. The “conciliatory message” made no mention of coal while promising to help other countries “adapt to the impacts of climate change”. Garber called the US a “leader” on clean energy issues, reports the the Hill. She assured that US is committed to “universal access to affordable and reliable energy” and that it would support “a balanced approach to climate mitigation, economic development, and energy security that takes into consideration the realities of the global energy mix.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg has an interview with Christian Ehler, a German member of the European Parliament who speaks on EU and US relations at the climate change talks, who says this is “the worst moment for the Americans to start behaving like a five-year old all of a sudden.” “The leader of the western world is stepping out of the multilateral framework used to tackle the most dramatic problem the world might be facing in the next 100 years.” Elsewhere, Reuters reports that George David Banks, a special assistant to Trump on energy and the environment attending 200-nation talks working on details of the Paris pact in Germany, says the focus should now be on innovation rather than casting blame for the past. “That kind of argument looking at historical, cumulative, versus what the facts are today is a distraction from what needs to occur when figuring out how do we deploy clean energy technologies,” he told reporters. “When you are looking at the transformation of energy systems, technology breakthroughs, it’s kind of all hands on deck,” he said. “All countries need to be involved in the process as much as possible.”
TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline has leaked an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil in northeastern South Dakota. The leak – discovered and shutdown yesterday morning – comes just days before Nebraska regulators are scheduled to announce their decision whether to approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline expansion. The 830,000-barrel-per-day XL project would bring crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, where it would join existing pipelines that feed refineries elsewhere in the US, says The Hill. TransCanada said that the leak was “completely isolated” within 15 minutes, reports Washington Post. The company said it obtained permission from the landowner to assess the spill and plan cleanup. Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist manager at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said that the leaking pipe was in “either a grass or an agricultural field”. “Based on what we know now, the spill has not impacted a surface water body,” Walsh said. InsideClimate News also has the story.
Norway’s trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund has proposed dropping its investments in oil and gas stocks, warning that the country already has enough exposure to petroleum. In a letter to Norway’s ministry of finance, the Norwegian central bank, which runs the Oslo-based fund, recommended selling its oil and gas holdings would make the country’s wealth “less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil and gas prices”. The bank is concerned that the fund’s holdings in the state oil company Statoil combined with investments in global oil companies means it is twice as exposed to the oil industry as a typical broad equity index, says the Telegraph. The letter “triggered a jittery market sell-off from investors in major global oil companies”, with the share prices of Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron and Exxon Mobil all falling. BusinessGreen also has the story.
The Economist has an editorial on negative emissions technologies, pointing out that “the Paris agreement assumes, in effect, that the world will find ways to suck CO2 out of the air”, yet there is “barely any public discussion of how to bring about the extra ‘negative emissions’ needed.” “Unless that changes, the promise of limiting the harm of climate change is almost certain to be broken,” the article argues. “The total amount of CO2 to be soaked up by 2100 could be a staggering 810bn tonnes, as much as the world’s economy produces in 20 years at today’s rate.” “Putting in place carbon-removal schemes of this magnitude would be an epic endeavour even if tried-and-tested techniques existed,” it says. “They do not.” The editorial sits alongside a briefing article that delves into the details of negative emissions and the technologies that exist today.
A significant and previously unrecognized CO2 source is from groundwater depletion (net removal from storage). The average annual 1.7 MMT (million metric tons) CO2 released in the United States from this source is greater than approximately one third of the 23 major sources reported by the US EPA to the IPCC. Groundwater depletion adds significant and measurable CO2 to the atmosphere and should be considered as a source in future CO2 budgets, as groundwater depletion at the same or greater rate is likely to continue.
Analyses of trends in observed floods often focus on relatively frequent events, whereas changes in rare floods are only studied for a small number of locations that have exceptionally long observational records. Understanding changes in rare floods is especially relevant as these events are often most damaging and influence the design of major structures. A new study looks at changes in the largest flood events observed during the period 1980−2009 for 1744 locations in Australia, Brazil, Europe and the United States. During the 30 year period, there are overall increases in both the frequency and magnitude of extreme floods. These increases are strongest in Europe and the United States, and weakest in Brazil and Australia. Physical causes of the changes in extreme floods remain elusive, because the key drivers vary between catchments.
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