Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK energy generation falls to lowest level since 1994
- Jair Bolsonaro launches assault on Amazon rainforest protections
- Secret plans for super-ministry which would see three government departments scrapped
- Scotland’s famous wildlife faces catastrophic damage from climate change: report
- Warming seas linked to bluefin tuna surge in UK waters
- Zinke departs from Interior post
- Climate change: 11 policy ideas to protect the planet in 2019
- Pharma finds its feet in fight against climate change
- The world is getting quietly, relentlessly better
- Greenland melt drives continuous export of methane from the ice-sheet bed
There is widespread coverage of analysis by Carbon Brief that shows UK power generators supplied less electricity last year than at any time since 1994 as demand from homes and industry continues to fall. The Daily Telegraph highlights that the UK generated just 335 terawatt hours last year, a drop of almost a sixth from the country’s power generation peak in 2005. This 24-year generation low was achieved “despite rising population numbers and decades of economic growth since the early nineties”. At the same time, the share of electricity generated from renewables reached a record in 2018, reports the Press Association (via ITV News). “Wind accounted for 17% of the total power generated last year, while solar contributed 4% and burning plant material or biomass for electricity produced 11%,” it says. The overall share generated by renewables increased to 33% last year, compared with 29% the year before, notes the Financial Times. Speaking to the Guardian, Carbon Brief’s deputy editor Simon Evans, who carried out the analysis, says the fall in electricity demand could be due to “a combination of more efficient appliances, energy-saving lightbulbs and, more recently, LEDs”. “Then there’s supermarkets installing better fridges, industry using more efficient pumps. Across all of those businesses, efficiency will have been going up. And of course there’s the changing nature of industry in the UK,” he adds. The findings show the impact that energy efficiency gains can have, notes BBC News, which argues this “Cinderella” topic is “often ignored or derided” in favour of “glamorous renewables” that “grab the headlines”. Evans was also interviewed on Radio 4’s Today Programme – a recording is available here. MailOnline also covers the analysis, as do the Times and the Sun (no online versions yet available).
Hours after taking office as Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsano “launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections”, reports the Guardian. A new executive order transfers the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry, which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby. The move “enraged environmentalists already worried by Bolsonaro’s plans to loosen protections of the Amazon rainforest and remove Brazil’s support for the Paris Agreement on climate change”, says Reuters. New Brazilian Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias – sworn in as part of Bolsonaro’s new administration – defended the farm sector from accusations it has grown at the expense of the environment, notes another Reuters piece. “Brazil is a country with extremely advanced environmental legislation and is more than able to preserve its native forests,” Dias said in her inauguration speech. “Our country is a model to be followed, never a transgressor to be punished.”
The Sun has an “exclusive” story claiming that cabinet ministers are “drawing up plans for a new jumbo ministry of infrastructure” as part of a major Whitehall shake up. It adds: “Under the proposal, three different departments – Business and Energy, Culture Media and Sport and Transport – will all be merged to create one new super ministry. A second merger being looked at would also see Department for International Development subsumed back into the Foreign Office. Reducing the overall number of Whitehall ministries by three will slash backroom costs to save hundreds of millions as well as streamline their work to make them more effective, the ministers argue. The project is being championed by Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss, who is in talks about it with Theresa May’s de facto deputy, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington.” However, the Sun stresses that “the plan has not been approved by the PM, who opposes any substantial Whitehall reorganisation as gimmicky and disruptive”.
Some of Scotland’s most famous wildlife, including Atlantic salmon, the capercaillie and the freshwater pearl mussel, could be at risk from climate change, a new report says. Scotland’s “Nature on Red Alert” study, produced by WWF Scotland and Scottish Environment LINK, examines the impact climate change could have on different species and habitats, warning that “immediate and substantial action is clearly required to prevent catastrophic damage”. Particularly at risk are cold water species, such as the white beaked dolphin, which are “at risk of being lost from our waters”, the report says. Sam Gardner, acting director at WWF Scotland, tells the Herald that “nature is on the frontline of climate change. Even small increases in temperature threaten many of the plants and animals that give Scotland its iconic landscapes, but that we also depend on for food and pollination”.
Numbers of bluefin tuna in the waters around the UK are increasing because of the warming influence of a naturally occurring climate cycle in the North Atlantic, reports BBC News. The globally endangered species almost disappeared from the UK around 40 years ago, the article says, but the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) – now in a warm phase – is making UK waters more hospitable for tuna. The research, published in the journal Science Advances, looks at the changing abundance and distribution of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic over the past 200 years. The impact of global warming on top of the AMO is likely to alter the familiar patterns seen in bluefin tuna over several hundred years, the authors say, with the species persisting for longer in cooler waters around the UK and in the Nordic seas, but disappearing from the world’s most important bluefin fishery in the Mediterranean sea.
US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke formally left his position yesterday, tweeting that it has been a “high honour” to serve President Trump and the American people. Zinke’s 22-month tenure was marked by rollbacks of environmental policies and a push to boost fossil fuel production, says the Hill. He had announced his plan to resign last month. In his parting note, written in red marker pen, Zinke said he “improved public access” to federal land and it “shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs”, reports the Washington Post. Critics argue he improved access to the oil and gas industry that hope to drill for natural resources and profit, while also closing studies that sought to improve the safety of oil production platforms, according to the Washington Post.
With climate change often appearing “so overwhelming that it’s hard to know where to start”, the Washington Post asked activists, politicians and researchers for “climate policy ideas that offer hope”. Here it presents 11 of these policy ideas to “help start the planet down a path toward a better future”. They include preventing food waste, setting local climate targets, making it easier to live without cars and being “smart about nuclear power”.
Continuing its “Climate Control” series, the Financial Times covers two more topics. Global pharmaceuticals editor Sarah Neville has a piece on the role of the pharmaceuticals industry in tackling climate change. In a second article, commodities correspondent Emiko Terazono looks at how the spotlight on agriculture and food industries’ impact on the environment has intensified in recent years.
Greg Ip, chief economics commentator at the Wall Street Journal, aims to provide comfort to those who “spent 2018 mainlining misery about global warming, inequality, toxic politics or other anxieties” by highlighting how the “world got better last year, and it is going to get even better this year”. “The problems the world faces are far smaller than those it has already overcome and can be solved the same way: not by betting on miracles but by patiently applying knowledge and tools we already possess,” he writes. “Obsessing over such perils [as climate change] is how we’ll likely solve them,” he argues. The policy tools and technology exist to avoid worst-case scenarios, Ip says, “we only need the political will to apply them”. “Today that political will looks remote,” he notes, “but in 1980, the prospect that most of the world would one day be middle class looked even bleaker”.
The melting of Greenland’s ice sheets could be causing large amounts of methane to be released into the atmosphere, new research finds. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is is 34 times more potent than CO2 over a 100-year period. The results “indicate that ice sheets overlie extensive, biologically active methanogenic wetlands and that high rates of methane export to the atmosphere can occur via efficient subglacial drainage pathways,” the authors say.
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