Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK has 'no chance' of net zero without action on energy efficiency, MPs warn
- BHP Is latest giant miner to plan exit from thermal coal
- US philanthropists vow to raise millions for climate activists
- Cuadrilla to restart fracking at site in Lancashire
- How genetically-modified trees could help save the planet from global warming
- Prince Charles warns that next 18 months are critical for us to get a grip on climate crisis
- Trump’s position on climate change is due a rethink
- The climate change policy with the most potential is the most neglected
- Effects of tropical cyclones on ENSO
- Climatology and trends in hourly precipitation for the Southeast United States
BusinessGreen covers the latest report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee of MPs which argues that improving the energy efficiency of buildings is “crucial” if the UK is to meet its climate change targets, eradicate fuel poverty, and reduce domestic energy bills: “After carrying out an inquiry into the issue, MPs on the committee found the rate of efficiency measures – such as insulation and low energy lighting – installed in UK homes under government schemes has plummeted by 95% since 2012.” BusinessGreen adds: “At the same time, builders are currently able to exploit loopholes allowing them to construct new homes to outdated standards and sell homes that do not meet advertised energy standards, the report claims.” The Press Association says the committee warns that the government is presiding over a “failing policy” on energy efficiency: “The report warned that the UK’s building stock remains one of the most inefficient in Europe. And if the government will not back energy efficiency, one of the cheapest ways to reduce carbon emissions, ‘it will not bode well’ for other more expensive action that is required to cut greenhouse gases from the UK.” PoliticsHome quotes the committee chair Rachel Reeves, who says: “Improving energy efficiency is by far the cheapest way of cutting our emissions and must be a key plank of any credible strategy to deliver net zero by 2050. If the government lacks the political will to deliver energy efficiency improvements, how can we expect it to get on with the costlier actions needed to tackle climate change?”
Separately, the UK government has, reports Reuters, announced that “all new ships ordered from 2025 and aimed for its waters must be equipped with zero emission technology, as part of a new plan to cut maritime pollution”.
A range of energy-related developments are being reported across the international media. A Bloomberg story highlights how “BHP Group is moving ahead with plans to exit thermal coal, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest move by the world’s biggest miners to retreat from the dirtiest fuel”. It adds: “BHP is looking at options to divest the business that includes assets in Australia and Colombia, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the development has not been made public. There’s no guarantee the company will go ahead with a sale, the people said.”
In other news, Reuters reports that, according to a senior government official, “the US plans to extend the lifespans of existing nuclear reactors and support new technologies as it seeks to revive an industry seen as crucial to its energy security”. It adds: “US deputy secretary of energy Dan Brouillette told an International Energy Agency conference on nuclear and hydrogen in Paris that both technologies were crucial for reducing carbon emissions and boosting energy security. The US nuclear industry has been in the doldrums for years because of competition from cheap natural gas and falling costs of wind and solar power costs.” [Last year, Carbon Brief mapped the US nuclear power plants at risk of shutting down.]
Meanwhile, S&P Global Platts notes how a new Moody’s report forecasts that “demand for US thermal coal will ‘erode significantly’ between 2020 and 2030 as total use for US power generation could fall to as little as 11%, based on scheduled and likely retirements”.
In contrast, Reuters has a report headlined: “King coal rules in Japan as power utilities in thrall to low-cost fuel.” It adds: “Japanese utilities will rely on the return of coal-fired power plants from maintenance to meet peak electricity demand this summer, highlighting the country’s dependence on the more polluting fuel instead of natural gas. Coal-power stations capable of producing 10,437 megawatts (MW) of electricity will be fired up in the next few weeks, a Reuters survey of the companies shows. The return of these units illustrates Japan’s inability to shake off coal as a mainstay fuel for its power generation despite pledges to reduce carbon emissions under the 2015 Paris climate agreement and even as the country remains the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) buyer.”
In China, the National Energy Administration has, according to Reuters, “estimated government subsidies for centralised solar power projects in 2019 at 1.7 billion yuan ($247.64m), involving total installed capacity of 22.79GW”. It adds: “A total of 3,921 projects in 22 provinces and cities have received approvals for the applicable subsidies, the NEA said in a statement.”
And as RenewEconomy says that the Swedish energy group Vattenfall has won a 760MW “zero-subsidy” Dutch tender for offshore wind, Reuters reports that Sweden’s Nordea pension fund has, due to concerns about climate change, moved $2.34bn into investments with a lower carbon footprint. Reuters adds: “A number of institutional investors, including Sweden’s national pension funds, have started to divest from fossil fuel companies due to the risk their assets will become stranded as the cost of renewable energy falls.”
The Guardian reports that “a group of wealthy US philanthropists and investors have donated almost half a million pounds to support the grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion and school strike groups – with the promise of tens of millions more in the months ahead”. It adds: “Trevor Neilson, an investor and philanthropist who has worked with some of the world’s richest families, has teamed up with Rory Kennedy – daughter of Robert Kennedy – and Aileen Getty, whose family wealth comes from the oil industry, to launch the Climate Emergency Fund. Neilson, who has worked with figures such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, said the fund was inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion protesters in the UK in April.” The report continues: “Neilson said the three founders were using their contacts among the global mega-rich to get ‘a hundred times’ more in the weeks and months ahead. ‘This might be the single best chance we have to stop the greatest emergency we have ever faced,’ he told the Guardian.”
The Guardian is among a number of UK outlets reporting that “the first company to drill for shale gas in the UK plans to restart fracking at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire in a last-ditch effort to convince policymakers to relax safety rules”. It adds: “Cuadrilla will drill a second well near Blackpool after it was forced to abandon the first, which caused multiple earth tremors.” Reuters says that the firm “plans to use a thicker fracking fluid to help reduce earth tremors”. Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan is quoted as saying: “We may still have events reaching the 0.5 [earth tremor] limit, but hopefully not as many.” Operations will begin in “the third quarter of 2019”.
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports a new study which shows that “fossil fuels offer an increasingly poor return on energy investment”. It adds: “Co-authored by scientists from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, it calculates the energy return on investment (EROI) for fossil fuels over a 16-year period at roughly 6:1, and potentially as low as 3:1 in the case of electricity, both of which are much closer to those of renewable sources. Moreover, the study warns that the increasing energy costs of extracting fossil fuels is likely to cause their EROI ratios to keep falling.”
Scientists are developing a new generation of GM trees that could tackle climate change by sucking more CO2 out of the air, reports iNews. The new study, published in the journal Cell, highlights how researchers have identified a gene that “helps determine how deep a plant’s roots will grow which they say could be used to engineer trees to have longer, deeper roots”. iNews adds: “The elongated roots would be able to store more carbon than the shorter, existing ones.” The Times further explains: “Scientists at the Salk Institute in California found that a gene called EXOCYST70A3 directly influences the architecture of a root system by controlling auxin, a hormone. Though auxin was known to influence almost all aspects of plant growth, scientists had not clearly understood how it shaped root development.”
Several UK newspapers report comments made by Prince Charles during a speech yesterday at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference where he said: “I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival.” The Daily Mail explains that he is basing this deadline on a series of “crucial United Nations meetings between world leaders” that will likely culminate in COP26 which is widely expected to be hosted by the UK. The other meetings include the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to be held in China, the UN secretary general’s “climate action summit” this September in New York as well as next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held in Kigali, Rwanda. The Daily Telegraph says the heir to the throne stressed that “I truly believe that the Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to join forces and lead the world by example”.
The FT columnist examines how investors and CEOs should ponder what would happen “if Republican attitudes shift” on climate change: “Some Republicans are quietly shifting tack on climate change. Investors and executives ignore this at their peril, since there are at least four reasons why this quiet(ish) shift might affect policy – even in the White House. One factor is the polls…A second issue is the influence of business…A third source of pressure comes from the military…The fourth – and arguably most important – factor is that some Republicans are now trying to counter Democratic proposals for a ‘Green New Deal’ by crafting their own platform that focuses on market-based, business-centred strategies, rather than government intervention and spending…Investors and chief executives should at least ponder what would happen if the Republicans switched their position; not least because an environmental programme that calls for a carbon dividend to bolster energy security would be just as consequential as a carbon tax to stop climate change.”
In his latest opinion piece for Vox, David Roberts notes how “for years, in climate circles, those calling for more R&D were pitted in an utterly unconstructive battle against those calling for more deployment of existing clean energy technologies”. He continues: “The ‘deployment crowd’ accused the ‘innovation crowd’ of fostering delay by casting unconstructive doubt on current technologies and policies. I believe, or at least hope, that this absurd fight is behind us. The dire urgency of the climate crisis and the scale of the task ahead lay bare the obvious answer: We need both deployment and innovation. Lots more of both. We are doing nowhere near as much as we should of either one. Having reached that rapprochement, I think it’s time for fans of deployment – a class in which I include myself – to take a fresh, non-defensive look at the argument for innovation. It really is important!”
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen’s editor James Murray runs through a litany of reasons to feel “embarrassed” about the UK’s political paralysis and why this is affecting the drive for new climate policies: “The populism of the Trump/Brexit era has allowed people who once bemoaned the erosion of any sense of embarrassment in public life to reinvent themselves as dissembling figures who are utterly immune to shame, charges of hypocrisy or feelings embarrassment. Now, as the CCC reminds everyone quite how badly the UK’s climate efforts are faltering, it is to be hoped that the sheer embarrassment of failing to confront a national mission still wields some of the historic power it used to hold over the British elite.”
Numerous studies have investigated the role of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on tropical cyclones in the western Pacific, but the opposite – the effects of tropical cyclones on ENSO – is less discussed. Using recently released observations and reanalysis datasets, this study found that the near-equatorial tropical cyclones are significantly correlated with ENSO strength. When tropical cyclones are added into a climate model, the simulated ENSO becomes more irregular, and the model ENSO behavior becomes more similar to observations. The influence of tropical cyclones on ENSO is so strong that ENSO magnitude and sometimes its final state—i.e. either an El Niño or a La Niña—largely depend on the number and timing of tropical cyclones during the event year. Tropical cyclones play a prominent role in ENSO dynamics, and their effects must be considered in ENSO forecast models.
This study examines hourly precipitation data to determine if precipitation intensity is changing across the Southeast U.S between 1960-2017. Results indicate hourly intensity significantly increased at 44% of the stations, accompanied by an increase in average hourly accumulation at 40% of the sites. The average duration of precipitation events decreased at 80% of stations. It seems hourly events are becoming heavier on average, while the duration of the average precipitation events is decreasing. The study found that winter precipitation, in particular, is becoming more intense across the region.
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